I’m an expert on resentment. The people who are most familiar with feelings of resentment are not the ones you’d expect, but they are the ones most inclined to prevent it.
My expertise doesn’t stem from the fact that people in my life give me more reasons to be resentful than other people. I don’t think that they do.
I’m an Enneagram type 2: The Helper. Helpers are caring, generous people prone to people-pleasing and actively demonstrating their love for others.
In the Four Tendencies framework developed by Gretchen Rubin, I’m an Obliger. This means I tend to uphold others’ expectations of me better than I uphold those I (try to) make of myself. When I’m asked to volunteer or help or solve a problem, my automatic inclination is to say “yes”. And I nearly always follow through on my word.
It’s this combination that makes me an expert in resentment.
I’ve learned a lot about the causes and sources of resentment over the years. My life has made me both aware of its dangers in relationships and taught me how to minimize or avoid it in most cases.
I’ve identified two primary sources of resentment and discovered how to avoid each kind.
1) Having unspoken expectations
When we get married or even just decide to become a couple, whether we realize it or not, we each come into the situation with a vision of what it will look like, what each of us will do and how we will each behave.
We may not realize it, but these are expectations. When we don’t communicate them to our partner they put them in the position of needing to be a mind reader. This is not likely a skill they have. So we are asking them to do something they can’t do.
Unspoken expectations are preconceived resentments.
When you expect something, but don’t voice it, you are likely to be frequently disappointed. When this happens repeatedly that disappointment turns into resentment.
If you are married, this is why marriage vows are so important, they allow you to publicly declare what you are both agreeing to do. To make it super clear, we even make these vows in front of friends and family and often record it too.
Some expectations we have can seem so obvious that we don’t think we need to tell our partner. If I cook dinner, I would like someone else to do the dishes.
What you can do:
Voice your expectations, especially when they are new or when circumstances change.
If your partner has not communicated their expectations in a situation or concerning a particular facet of your life, ask them what they expect of you, if anything. Making sure you are both clear is invaluable in preventing resentments caused by uncommunicated expectations.
You and your partner don’t have to wholly accept one another’s stated expectations. However, voicing them is always the first step in establishing a mutual understanding. Negotiations or compromise can follow this until both parties are in agreement. It’s only then that they can be met.
Don’t expect things, behavior, or situations to occur without telling your partner that you expect or want them. That’s setting them up to fail and you to grow resentful.
2) Asking for too much
Relationships are about “give and take”. You scrub my back, I’ll scrub yours. Not to seem too transactional about it, but it does require a balance of giving and taking and this balance is one that every couple (and even non-romantic relationships) must determine on their own.
If one partner is all “ask, ask, ask” and “take, take, take” resentment is sure to follow, sooner or later.
This can be especially challenging when one partner loves to be a helper, as I do. They can seem to do it happily, freely giving their time and effort with no limits, until a moment when they don’t.
Helping makes me feel good and really happy. Until it does the opposite. I have these moments that my family rightly finds confounding. There is no “big” event that causes it. The tiniest thing can put me over the edge.
The expression “the straw that broke the camel’s back” might have been made just for people like me.
This tendency stems from another fault of mine: I am terrible at setting boundaries, and my default setting is to fulfill requests. So even when I don’t want to, I will give the help or make an effort that is requested. In my experience, nothing makes me feel more resentful than doing things I don’t want to do purely out of a sense of obligation.
And yet, I still do them. This is why when this happens it’s ultimately my fault.
Over the years my husband has learned when not to ask for more than I am willing