For months on end, I’ve asked my wife to close a business bank account that was charging enormous fees and that she wasn’t even using anymore. There was always some excuse, and meanwhile, hundreds of dollars were going to waste. I’ve asked her countless times to please only play radio stations with upbeat music in the morning. But morning after morning, she keeps putting on the classical music station, which I’ve told her makes me feel like I should go back to bed. How can she always seemingly forget my request? She has agreed to do dishes on Tuesday evenings, but by midnight on Tuesday she didn’t do the dishes when she said she would. I don’t want to go to bed angry. Any suggestions?
Looking for Peace
Dear Looking for Peace,
Your situation is a representation of the mundane resentments in life that lead to marital problems when not handled with effective communication. Left unchecked over time, resentment will lead to anger in relationships, which takes enormous emotional resources to undo. Better to deal with resentment than let it spiral out of control.
Resentment and anger in relationships often stem from utter dismay at how your spouse could have possibly done what they did. You just can’t understand it — you never would have done such a thing.
You are experiencing subliminal resentment and it will only grow. Anything you feed will grow.
Resentments are just like weeds. Left unattended, they will grow and grow until they choke out every other living plant around them. Weeds usually pop out of nowhere. We sure don’t plant them; they just appear. Weeds are usually stronger and healthier than the plants around them. They gulp up every drop of water that comes and every bit of nutrients from the soil they are in, leaving the surrounding plants to wither and die. Their roots are deep!
To get rid of weeds you must first locate them and then pull them, root and all. We must get all of the root. Otherwise the weed can grow right back.
Resentments, too, can seem to come out of nowhere. Resentments are fed by fear and anger and, like the weed, can become very strong and powerful — so powerful that it can drive us to behaviors whether consciously or subconsciously in some way.
First eliminate the root cause, then identify that we have resentment and then ask ourselves why and what’s our part? Stop ignoring your feelings.
One example about how to phrase dissatisfaction over another spouse’s actions would be to say, “I feel resentful that the business account is still open, hon. I will feel really relieved and relaxed when it’s closed.”
Words of endearment are pleasing to hear, but they are precious and few sometimes. You are also effectively asking to be relaxed, which is not an outrageous request.
Routinely displaying empathy by checking in with your partner about how they are feeling, looking them in the eye, and regularly giving the benefit of the doubt. Once empathy becomes basic behavior, resentment often becomes a thing of the past.
A technique that counselors use for couples is something called “start, stop and continue.” Holding hands and looking at each other without breaking eye contact through this entire process, state what you would like your spouse to start doing — taking turns alternating, describing what to stop doing and what to continue doing. This gives the opportunity to speak with eye contact and express your deepest and sincere feelings without interruption.
Pay attention to the weeds before they get out of hand. By the way, love and tolerance is the best weed killer.
Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.