by Jill Jackson
In their book Beyond Ordinary, Justin and Trisha Davis provide the following definition for resentment: “Grief that is not mourned, which becomes anger that is not resolved, which turns into bitterness that is unconfessed, which becomes resentment that is unforgiven” (ch. 9). There’s an old adage that time heals all wounds, but in some marriages time is not healing the wounds. No couples are perfect. At some point, more times than we would like to count, we will hurt each other. Many of these wounds are minor abrasions, but sometimes our words or actions cut deep. Deep wounds left unattended can become festering injuries that bleed at the slightest irritation. Untreated, these injuries can erode into marriage-altering resentments.
I grew up in the South. You probably can’t find a single Southerner who doesn’t know what kudzu is. Personally, I love those vines, but I recognize I’m likely in the minority on this one, because they’re a major problem. They grow like crazy! They attach to anything whether you want them to or not. Worst of all, kudzu is almost impossible to kill.
Resentment is a lot like kudzu. Once the seed of resentment takes root, it can grow out of control with little encouragement. It can be extremely resistant to logic and common sense. When resentment resides in your heart, it can attach to any thought or issue within your marriage and totally take over.
Here’s an example. A wife is living with unresolved hurts, which have become a wedge in her marriage. Her husband is late for dinner, and she’s taking it personal. After all, she’s spent the afternoon ensuring a hot meal would be ready when he gets home. Now, dinner is cold and the kids are whining, and it’s his fault. Any thoughts that would give him the benefit of the doubt (such as there was an accident and he’s stuck in traffic) are unable to enter her mind. There’s no room for logical thoughts because the unresolved hurts keep the finger of blame on him. She feels unappreciated and taken for granted. There’s no ability for reasonable assumptions or explanations. Because resentment has so consumed her heart, his every action, or lack there of, must be one against her. Her resentment is a climbing vine attaching to things it ought not. Her husband is in a lose-lose situation—and doesn’t even know it.
Where does “kudz-entment” come from? Discontentment is fertile soil for resentment. As resentment grows, its stalks get thicker and its roots deeper. Intimacy suffers as emotional distance becomes an appealing refuge. Withdrawal is the fruit of this out-of-control, life-sapping vine. Distance and bitterness hardens hearts against forgiveness. Resentment becomes the silent assassin in many marriages. Is it pursuing you?
Forgiveness is the healing salve that protects our marriages from resentment. Extending our spouse forgiveness will not always be easy. It can be hard to let go of personal wounds, especially when the emotions and memories are vivid. It can be challenging to keep focused on moving forward, and not ruminate on what once caused us grief and strife. It can be downright difficult to forgive, even when we may know in our heart it isn’t deserved.
When forgiveness is hard, we should remember three things. First, we would likely be embarrassed—and humbled—to see on paper how many times our husbands forgave us when we didn’t deserve it. Marriage is a two-way street, after all.
Second, if we desire forgiveness from God, then we must offer it ourselves (Matt. 6:14-15). We must remember that we’re completely undeserving of God’s forgiveness, of Christ’s sacrifice, yet the moment any Christian asks for forgiveness, it’s freely given (1 Jn. 1:7-9). He loves … we need … he offers … we ask … he hears … we’re forgiven. But, if our policy is to withhold forgiveness from those who seek it, how can we call upon the Father to forgive us?
Finally, we should remember that forgiveness is a choice. Fertilizing your hard feelings is also a choice. The choices we make, whether good or bad, all have consequences—positive or negative. Christ taught this principle when he spoke of the decision all must make of which gate they will enter. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).
Just as living for Christ is not easy, there will be times when choosing to do right by our marriages will be hard. Bitterness is typical of the masses who spiritually live on Easy Street. It’s effortless to allow our self-talk to spiral out of control. It’s often perceived to be more comforting to lick our wounds, dig our heels in, and fight for the validation we seek. Holding grudges and being the “victim” isn’t hard for most. Yet a life, and a marriage, that willingly walks the wide and easy gate must remember it’s a life that leads to destruction.
That destruction may manifest itself in years of unhappiness, a lack of fulfillment, a loveless marriage, or even one filled with contempt that acts out in injurious ways. This cold existence can make one vulnerable to a sinful relationship with another and could ultimately carry an eternal cost.
Many are blinded to the reality that a marriage filled with bitter resentment has consequences that often reach beyond the spouse—on whom their anger is focused.
How many lives of children are forever changed because parents chose the wide and easy way? There’s nothing painless about the dysfunction, destruction, and dissolving of a home and family … nothing easy about feeling lonely and abandoned.
Though forgiveness can be a difficult spiritual quality to develop, the rewards for your family now and in eternity are well worth the investment. Mend the hurts in your marriage. If things are broken, fix them as much as possible. Do whatever promotes healing. Don’t choke the forgiving spirit out of your marriage and give the silent assassin an opportunity to pursue you.
Davis, Justin and Trisha Davis. Beyond Ordinary: When a Good Marriage Just Isn’t Good Enough. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2012. iBook edition.
Jackson, Wayne.The Devastating Effects of Divorce.
Jackson, Wayne. The Challenge of Agape-Love.