When moving from resentment to forgiveness with a couple, I would first delineate what resentment actually is. One simplified definition of resentment is “a deep seated anger that is harbored in a person with a refusal to let go of it.” The Bible refers to it as the bitter root. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; (Hebrews, 12:15, ESV). Resentment blocks the supernatural love, forgiveness and power provided by the Holy Spirit. Unforgiveness is sin and it hinders our ability to stay plugged into the Holy Spirit because we are pulling away from our vertical relationship with God which in return hinders the flow of grace and forgiveness in our marriage relationships.
At the Family Afterward Resource Center our approach to promoting forgiveness in a marital relationship is centered on identifying resentments, fear, and shame through an emotional inventory process due to the compounding nature of these emotions. One frequent example of this process would be a couple that comes in for counseling complaining of conflicts caused by anger and jealousy by the husband and the counter complaint that the wife is not respecting him in the relationship. These attacks and counterattacks lead a couple into the progression of: “The four Horseman of the Apocalypse” and this marriage dynamic is earmarked by criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling (Gottman, Gottman & DeClaire, 2007, p. 5). It is this writers’ estimation that this progression is largely caused by the impacts of resentment hence the need for a forgiveness intervention of some kind.
When we counsel a couple at the Family Afterward Resource Center we ask each spouse to complete emotional inventories individually. A husband may complain of being angry and jealous when his wife receives undue attention from other men. The wife complains that she feels shamed after their conflicts. When completing an emotional inventory regarding this reoccurring conflict, the husband may realize that his resentment and jealousy were being caused by his fear of inadequacy? The wife completed her emotional inventories and realized that her shame was being driven by a fear of rejection. When the couple begins to understand the true nature and interconnectedness of their emotions the real work of forgiveness begins to take shape.
The counseling process at this point can go quickly or slowly depending on the severity of the resentments and the “heavy loads may need to stay in the wash longer” (Moitinho, & Moitinho, 2020, p. 134). We can then have a discussion with the couple about the two primary instincts of security and socialization being wielded selfishly. If the social or security instinct is being misused, it causes resentment. We can place to much pressure on our spouses to meet our incessant need for security or socialization. These incessant needs in a marriage cause the root of bitterness to spring up because the sin nature causes us to believe we will never have enough of what we need in our marriage relationship. This also places undue pressure on our spouses and creates never ending conflict cycles. After the full disclosure of the resentment is pinpointed with emotional origin and environmental triggers identified, we can then move onto a collective prayer of release with the couple. Below is a sample of an emotional inventory that I completed many years ago.
Type of fear: conflict-rejection
I have had several relational circumstances where I was afraid to say how I felt because of the conflict it would cause.
What do you fear would happen in the circumstance?
After being completely honest with myself, I realized that I was afraid of other people not liking me or I would be rejected by other people.
The lie of my fear.
The lie that the enemy was telling me was that you are not worthy of love, hence my fear of rejection.
How I react to my false belief.
I would react to this fear by creating distance from those who I feared would reject me because I felt like distance would insulate me from harm. When I became completely honest with myself, I found that this distance was robbing me of joy and intimacy.
Lord Jesus, I release my false belief that Your love for me is contingent upon my performance. Lord Jesus, I release my need to live in the fear of rejection because You love me despite my faults. Lord Jesus, I am grateful for your abundant grace and mercy in my life and rejoice in the fact that I am loved immensely by You. Lord, I pray all these things in the unmatched name of Jesus, Amen
Gottman, J. M., Gottman, J. S., & DeClaire, J. (2007). Ten lessons to transform your marriage: America's love lab experts share their strategies for strengthening your relationship. Harmony.
Moitinho, E., & Moitinho, D. (2020). The Dream Home: How to Create An Intimate Christian Marriage. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.