By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
One of the biggest problems with ongoing resentment in post-divorce relationships is that it often leads to withdrawal and poor communication. And if you’re bottling up feelings of anger, sadness, or disappointment often, this can lead to feelings of resentment. By and large, children are sensitive to their parents’ communication patterns after divorce because they might feel that they have to choose sides. So letting go of resentment will lessen your children’s tendency to experience loyalty conflicts.
If your feelings of resentment toward your ex are persistent, it can cause you to hold a grudge which is usually deep seated and often the result of an injury or insult that has occurred. People hold grudges due to both real and fancied wrong doing. Either way, the bitterness that comes with a grudge – even if understandable – comes with a price. Studies show that letting hostility fester can lead to depression, anxiety, cardiovascular issues, immune system problems, and higher risk of stroke.
Experts believe that the best way to let go of a grudge is to practice forgiveness. For the most part, forgiveness can allow you to move on with your life and to embrace healthier relationships after divorce. However, forgiveness takes time and it doesn’t mean that you necessarily condone your ex’s behavior. It simply means that you are letting go of anger, bitterness, and resentment that led up to you holding a grudge. Practicing forgiveness allows you to turn the corner from feeling like a victim to becoming a more empowered person.
What does forgiveness really mean? What I’ve come to realize is that forgiveness is more of a perspective and a practice rather than about one act. Forgiving is one way of letting go of your old baggage so that you can heal and move forward with your life. It’s about giving yourself and your children, the kind of future you and they deserve – unhampered by hurt and recycled anger. It’s about choosing to live a life wherein others don’t have power over you and you’re not dominated by unresolved anger, bitterness, and resentment.
6 ways to prevent resentment from ruining your relationship with your ex:
1. Acknowledge your feelings of resentment and come up with a positive intention to let them go. For instance: “I am working toward letting go of resentment toward my ex.”
2. Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute. One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Dr.’s Julie and John Gottman write: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.” Apologize to the other person when appropriate. This will validate their feelings and promote forgiveness and allow you both to move on.
3. Don’t allow wounds to fester. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about holding on to hurt feelings. Processing what happened briefly will allow you to let resentments go so you can move on to a healthier relationship. Keep the big picture in mind.
4. Express thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way. Resentment can build when people sweep things under the rug, so be vulnerable and don’t bury negative feelings.
5. Accept that people do the best they can and attempt to be more understanding. This does not mean that you condone the hurtful actions of others. You simply come to a more realistic view of your past. As you take stock, you will realize that all people operate out of the same basic drives, including self-interest.
6. Practice forgiveness. Learn to think like a forgiving person. Avoid holding a grudge and declare you are free to stop playing the role of victim. After all, we are all imperfect. For some people, genuine forgiveness is not possible, but acceptance is a worthy goal.
In closing, adopt a mindset of a forgiving person even if your ex-spouse doesn’t ask for forgiveness or make amends. Try to remember you are on the same team if you are raising children together. Practicing forgiveness signifies breaking the cycle of pain and giving up the belief that the other person should suffer as much as you do. Over time, it will allow you to create a new story for your life.
Let’s end on a quote by Roberto Assagioli: “Without forgiveness life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.”
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.