What You'll Learn
- Defining Resentment
- Ways Resentment Shows Up
- How Comparison Affects Resentment
- Productive vs. Unproductive Communication Skills
- “I” Statements
- Resentment During Postpartum
As you welcome your new child into your family, your identity and relationship with your partner instantly change. While navigating your new roles, it takes time to adjust our expectations of parenthood with the reality of our new roles. This can give birth to resentment, especially in new parents. A lot of this resentment comes from our needs being unmet and then how these feelings are communicated. Today, Dr. Ream and I unpack what exactly resentment is, how it shows up, and the importance of healthy communication with a willingness to hear and understand.
“Resentment is this idea that we’ve had these grievances that we’ve been holding onto. Ways that we’ve been wronged,” Dr. Ream explained, “and we’ve kind of turned it into this mentality of ‘us versus them.’”
Resentment can start out as very small things, but they build up over time. You can get to a place where you deeply dislike your partner. It snowballs into an undertone of the relationship.
This can really become a problem for new parents, because adding a new person into the relationship just allows more opportunities for needs to be unmet. Resentment often has an undercurrent of unfairness to it, and adding an infant and all of the work that goes into infant care can easily feel unfair if the work isn’t shared.
Ways Resentment Shows Up
“Keeping score. This is one of the biggest things,” Dr. Ream said. “I remember this feeling. Our son was waking up so much. In the middle of the night, you’re in the midst of your most vulnerable period and you’re thinking, ‘It’s your turn to get up. I’ve been doing this all day.’”
It’s almost like you’re keeping score to see who’s doing the most. Anytime you’re making a lot of “you” statements―even if we're not saying it out loud―there is resentment. When Dr. Ream was thinking, “You never get up. I’ve been doing this all day,” the unmet need was I need a break or sleep, or both.
Sometimes resentment shows up in the “you” statements, but other times people just quit talking at all. “What I find in meeting with these people is they’ll say something like, ‘There’s no point in talking. It doesn’t help us.’” Dr. Ream said. That’s a sad place though, because it’s almost like these people feel like the relationship can’t be fixed.
So much of our culture is set up for parenting to default to mom.
“If one person feels like they’re being defaulted, it’s like an automatic thing that’s going to start to happen,” Dr. Ream explained. But so much of our culture is set up for parenting to default to mom. It’s almost like the strain on our relationships is built in. And it can feel like there is no support for it.
How Comparison Affects Resentment
We can also fall into what Dr. Ream called “the comparison trap.” We may see something on TV or social media and compare our partner to that. But it would be hard for our real life partner to measure up to fictional characters, and depending on the media we consume, we may not measure up. “We may have a lot of unmet expectations all the way around,” she said.
One of my co-workers had a partner who worked on their farm property. Her postpartum experience was that she could call her partner anytime she needed something, and he was nearby. In my case, my partner worked away from home and was gone 12 hours a day. I felt like I had no lifeline and no support.
This triggered resentment toward my friend, because I wanted the lifeline she had. But I wasn’t living her life day to day. I don’t know what her partner’s responsibilities were or how often he was really available.
This triggered resentment toward my friend, because I wanted the lifeline she had.
“And that gets translated into the interactions we have with our partners after the fact. You’re saying things that don’t make sense to your partner in the moment, but to you, you have this whole day to compare, create, and establish this bitterness,” Dr. Ream said.
I’ve created a narrative in my head about my partner’s support or lack of support for me when really nothing about his support has changed. I just compared it to an external situation.
In my situation, the resentment got spread out between my friend and my partner, but really there was an unmet need for support. In my attempt to get the need met, I’m seeing my friend feel supported and assume it’s because her partner is nearby. This then results in me asking my partner to catch an earlier train home. Now, I’m trying to get the need met by controlling his behaviour.
Productive vs. Unproductive Communication Skills
“We want people to understand how we feel, so we do that sometimes with the words that we use to try to elicit that same pain in them rather than explain what our needs are,” Dr. Ream said. But this doesn’t get our needs met and our words go unheard.
Unless we package our needs in a way our partner can hear it, it’s going to fall on deaf ears. They’re going to get defensive or feel controlled. “This is the difference between fueling the cycle vs. navigating to the root of this,” Dr. Ream explained.
“Send a message how you’d like to receive it,” Dr. Ream suggested. She likes to pause and think about how she’d like to be told about what she’s about to say and tries to phrase it like that.
“What’s the point of my message?” she asked. Because if the point of this message is to get a need met, you’re better off leading with an “I” statement—“I feel,” “I need,” or “I like it when”—to be heard.
Resentment During Postpartum
Postpartum is such a hard period of time you may not even know what you need. Of course, if you don’t know what you need, it’s going to be impossible to articulate it. But it can be unfair to expect your partner to know and do what you need when you don’t even know!
This period can also look really different for you than it does your partner which helps resentment build up. For me, my partner got to go back to his 9 to 5 job. He had time alone on the train. His clothes fit, and his body hadn’t changed. It was just a reminder of everything I lost.
It was just a reminder of everything I lost.
I remember once going to an office Christmas party I was so excited for. Finding a dress that worked for my new body was a struggle in itself. I’d been there for a few hours when I got a phone call that the baby wouldn’t take his bottle or stop crying, and I was needed at home. The feeling of being constantly needed—trapped—was back.
There are a lot of things to grieve during the postpartum period—your old body, your wardrobe, leaving the house, your social life, everything changes—and grief isn’t mentioned enough. But openly communicating to get the need met works out much better than hanging onto that feeling.
It may seem unfair, because so little seems to change for your partner, but it’s not about blame. It’s no one's fault, and it’s better if we can just come to some kind of understanding like maybe you get an hour by yourself once your partner is home or whatever it is you need.
If you’re still struggling with this, Dr. Ream and I have put together a workshop on resentment to help you work through it. You’ll have it on playback, so it’s something you and your partner can go through together, or watch individually if you need to.