Decide To Deal With Resentment
ACKNOWLEDGE the issue causing resentment
REMEMBER skills that work for you
EXECUTE a plan to forgive, or ask forgiveness

Empathy: Injured Partner responsibility


The skill set you need to achieve acknowledgement is called EMPATHY. Do people often say to you that you do not understand them? Do people often refer to you as uncaring?

Empathy is the ability to not only see another person’s point of view, but also to understand their feelings. Most people assume that everyone is born with the same capacity for empathy, but that is not really the case. Some people have a high degree of empathy and some people do not seem to have a great deal of empathy at all. Most scientists think that the degree of empathy a person has is a combination of their genetic make-up and their experience.

People brought up in a home where there was physical or emotional abuse, or where their parents had mental health problems like drug or alcohol abuse, may have more difficulty in feeling empathy for others when they are adults.

Whether or not you naturally feel empathy for others, it is still important to note that understanding the point of view of other people is important to having good relationships, whether they are with family, friends or colleagues at work. Empathy is essential to developing any kind of intimate relationship with a spouse or partner.

First, let’s look at some case examples to illustrate the power of acknowledgement fueled by empathy:

Case example #1 – Mary and Jim

This simple acknowledgment can drastically change the dynamic of your relationship. I recall one couple who sat in an anger management class at the back of the room and didn’t say anything for the first 3 lessons. Then, during the fourth class Mary (the Injured Partner) revealed a hurt that had occurred many years ago in their marriage. Jim (Offending Partner) looked at her and simply said “I’m sorry… that was partly my fault too”. The wife burst out into tears, held her husband’s hand and said “thank you… you’ve never acknowledged that before”.

Injured partners can also hold resentments because of continuing behavior by the offending partner which reactivates an older resentment, like pouring salt into an open wound, these resentments can last for years.

Case example #2 – Juan and Betty

Juan and Betty had been married 30 years. Betty resented that Juan often did things as if she were invisible in the relationship. He didn’t ask her opinion or feelings- he just took leadership and did what he thought was best. She felt dis-empowered. Early in their marriage, their son had severe anxiety which was disabling. Juan’s way of handling the situation was to teach the boy to “man-up” and deal with his fears through sports, while Betty and protected him took him to numerous therapists and psychiatrists to have him treated. She felt thoroughly abandoned by her husband and held on to this resentment for years – much to the frustration of Juan who didn’t see himself as having done anything wrong. She developed a deep resentment as she devoted her life to “rescuing” their children from their father.

Now, the children are grown. But Betty’s resentment remains. It simmers under the surface most of the time, but it blocks Betty being able to accept love that Juan tries to show her. Her resentment is easily triggered now anytime Juan does something that effects both of them prior to getting her input. For instance, scheduling a social without checking with her first. Even though well-intentioned, this triggers Betty because it again makes her feel invisible in the relationship.

Juan used to get very defensive about the whole thing and argued that he didn’t do anything wrong. So, we didn’t ask him to ackknoweldge that he was wrong or had done anything wrong. What we taught him to do was acknowledge that he could have handled his wife’s emotions better and not been so dismissive of her feelings. 

He was able to do this after he learned stronger empathy skills. 

As is so often he case, it is not about the message – the problem is in the delivery. It is HOW he handled it that caused the resentment.

Now, whenever he makes decisions without consulting his wife first, her old resentment comes back, even if she agrees with the decision. But, Jun now is aware of how he is coming across and immediately double-checks with Betty before making a unilateral decision that affects them both.

Granted, all wives certainly would not have reacted the way that Betty does. But the point is that HIS wife does because of her particular background issues. As he gained empathy, he learned to take into account his knowledge of his wife and his knowledge of how she react to things before he does what he does that used to piss her off. This makes her feel special and on his radar.

Stock image provided by:

unsplash-logoSoroush Karimi