Stage Three: The Days of Resentment
When feelings have changed and creative, sacrificial acts disappear, marriage partners begin to deeply resent each other. Blaming begins with statements like "You never talk to me anymore," or "We never have sex anymore," or "You always..." It becomes obvious when one partner has reached the point of feeling "stuck" with his or her mate. The one who feels stuck resents the other's inadequacies and may even resent God for allowing the marriage to occur. The other mate feels judged, rejected, and misunderstood, which quickly degenerates into anger. Thus the cycle of resentment has begun.
When couples reach this point of deep resentment, they begin to lose hope. If they don't get help, they typically move in one of two directions. First, they may tragically move toward divorce. Or second, they move towards a compromised marriage.
A compromised marriage is one in which people don't really deal with their mistakes, attitudes, weaknesses, and differences. Instead, each goes his or her own way and purposely avoids the volatile areas of the marriage. It's a pretend marriage. On the surface they appear to be all right, but inside they harbor deep resentment. Occasionally the pressure may build until the couple explode in anger. Try as they will, compromised couples cannot prosper over the long haul.
Sadly, many supposedly successful marriages are really just two people going their own independent ways, being careful not to step on each other's toes. The husband loses himself in his work to compensate for the lack of respect at home. The wife becomes consumed with the children to compensate for the lack of intimacy within the marriage. Ultimately, most compromised relationships lead to a deeper and deeper resentment. If not checked, resentment will destroy a person's life like a cancer.
Stage Four: The Days of Rebellion
Unresolved resentment impacts men and women differently. Women typically become critical, and then fearful. Men become hardened and uncaring. For a season, resentment may simmer behind the illusion of a healthy marriage, fueled by unmet needs. Sooner or later, however, the compounding resentment explodes into overt acts of rebellion against the spouse.
After several years of marriage, Paula's dreams had turned to nightmares. She and Steve had failed to cope with reality in their marriage, and resentment consumed each of them. Her once rosy feelings for Steve were distant history. She not only didn't trust Steve, but she criticized his every move. Her days often seemed burdensome, long, and introspective. The soured marriage was constantly on her mind. Rather than facing the future with confidence, Paula greeted each day with a fear of failure and an increasingly critical attitude towards Steve.
Paula has subconsciously become fearful and depressed. Fearful, hurting people sometimes take desperate actions to regain a sense of control in their lives. Often that action comes in the form of rebellion against God and the mate. Often in counseling wives say something like, "Life is no fun anymore," or "I don't enjoy people like I used to," or "So-and-so (another man) makes me feel so alive and appreciated." God created women and men in such a way that they require hope. Without it, rebellion can erupt into all kinds of behavior that will deliver the final blow to the marriage.
Steve, like most men, responded to his unresolved resentment differently. He hardened his feelings toward others, including his mate. He had become more insensitive and self-centered in their relationship. How different from when they first married! During the first months, Steve would have literally died for Paula. But as she became more aware of Steve's weaknesses, Paula increasingly criticized his actions. Steve's sense of self-confidence as the spiritual leader in his home plummeted. Feelings of failure replaced courage and creativity. Faced with Paula's growing criticism, Steve retreated. His respect for her was replaced with disgust and avoidance.
If not corrected, the patterns of fearfulness for women and hardness for men will deteriorate until both mates begin to think that the best of life was missed because of their spouse. The cancer of bitterness is predictable, progressive, and will become overwhelming. Don't play around with unresolved bitterness and resentment. You may think you have it under control today; tomorrow it may blow up in your face. The spark of love and commitment fades one incident at a time. Has bitterness taken root in your heart and marriage?
Is There Any Hope?
There is no "simple" solution to resentment and bitterness in marriage. But there is hope. It calls for our willingness in two areas.
The first area concerns our own sin. Let's face it: many times our problems in marriage are rooted in our self-centeredness, pride, and critical spirit. What is more, we often feel powerless before these sinful feelings and attitudes! The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ came to free us from the power of sin (see Galatians 5:16-26; Romans 6:5-14). Power for change comes through surrendering our lives to Jesus and asking Him to fill us with His Holy Spirit. Again, this is not a "quick fix": surrendering the control of our life to Jesus is something that we need to do on a day by day basis. Learning to trust Him is a process of growth, and growth is seldom automatic! But as we do learn to surrender our lives to Him and receive the power of His Spirit, we will experience His freeing power over our sinful selfishness, pride, and critical spirit.
The second area concerns our blueprint for marriage. All of us have a blueprint for marriage, but often our blueprint does not match up to God's! Even many Christian couples are "building" their marriage more after the blueprint of the world than the blueprint of the Bible. Listen: God designed marriage; He can make it work. Again, this is not meant as a "quick fix" solution. Learning God's blueprint for marriage and then building according to it takes time, but it is a trustworthy plan. What does building according to God's plan mean practically? It begins with understanding what God has to say about marriage. This can be done a number of ways: doing a Bible study with other couples on marriage; attending a Christian marriage conference; seeking the counsel of older and wiser Christians; or going to Christian counseling (if your marriage is in stages three or four then we strongly recommend finding a good Christian counselor).
Naturally, understanding God's blueprint for marriage does no good if we don't build according to it! As you grow in your understanding of God's plan for marriage it will mean submitting your marriage as a whole to His direction and guidance. When possible, this is best done with the support of other couples who are seeking to build their marriages according to God's blueprint as well. Again, it is not a quick process, but do have hope: God did design marriage and He can make it work!
Read Part One of this article.
© 2004 Christian Family Life
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