Tools for Sustainable Relationships
Great relationships are the spice of life! Friendships, romantic partnerships, family, co-workers, even acquaintances – this is where joy, love, and laughter is found. Whether seasonal or permanent, relationships are where memories are made, and where life is shared.
There is one thing though, which is actually the number one thing, that can destroy these wonderful relationships, and that is resentment.
Resentment happens when anger accumulates steadily in the heart. It's what happens when someone in a relationship with us does or says something that stirs up feelings of hurt and anger. The anger is never communicated or dealt with so it stays stored inside the heart. If the person's actions continue to prompt these feelings, and it is left unexpressed, the anger builds inside until it becomes full-blown resentment. At the slightest offense, the resentment is triggered and forced to come out.
In relationships, people do and say things to us that cause us hurt and anger. Sometimes they do it purposefully, other times (most of the time) their actions are unintentional.
If you are in a relationship with someone and you regard their relationship as important and valuable to you, when they do things that hurt you, it is important that you keep your anger from growing into resentment.
The key to doing this is to address the behavior immediately and in the moment.
Addressing the behavior simply means to communicate to the person how their words or actions make you feel using the words "I feel" instead of "You did."
For example, "I felt really disappointed when you did that" or "I feel judged /criticized when you say that," instead of "You always do this."
Addressing the behavior can also mean asking questions to clarify the person's intentions.
This can look like, "Am I misinterpreting your words, what do you mean when you say...?"
Speaking in "I" and "feel" terms puts the focus on you instead of on the other person, making the person less likely to feel defensive. Also, asking questions to clarify the person's motives protects you from making assumptions and jumping to conclusions about their behavior.
The point is to not allow the feelings to sit and fester inside of you; you want to address the offense as quickly as you can. After two weeks or two months has passed, you might feel silly bringing up something that happened a long time ago. And you may feel even sillier if the person doesn't remember their offense. But even if a long time has passed, it is still important to communicate to the other person so you can release the pent up anger from your heart. Practice speaking in the moment as much as you can.
On the other hand, if you are a person already deep in resentment, and have missed the opportunity to address the other person in the moment, and you believe you might feel silly bringing up something that has happened so far in the past, the best way to release your anger and resentment is to forgive. That's right. Forgiving the person for all the pain they have caused you is the key to freeing your heart. And that's all I will say on that.
One thing I didn't mention is the importance of believing your feelings are valid. Many people suffer from feeling that if something bothers them, it is not worth bringing up because "the offense was so small, it shouldn't be a big deal" or "I don't know why I'm making a big fuss about this." Or worse, some people assume that their words won't make a difference and the person's behavior will remain the same.
Believing either of these things diminishes a person emotionally. The truth is, if someone's behavior upsets you, it upsets you. There's no need to understand why, it simply does. Secondly, don't reduce your power by thinking that your communication won't make a difference. If you feel angered by a person's behavior toward you and you want that behavior to change, accept your feelings and believe that they are valid. Then address those feelings and behaviors in the moment.
So to recap, the way to avoid anger from developing into resentment and potentially destroying a wonderful relationship is to: 1) Trust your feelings and believe that they are valid; 2) Communicate in the moment with "I" and "feel" statements; and 3) Watch as a tense moment dissolves and turns into a connected moment.