Don and Libby were sitting in our office in a Marriage Intensive in the aftermath of an affair. Libby had contacted a divorce attorney and they agreed to go to counseling for the first time ever in their 22 years of marriage. Don was wrong to have the affair. But as you know from reading our articles, an affair or financial mistrust rarely happens in healthy marriages.
Somewhere in the midst of describing all the pain, Libby said, “I still can’t believe that he took that job. I told him that I didn’t want him to take the job and he took it any way.” The job he took was over 12 years ago.
As the day progressed, it became obvious that her resentment in those early years had created a negative pattern of interacting between them. Libby’s resentment and bitterness kept her from truly connecting with him emotionally. She began to talk bad about him to other people, eliminate kindness toward him, and use the threat of divorce when they were in an argument. And their emotional and physical connection began to deteriorate to the point that neither really liked the other any more.
A few years of hanging onto the bitterness led to her seeking help for depression. Her health began declining. And she was miserable. She had a life filled with little joy.
Bitterness develops after a spouse experiences a perceived injustice. Their resentment and bitterness builds as they interpret all future behavior in the worst possible light and add to the “evidence” of what it is that they perceived as injustice. They interpret their spouse’s actions with the worst possible motives. And they assume that their spouse should know how they really feel, without communicating what it is that is hurting them.
Bitterness Hurts You More Than Anyone Else
Although the other spouse feels the effects of resentment and bitterness, they rarely know what is going on. In fact, many times the “offending” spouse is clueless about where the negative energy is coming from. They begin to assume that their spouse is having personal problems unrelated to the relationship or to them.
According to a series of studies out of Concordia University in Montreal, holding onto bitterness and resentment interferes with the body’s hormonal and immune systems. Resentment, bitterness and prolonged anger increases blood pressure and heart rate leading to a higher probability of dying from heart disease and related illness.
What To Do With The Resentment Within You
- Realize that you are choosing resentment. Holding on to the hurt, anger and bitterness is a choice that you are making. Stop blaming and complaining and accept that you can choose to do something different with the hurt and anger within you.
- Forgive for your own well-being. Forgiveness is not about the other person. Forgiveness is about removing the bitterness and resentment within you in order to open up space for peace, joy and happiness again.
- Stand up for yourself. Schedule and have a crucial conversation. Inform your spouse in no uncertain terms what it is that happened that hurt you and what you want from them going forward. Set reasonable boundaries to prevent the same kind of hurt in the future.
- Find gratitude. Appreciation is like water to the oil of resentment. When you pour the same volume of water into a glass of the same volume of oil, the oil is displaced. Appreciation displaces resentment whether it is expressed or not.
- If you get stuck, get help. You do not have to stay stuck in resentment. Christian counselors and coaches are available to help you open up you break the chains of bitterness that are keeping you from experiencing full joy and peace in your heart.
Libby and Don have done the hard work over the past year allowing their relationship to be restored. They are not only in good shape, but they report that their marriage has never been closer or stronger.
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This article was written by Roy and Devra Wooten, authors of “The Secret to a Lifetime Love”. Learn more at www.LifeTogetherForever.com © Roy and Devra Wooten 2017. All Rights Reserved. You may replicate this article as long as it is provided free to recipients and includes appropriate attribution. Written permission for other use may be obtained at Secret@LifeTogetherForever.com.