How the Past Affects Your Resentment (and What You Can Do About It)

Hi folks! Thanks so much for all your emails about last week’s tips! I’m SO glad that my tips on communicating more clearly (so we can let go of our resentment) were so helpful.

For today’s post, I’d like to dig into some of the deeper roots behind our resentment—the (gulp) past! So strap yourself in, folks, because here we go!

parkbenchsmComing to Terms with Our Past and Our Present

Did you have a bachelor or bachelorette party before you got married? Most of us, I’m guessing, probably did. It was a way of celebrating our last hurrah as a single person before we moved into our new life.

Now think back to when you became a parent. At that point, the go-to ritual was a baby shower. Sure, it helped us load up on baby gear, and maybe we even got some tips for surviving those early, sleepless months. But did any of that really prepare you for the enormous sea change you were about to undergo? Did any of those baby games prepare you for the fact that your identity was about to drastically change? That life, as you knew it, was basically over?

Probably not.

And this, my friends, is a problem.

Tip #1: Stop looking in the rearview mirror.

Until we can consciously say good-bye to the people we once were (and the lives we once led), we can’t fully move forward. Because some part of us will always be stuck in the past, waiting for something that no longer exists.

This causes so much pain in our lives, not to mention resentment. Because we’re no longer single, independent adults like we used to be—and we can’t come and go as we please. Now we have a spouse AND a tiny little baby to take care of. And while it’s possible to ignore your spouse at times, you can’t do that with an infant—not if you want to keep it alive. He or she needs 24-7 care and attention, no matter what.

That can be a hard pill to swallow, and this is often the point in a marriage when we start lashing out at our spouse (if we haven’t already). Holy Jesus, can’t he frigging see how hard I’m working and how desperately I need a break? she thinks. Meanwhile, he’s thinking the same thing.

The other thing that’s tricky about our new lives is that we’re no longer in control. Now we have to ask for permission when we want to go out.

And that really sucks.

Now, I’m not trying to say that marriage and parenting are all hard work and no fun—not by any means. There are so many gifts that come from being a parent and spouse, and we’ll get to them in a minute.

All I’m trying to say is that every time one door opens, another closes. What this means is that if we don’t take the time and energy to honor the door that’s closing, some part of us will remain stuck in that old life, waiting and wishing for something that no longer exists.

This, my friends, is big.

Becoming a spouse and parent is a giant identity shift no matter how you slice it. After all, marriage and parenthood are some of life’s biggest transitions. They’re also huge stressors. And we don’t usually comprehend the full scope of this kind of transition while we’re going through it.

Until we wake up one day, wondering what happened to our old lives.

How can this not bring up some kind of grief? Even if you’re married to the finest person in the world (and have the sweetest, most well-behaved baby), you’re going to miss something from your old life.

That’s what grief is, after all. A sadness or sorrow over something you’ve lost.

The problem is that our society doesn’t recognize that grief. Nor does it teach us that grief is a natural part of the transition process.

But here’s what I’ve learned:

Tip #2: To heal our grief, we must acknowledge it.

In other words, the only way out is through.

When we don’t acknowledge grief, we remain stuck. The pressure keeps building and building until, eventually, something gives. This might be you, your sanity, your health, your job, or your marriage.

For some people, this shows up as an outright identity crisis. For others, it manifests as a slow burn. Or maybe it’s an uncomfortable feeling you can’t quite pin down, a melancholy for what was, a low-grade itch you can’t quite scratch.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, you probably haven’t had the opportunity to slow down and truly honor these momentous changes. So that’s what we’re going to do today.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for 5 minutes or 50 years, whether your kids are babies or already in college. Until we get this down on paper, most of us don’t realize how strongly our unacknowledged grief has been driving our lives, not to mention fueling our resentments.

My Story

When Ken and I were planning our wedding, I thought I’d dealt with the grief that arose from the loss of my single life. But old habits die hard (especially when you marry later in life), and because the only ceremony I did was a regular ole bachelorette party, I found myself getting pretty squirrelly as the big day approached. So much so that I left the country.

Yikes.

After we got back from our honeymoon, I left again—this time for an entire month.

Double yikes.

Now, both trips were work-related, true. But tell me: who leaves the country for 3 weeks right before her wedding, then turns around and heads to a month-long writer’s retreat (on the opposite coast, no less) right after her honeymoon?

Someone who’s afraid of commitment, that’s who.

Thankfully, I’ve gotten a lot better over the years, and thank goodness, my rock-star husband has hung in there with me. He’s one of the main reasons I’m the person I am today, and I’m beyond blessed to have him as my partner. But the mere process of being married to the man has broken me down and rebuilt me in ridiculously profound ways. Becoming a mother has done the same. At this point, I’m like the Million Dollar Woman, with few original parts left.

If we do this right, your transformation shouldn’t have to be so painful.

So pull out your journal, friend, because it’s time to complete the circle. It’s time to honor who you are and where you came from.

Tip #3: Reconcile the past.

Let’s start by coming to terms with your past. In this writing exercise, you’re going to write about everything you’ve lost through marriage and parenthood. This can include parts of your old life (or old identity) that you miss, such as friends or activities you wish you could carry into your current life.

Set a timer for 5 minutes. During that time, write whatever comes into your mind, and don’t edit yourself. This is important. You want to get at the good, juicy stuff beneath the surface, and to get there, we’re going to need to bypass the inner-critic-type person who’s always on alert. So don’t judge whatever comes up. Seriously. Just keep writing.

If you get stuck, just keep moving your hand across the page. If you have to, repeat the same word over and over, until something else comes up. Don’t stop until your 5 minutes are up, you’ll be amazed at what you uncover.

Tip #4: Reconcile the present.

Now take 5 minutes to write about everything you’ve gained through marriage and parenthood. This can include companionship, a warm body to share your bed, someone to do your laundry, a child’s sweet hug, you name it.

Same rules as in tip #3. Set your timer for 5 minutes, start writing, and keep moving your hand across the page. No editing, just keep going.

Whew! Talk about some intense exercises!

This might be a good place to take a break and think about some of the things that came up during these exercises. Before we move on, considering taking a few minutes to share some of your insights with your spouse or children. Are you feeling thankful for having them in your life? Tell them.

***

OK, folks, that’s what I’ve got for today and trust me, it’s just the tip of the iceberg! I have SO many useful tips in my new book (over 75, in fact) and I can’t wait to share them with you. 9 Steps to Heal Your Resentment and Reboot Your Marriage has been a long time in the making and I’m so SO excited to share everything I’ve learned with you. I’m so excited, in fact, that I’ve decided to give away my book FOR FREE for 48 hours!

Starting Friday morning (December 12th), you and your friends can download the book for free. So mark your calendars!

(And please know you don’t have to buy a Kindle device to read this book–just use Amazon’s free Kindle reading app to read it on your computer, phone, or tablet.)

Don’t worry, I’ll send out another email in case you forget. In the meantime, please help me by spreading the word with your family and friends. Click below to like this on Facebook and/or forward my emails to your friends. Because I promise you, most of us are suffering from some kind of resentment in our marriages, even if we’re not talking about it.

Until tomorrow….

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