What to Do If You’re Starting to Resent Every Little Thing Your Partner Does

What to Do If You’re Starting to Resent Every Little Thing Your Partner Does

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If you’re in a long-term relationship, your significant other is probably going to bug the hell out of you from time to time. It’s completely normal—healthy, even, research suggests—to get annoyed or angry at your partner, especially if you live together or hang out a ton. I’m no exception: I recently snapped at my husband over our broken bed. It happens!

For some people, however, those one-off mild (or even intense!) irritations can snowball. Left unaddressed, you can grow to straight-up resent your partner and end up scoffing at every teeny tiny thing they do. Fortunately, even though it sucks to feel this way, it’s not a surefire sign that your relationship is doomed. “Don’t feel like, I’m annoyed so my relationship is over,” Anabel Basulto, MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Kaiser Permanente in San Leandro, California, tells SELF. “You’re irritated for a reason and you need to figure out what that reason is.”

In other words, there’s hope for you. Below, Basulto unpacks why you may be so exasperated with your other half—and suggests some practical strategies for reining in your frustration.

Why you kinda can’t stand your significant other right now

The reason you feel so damn bitter is, most likely, that you two have unresolved issues—such as financial stressors, conflicting parenting styles, or less-than-stellar progress toward your life goals—that you haven’t openly acknowledged or dealt with. If you don’t address these problems early on and nip them in the bud, they can fester beneath the surface. Then, you may wind up getting irked by everything your partner does (the way they eat chips, for example, or how loudly they speak), when, really, these little behaviors have absolutely nothing to do with the core issues at hand. “It’s almost like when you put something in a pressure cooker and it’s about to pop and you just keep adding and adding and adding,” Basulto explains.

Many couples start out in a happy-go-lucky blissful state (we all know this as “the honeymoon phase”). Problems like where you want to live, say, or how to cope with overbearing in-laws, don’t usually bubble up and cause chaos until a few years down the road, often around the seven-year mark, studies suggest. At this point, the honeymoon phase is over (it’s gotta end sometime), you know your partner very well (too well?), you’ve settled into how you function in life as a pair, and certain behaviors you once found adorable may lose their allure, Basulto says.

It doesn’t help that society hammers us over the head with unrealistic expectations about what long-term relationships should be like. Many people are sold the idea that they’ll meet their soulmate and live happily ever after as they gaze dreamily into the sunset of life together—but it doesn’t work like that, Basulto says. And it can be super disappointing when you’re faced with the reality that real relationships have conflict and good days and bad days. As a result, you might wind up blaming your partner for these perceived shortcomings, she adds.

So what do you do if you’ve had it up to here with your partner?

Consider the pros and cons of your relationship.

It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle where you focus on all the annoying things your partner does. Research shows the brain is hardwired to pay closer attention to all the negatives in life than the positives—but it’s important to acknowledge your partner’s best traits too. Basulto recommends making a pros and cons list about them (that they will never, ever find, of course). Jot down what you appreciate about this person along with the behaviors that set you off.

The very act of making this list can unveil feelings that have been tough to verbalize because they’re scary or intimidating. “When you write, you’re alone with your thoughts and things begin to flow,” Basulto says. “That’s why journaling can be so powerful—it helps you get in touch with those feelings,”. (And if you’re not much of a writer, that’s okay—mood-tracking apps and voice notes are legit alternatives to journaling.)

A pros-cons list can help you see that your partner isn’t all bad, and while they may have some annoying tendencies (hey, don’t we all?) they’re amazing at other things like, perhaps, planning date nights or keeping the house tidy, Basulto says. Even though your brain may be wired to fixate on the problems in the relationship, you might find that the good outweighs the bad.

Communicate often and openly.

If you’re pissed off almost all the time, you need to clue your partner in. Clear, open communication is, according to research and countless self-help books, the key to happy and healthy relationships. Whenever you’re upset about something legitimate, give yourself time to cool off (you don’t want to go into a convo fuming) but aim to bring up your concerns within 48 hours or so, Basulto recommends. Again, relationship issues tend to intensify over time if you suppress them—those hard feelings can build into resentment and then, in a month or two, you blow up over the pile of crumpled cash on the table or the way your partner clears their throat.

Basulto’s advice: Schedule time to sit down and talk. Prior to your little meeting, jot down (or at least think about) the points you want to hit on—like, say, that you’re worried about your partner’s excessive spending and how it impacts your long-term financial goals. Mapping out what you want to convey ahead of time will help you communicate clearly about how you’ve been feeling, Basulto says, so you don’t wind up rambling or forgetting what you wanted to say.

Use “I” statements—so go with something like, “I know you like to spend your money on concerts, but I’m scared that’s going to hurt our ability to get a bigger apartment,” and avoid “you” statements, such as “You spend way too much money on concerts,” which put the blame on your partner and will likely make them defensive. Let them respond without interrupting and be willing to hear them out and see where they’re coming from, Basulto says.

Figure out how they express their love and appreciation for you.

Basulto frequently sees couples butt heads because they aren’t speaking the same “love language.” This term comes from a popular book authored by marriage counselor Gary Chapman, PhD—The 5 Love Languages—and refers to the ways people prefer to express and receive love. Not every expert subscribes to this exact framework, but the takeaway is this: If you don’t see how your partner shows their affection for you, “you’re not going to communicate well and you’ll get easily annoyed with each other,” according to Basulto.

For example, say your partner shows they care by walking the dog or cooking dinner, but what you need to feel loved is for them to make a point to cuddle more or hang out one-on-one at night. You might assume they’re merely doing a bunch of household chores when, really, they’re trying to be a good partner—they just have a different way of showing their feelings than what you want or expect from them.

Learning how your significant other shows up in the relationship, even if it’s not exactly what your idea of loving someone looks like, may help you feel more appreciated and eliminate some of the resentment you’re harboring, Basulto says. Plus understanding how they express love can help you find new ways to connect, potentially rekindling that spark that united you in the first place, she adds. You can get a better idea of how each of you shows affection by taking this online quiz from Dr. Chapman—or by simply asking your partner what makes them feel loved and vice versa.

Know when to ask for professional help.

If you’ve exhausted the above tips and your partner still drives you up a wall or you constantly fight, consider working with a couples therapist. In the wise words of Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, it takes two to make a thing go right, and working through the relationship turbulence can be a long and complicated process. “A professional therapist can help you navigate the conversation and prevent further damage from occurring due to miscommunication or misunderstanding of what the real issues are,” Basulto says.

The sooner you can accept that it’s time to ask for outside help, the better—don’t wait until it’s too late to fix something, she adds. If, after that, things still aren’t working (as in, You can’t talk about your feelings without blowing up or you make little to no progress in therapy),it might be a sign this isn’t the right person for you. In some cases, it’s just not workable, Basulto says.

Finally, give yourself some grace. Relationships can be sticky and sometimes they fall off course—that’s life. You may have to get your hands dirty to shatter the resentment and restore the love, but it’s entirely possible. There’s a reason you fell in love with this person—even if them hogging all the covers at night makes you think otherwise.

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