Expert Speak

What’s the best way to protect a marriage with unresolved issues?

Dr Rima speaks to Team Bonobology about identifying and resolving issues that cause resentment among married couples.
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Dr.Rima Mukherji Dr. Rima Mukherji MBBS, DPM, MRCPsych (London). After gaining 7 years of experience in the UK, Dr. Mukherji set up the renowned Crystal Minds, a mental wellness centre (with a multidisciplinary team offering a wide range of psychiatric and psychological services for all age groups) in Kolkata.

Resentment in marriage

“He never stands up for me in front of his mother”, “She is always telling me I don’t earn enough”, “He lied to me again”, “Did she speak to him even though she knows how much I hate him”…

In a marriage, minor issues can turn into big resentments over time, if not addressed timely. Every word said in a state of irritation or anger has the ability to wound both the partner and relationship. So what is the best way to protect a marriage or relationship from going downhill due to unresolved issues?

Identifying resentment in a marriage

Identifying the main issues affecting a marriage is the first step. These are the points which raise their ugly heads in every fight. So if an issue is unresolved, a couple will find it is getting dragged into each fight, however unrelated. This is the cue to pick up on.

For example: A husband may resent that in the initial stages of their marriage his wife’s mother used to continuously try to control the marriage. A wife may be upset about the mean things her mother-in-law said to her. Years may have passed but they’re unable to move forward and it is brought up in each argument. This is a sure sign of resentment.

How to address long-term resentment in a marriage

Storing anger and resentment clogs the free space in one’s mind and ruins the quality of a relationship, and attempts simply have to be made to sort the issues out, as they will not get solved by themselves. A few simple techniques go a long way.

1. Listen to your partner’s complaint

Scene 1

Husband to wife: You don’t love me

Wife to husband: I slog all day at home, raise kids, look after your parents, if this does not mean love to you then what will?

Scene 2

Husband to wife: You don’t love me

Wife to husband: I don’t love you? What makes you say that?

Husband: The home, family, children… even your sisters come before me. I don’t feel like I matter to you.

Sometimes it is better to simply ask what ‘exactly’ is bothering the partner instead of giving explanations or justifications.

2. Tell your partner clearly what bothers you

The above point tells us that a common mistake that couples make is to expect their partners to read their mind: “If you loved me you would have known that I don’t like this”. That’s not how real life works.

If something bothers you, tell you partner exactly what bothers you and why. No one is a mind reader. Don’t accuse. Don’t fight. State the facts. “It hurts me when you do this”, can work wonders if you give it a chance.

Related reading: Five communication mistakes that couples make!

3. Let go of ego

Once a fight has started or is about to, the only way to end it is for one of them to back off. Somebody has to be humble. Someone has to be the first one to apologise. One of them has to let go of their ego.

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Representative image Image source

Letting go of ego is not the simplest of things to do, but when people feel they have a genuine reason to continue a relationship with someone, they do try to cool down, introspect and apologise. Of course, for the relationship to work, the apology has to be heartfelt and genuine.

“I am sorry, I hadn’t realised this bothered you so much” should be followed by action.

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4. Marriage is a sacrosanct husband-wife unit

Most marriages in India go downhill due to the role of in-laws, (both sets of in-laws). It is important for everyone around a couple to understand that a husband wife unit is sacrosanct. Meddling parents must give the couple the space to grow, thrive and take their own decisions.

The couple themselves must be aware that that there will be problems, but they will not let it affect their marriage in any cost. That their marriage is sacrosanct and no one will be allowed to get in and ruin their space. They’re adults and will not allow themselves to be misguided either.

Related reading: Overcoming in-laws’ interference

5. Divorce and litigation

Divorce must be a mutual decision to be taken after counselling has proven unsuccessful. Litigation must be taken recourse to in genuine cases of abuse, assault, harassment. Never should either of the above be used as tools for bullying or arm twisting the partner and their family. People are naïve when they play these games. They must have an honest chat with one another before they think of divorce.

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6. Therapy

Along with all the above, a couple must go for therapy to give their relationship the best chance that it has of surviving. Unlike family and friends of a couple, counsellors are neutral and are professionally trained to guide couples in distress. Only if a genuine effort at therapy that spanned six months to a year does not resolve the issues should a couple decide to go in for a divorce.

One’s marriage is one’s own. Like any relationship, it needs effort. With empathy, an open mind and a genuine effort to make it work, a marriage can survive and come out of even the worst of times.

These are some things couples should discuss before they start living together

How to let go of resentment and anger in a relationship

Online advice for relationship counselling

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