Your partner is a really good person who loves you. You share goals, you have fun together and you can’t imagine being with anyone else.
But you’ve noticed there are one or two subjects that light your fuse faster than they used to.
When your mind doesn’t have enough to occupy it, you find yourself grinding away on them, feeling self-righteous, and shoring up more arguments for your side.
You have a growing feeling your partner doesn’t understand you quite as well as he used to.
These are signs you’ve got some resentment built up. And you’ve got to find a way to speak up about it.
In my marriage counseling practice, I see every day how resentment can erode the quality of a relationship slowly, imperceptibly.
At best, it will keep you from being as close and connected as you really want to be. At worst, it can take you down the path to divorce. Any marriage expert will tell you that not talking about your concerns is the riskiest thing you can do for your marriage.
Dan was upset because he couldn’t participate in the Christmas morning ritual that was so important to his family. He would have loved to take his wife and kids to spend the night at his parents’ home, like his brother did, so they were all there in the morning.
His wife, Carol, was happy to go to his parents’ in the afternoon, but she liked opening presents at home. Past discussions had ended with Dan calling Carol selfish and Carol calling Dan a mama’s boy. So it’s no wonder Dan had decided to “go along to get along.”
Maybe you too have found that things have gone south when you tried to speak up. So now you just keep quiet.
Fortunately, there is an approach that not only keeps things from blowing up, but actually deepens the connection between you.
At an emotional level, that is.
Whenever you have a concrete desire, such as spending Christmas with your parents, you’ve usually got an emotional desire that goes along with it. It’s your unfulfilled emotional desires that cause you the most pain—and eventually resentment—if they’re not addressed.
I think of emotional desires as being like a tree. The trunk of the tree for most of us is love and acceptance.
But for each one of us, some branches of the tree mean more than others. Your branches could be approval, admiration, security, or feeling protected, needed or special. Some people have strong growth-oriented desires, such as excelling and being challenged.
Christmas morning meant belonging and security for Dan. Imagine what might happen if Dan was able to express these desires to Carol. And then if Carol could say that opening presents at home made her feel important and special to Dan, two of her emotional desires.
They’d see each other with more compassion. The blame game would stop.
It’s hard to feel defensive when you listen to someone talk about their emotional desires. Desires are not criticism. Desires are the positive intention behind all the hurt feelings and nasty behaviors we resort to.
Does this mean Dan and Carol will come up with a plan that makes them both happy?
I can’t say for sure. But I do know they’ll see new possibilities open up.
From my experience working with couples, I’d guess there’s something about the way Dan treats Carol at his parents’ house that Carol doesn’t like. And triggers her anxiety about feeling important. Maybe a look across the table to show he’s there for her would make all the difference to her.
But I don’t want concrete solutions to be your first concern.
Focus on understanding first.
Sometimes the cure for our resentment is that experience of being deeply understood by our partner. Especially about our emotional desires.
That’s what’s really missing. Because the truth is, for most of us, that’s the most important emotional desire of all.
This post was written by Claire Hatch. Check out Claire’s website and read more about her book at http://www.clairehatch.com/save-your-marriage/.
Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.