Resentment is like cancer. It’s there killing you, and sometimes you aren’t even aware of it. Resentment is usually the result of something in the past that was supposed to be resolved or forgiven, but for whatever reason never was. As a result, there is anger left over, and that anger becomes burning (or smoldering) resentment. Many people are not aware of the resentment festering deep within them, but it lies beneath everything they do, say, and think.
We all know what open animosity looks like in any relationship: ugly. But sometimes, the way animosity presents itself in our lives can be so subtle we don’t recognize it. Have you even known two people who are forever trading barbs? Barbs that are never interspersed with kind words or any genuine affection? And you know how, after about ten minutes around them, your whole jaw starts to ache because you’re holding so much tension in it? That’s how you know you’re around two people who might not be saying right out loud that there’s mutual hostility but who nonetheless are plainly conveying it. If you have any such “always joking” relationships in your own life you may be harboring animosity.
Secrets are bad. There is no surer sign that someone is in real trouble than if they are keeping secrets. Secrets are about keeping from someone what they deserve to know, and when founded on deception, they hurt everyone involved. Virtually all a secret does is help the concealed lie grow stronger —like a mushroom buried in dark, dank, stinky mulch, all it can do is grow. One of the easiest ways to tell whether you’re responsible for what’s going wrong in a relationship is to get honest with at least yourself about whether you’re harboring any secrets from the other person.
- Power Jockeying
When relationships move into power-struggle mode, they lose their potential for greatness; only in shared power do relationships reach their full potential. We’ve all been there —we all know what it’s like to get embroiled in a struggle for dominance. Sometimes we get drawn in so slowly that we barely realize how zealously we’ve started protecting our own interests. Before we know it, we are doing everything possible to secure any meager scrap of available power. Do you jockey for power? If someone shares a story do you immediately jump in to “top” theirs? If they accomplish something do you lace your congratulations with subtle references to something they didn’t do quite well enough? A relationship based on who’s winning all the time is one where both parties are losing all the time.
- Unresolved Problems
Many people would rather focus on the hole in the sail than on the hole in the bottom of the boat. Knee deep in water, already below the surface, they’ll still be looking up at that little puncture in the sail. “That’s why we’re not going anywhere”, they’ll say as they sink deeper and deeper into the sea. Pay attention to unresolved conflicts in your life. These are not the long-established resentments mentioned earlier; these are the hot, current issues that are affecting you today. You can’t just ignore unaddressed conflicts and hope they’ll go away. Not confronting current conflict is a sure sign of an unhealthy relationship.
- Unhealthy Alliances
Whether or not we want to be, we’re known by the company we keep. One of the most helpful things a person can do by way of assessing the quality of their personal lives is to take a careful inventory of those with whom they regularly associate. When you look around at the ones you’ve surrounded yourself with, do you see people you’re proud to be associated with? Most of us want to be the kind of guy or gal people of quality care to associate with. The problem is, people of quality tend to want to associate with those who are healthy, adjusted, successful, and good-natured. It’s hard to be those things when you’re filled with anger and regret. “Tell me what company you keep, and I’ll tell you what you are.” – Miguel de Cervantes.
- Putting Yourself First
Although putting yourself first might sometimes gain for you a temporary advantage, it’s God’s law that in the end such a life strategy will only leave you filled with regrets. It’s easy enough to put yourself first in almost any circumstance, but it’s particularly tempting when you’re embroiled in a difficult relationship. Even our good works, although seemingly selfless, are often rooted in self-promotion. It’s dangerously easy to confuse doing for others with doing for self. If you’re always angling for what’s best for you, always trying to arrange things so that they come out best for number one, then you may be the cause of your own unhealthy relationships.
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