If there's one thing entrepreneurs and their spouses know well, it's resentment. Entrepreneurs may resent their partners for not fully supporting them, for not believing in them, for not understanding how important their work is to them. Their significant others, in turn, may resent how much devotion is given to the business, and how little time and attention is left over for family.
Resentment is particularly dangerous because it can creep in slowly, growing gradually with each perceived grievance. It can operate at a low simmer for years.
Most relationships don't end because of one spectacular argument or a particularly egregious betrayal. The vast majority of marriages that end in divorce are ruined by long-lasting behaviors and disagreements that lead to ongoing hurt, anger, or frustration. Or, in a word: resentment.
Resentment causes us to turn away from our significant others instead of turning toward them. It helps us to justify being less present, listening less well, and showing less affection. Over time, resentment turns into distance and coldness and mistrust, which are serious signs that a marriage is in trouble.
It is probably not a coincidence that entrepreneurs and their mates experience quite a bit of resentment and have higher divorce rates than the general population.
If you or your spouse is an entrepreneur, you don't have to be held hostage to resentment. You have agency, both in choosing not to feel resentment and in being able to address it.
Here are four steps you can take if resentment is threatening your relationship:
1. Learn your limits and communicate those to your spouse.
Everyone has their limits, whether it's in regard to work, stress, or quality of life. If your spouse consistently pushes you to go beyond your limits, you will feel resentful. Therefore, it's incredibly important that you understand your own limits and clearly communicate those with your significant other.
2. Keep your commitments, and ask your partner to do the same.
The healthiest couples make agreements with one another about how they will treat one another, what they will do for each other, and what is both acceptable and unacceptable. Ideally, these commitments should help prevent resentment-causing scenarios from happening.
But these agreements are only effective if you honor them and ask your spouse to do the same.
3. When you feel resentful, talk to your spouse about it.
Admitting resentment can be almost as painful as the resentment itself. But burying resentment is harmful and pointless, as it always finds a way to make itself known.
If you're feeling resentful toward your significant other, it's likely that he or she is already feeling it. It's far better to be honest and transparent about what you're feeling and why, and to invite your spouse to help find solutions that will help.
4. Look for opportunities that can offset your resentment.
One marriage-family therapist I interviewed said that the best antidote for resentment is curiosity. Resentment flourishes when we feel stuck and disempowered; curiosity pushes us to search for the new and different.
What else can I do? What is life trying to teach me right now? What will help me get unstuck? These are questions we can always ask ourselves, no matter how challenging our situation.
For the couple that wants to stay together in the long run, it's important to acknowledge and tackle resentment head on. If you wait too long, the damage done to the relationship might be too great to heal. But if you work to resolve resentment together, you've given your partnership a much greater chance of success.