Married couples have expectations within their marriage. Personal values, parental influence, culture and even media shape these expectations. For some, the media portrayal of relationships even in a cultural value system that is not their own, does nothing to deter their expectations of those same standards in their relationship.
In fact, a study by Dr. Mary Lou Galician, an Arizona State professor and an author of ”Sex, Love and Romance in the Mass Media” reveals that media myths surrounding what each partner should be like or do is often so unhealthy, and that it actually deteriorates relationships.
Romance movies and TV shows often depict wives that are astonishingly beautiful at all times, giving, polished, organized, funny and sexy. Men or husbands are attentive, sensitive to her needs, always desirous of her company, patient and emotionally strong.
As couples develop unrealistic expectations, when these characteristics are not manifested in their real marital lives, resentment is the result. Resentment is a strong emotion – a passion – that brings feelings of displeasure or even indignation at some act, remark or person that makes us feel we are insulted or injured.
When we look to media to examine this issue, one of the funniest programs that have an episode about this issue was the ”Cosby” show with the television characters ”Cliff” and ”Clare”. In one episode, the couple tasks themselves with writing down the other’s faults. ”Cliff” quickly takes on the challenge, but then notices that his wife’s list appears to go on and on. His natural response is to feel insulted and resent that her list is so much longer to the point that he begins his own rather petty list.
Although this is a scene from a TV show, many couples have participated in a similar exercise whereby they make a list of things that cause dissension. Then, they share their lists with each other, or if the situation has progressed negatively, they share it with a family member or marriage counselor so that both parties can be aware of what they are doing that may cause the other harm.
Often, this is a list of personal habits or personality quirks. A husband might write that his wife
• is always making demands on his time,
• engages him in unwanted conversation,
• doesn’t fix his favorite foods enough,
• complains about his habits or
• doesn’t keep the household or her appearance to the standard he desires
The wife might make a list that the husband
• is not communicative,
• is tight with money,
• doesn’t help around house even though she may work,
• is away from home too much or
• complains whenever he has to take her somewhere.
The usual procedure is to have each make up a list of negatives, then make up a list of positive character attributes of their spouse that they can refer back to when they feel resentment towards their spouse. This helps them not to focus so much on their spouse’s shortcomings.
The problem with this exercise is that even after sharing the list with the spouse and discussing it, there is little change. This is because the change the spouse is often looking for is incomplete.
Make Your Own List
A better way to use this exercise is not to just write down what the spouse does that causes resentment or frustration, but then next to each infraction, write down your own response to that behavior.
For instance, the husband’s list may cause him to admit that he often responds by
• getting angry every time his wife makes a demand
• walking away or ignore her when she talks
• sulking when he doesn’t have his favorite foods
• becoming defensive about his habits
• complaining about her looks or the household
While, the wife may examine her list and admit that she often responds by
• arguing with him when he won’t talk
• resenting his perceived lack of generosity
• acting like a martyr when he doesn’t help around house
• crying when he is away from home
• wishing she married someone else when he doesn’t accompany her places
After a quick examination of the responses, each spouse is likely to have revealed a list of negative behaviors that are rude, petty, selfish, and destructive and certainly exacerbate rather than solve the problem. Yes, only a disrespectful fool will constantly engage in behavior that severely irritates or harms their spouse. However, there is a difference between responses that let your partner know that their behavior is crossing the limits of your tolerance, and responses that are meant to ‘needle’ him or her back.
When couples engage in pettiness, this affects not only the marriage overall, but the strength of intimacy between them As the couple seeks out each other’s intimate company, the wall of resentment over unresolved matters, makes these tender moments a time where the passion is either lackluster or absent altogether.
When one actually examine not only their partner’s behavior, but their own- they will occasionally find the foundation of their resentment is not just in the other person. This type of epiphany usually helps spouses realize that they are indeed married to a good person, – not a perfect one – but one that is good. Therefore, they can take responsibility for their responses and note their own culpability in their feelings of resentment. We often can’t control how another person behaves – especially if this is part of their natural personality. However, we can control how we respond to it.
Marriage inherently takes concentration, realization, patience and work. When couples take responsibility individually and as a couple to address this reality, negative passions don’t have to impact their intimacy.
Surely, as couples move forward in their marriage, the one passion that they don’t need or want is resentment. Honest self-reflection and of course respect and compromise with our spouses help to strengthen the marriage so that the natural intimacy between husband and wife can flourish.