ERP 388: How to Clear Resentments To Avoid The Roommate Syndrome In Relationship — An Interview With Monica Tanner

By Posted in - Podcast September 5th, 2023 0 Comments

Are you feeling stuck in your relationship, grappling with resentment, or sensing that you and your partner have unwittingly transformed into mere roommates? If so, you’re not alone.

Maintaining a fulfilling, long-lasting relationship can be challenging in a world where the dynamics of love and partnership are constantly evolving. Relationship advice often comes from all directions and it’s easy to find ourselves lost in a sea of conflicting guidance.

In this insightful conversation, Monica Tanner and Dr. Jessica Higgins delve into practical strategies to address these challenges head-on. The conversation reveals that successful relationships require intentional effort, a commitment to understanding, and the courage to engage in constructive conflict. From cultivating curiosity and practicing vulnerability to navigating differences with grace, they offer actionable steps to reignite the spark in your relationship and avoid falling into the dreaded roommate syndrome.

Monica Tanner, Relationship Coach and host of the Secrets of Happily Ever After podcast, transforms marriages with simple communication, connection, conflict resolution, and commitment strategies. Her mission is to lower the divorce rate and improve marital satisfaction. Through her engaging podcast, vibrant social media community, and practical programs, Monica’s expert guidance has impacted thousands of couples, by helping them ditch resentment and roommate syndrome and get back to living their happily-ever-after love story.

In this Episode

5:46 Monica’s quest to understanding genuine relationships.

8:38 The challenges of maintaining passion and longevity in modern relationships.

17:18 Nurturing healthy relationship dynamics through boundary setting.

23:16 Navigating emotional withdrawal: The impact of negative interaction patterns.

28:11 Recognizing and addressing hidden resentment.

41:24 Cultivating respectful disagreements and nurturing healthy communication.

48:19 The role of curiosity, interest, and creative problem-solving in deepening intimacy and passion in relationships.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Cultivate curiosity about your partner by asking about their experiences, feelings, and thoughts regularly.
  • Engage in conflict with your partner as a means of innovation and growth, learning how to argue constructively.
  • Develop emotional intelligence by recognizing and processing your emotions without self-judgment.
  • Practice vulnerability by sharing your fears, insecurities, and desires with your partner.
  • Set aside time for regular date nights to keep the passion alive and create lasting memories together.
  • Invest in learning relationship skills to improve your connection and prevent resentment.
  • Seek guidance from trustworthy sources who align with your values and can provide helpful relationship advice.
  • Prioritize open communication to avoid misunderstandings and promote a deeper understanding of each other.

Mentioned

Type Of Relationship Support (survey)

The Space Between: The Point of Connection (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Free Intimacy Quiz

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Monica Tanner

Websites: monicatanner.com

Facebook: facebook.com/monica.tanner2

Instagram: instagram.com/monitanner1

Podcast: podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/secrets-of-happily-ever-after/id1345544810

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Monica, thank you for being here and joining us here today.

Oh, I’m so excited to be here with you. Thanks for having me.

Yes. I can tell already, just our brief meeting, just how much joy and love and passion you have to really be of service, and support people cultivating long-term relationships. So we are in similar zones. So I love that, yes. For people who are getting to know you, did you have some reason, or what got you into supporting people negotiating relationship?

Yeah, it’s so interesting. Because I think from the time I was a little girl, I always imagined, like, princess with a happily ever-after, and I used to twirl around the house like Belle and flip my hair like Ariel, and I just thought life was a fairytale. Until I turned 12 years old, and my parents sat me down, and they were like, we’ve decided to get a divorce. I remember thinking like, whoa, wait a second! That is not how any of these stories are supposed to end. So it was a big shift. I have a little brother. So both of us kind of threw our world into a tailspin. I think at that point in my life, I got really curious and observant about marriages around me; my grandparents had divorced, my parents had divorced at this point. So I would watch my friend’s parents and how they interacted with each other, and were they happy and headed for divorce, and all those things. Until I got to college, and I studied sociology, and I thought: Oh my gosh, I don’t even know if happily ever-after really does exist. Then I got to graduation, and I met my prince charming, and I got married. 

Even in my marriage, I thought, I mean, of course I want this to last forever and I want to live happily ever-after. But I just hadn’t seen a lot of evidence that it was possible. So I think that I just went on this hunt for like, what are the secrets? How do you create lasting, passionate, thriving, joyful love over a lifetime? Luckily, I did find. I started by interviewing couples who had been married for 50 years or longer. So I have a tonne of these interviews banked, and I’ve always wanted to just publish a book with the secrets that I’ve learned from happy couples who have endured decades of wear and tear. Because marriages take a lot of wear and tear, and you have to be intentional. So that’s where the passion kind of came from. I think that I’ve learned at this point that it absolutely is possible. It’s totally a choice. But you do have to work for it, and there are some secrets that make it easier.

Yes, agreed. I have a similar kind of journey, not quite exactly the same. But also just recognizing in my deeper study and my dissertation, what I was looking at was conscious, intimate relationship, and looking at how do people have that level of authenticity, that level of passion, to be able to have inquiry around the authenticity, the passion, the working and the growing together? Essentially, that’s in a nutshell, that growing together. Yes, I do think there’s a new model and a way to support people in developing these skills. Very enthusiastic about helping people do that, and I feel that from you. Is that true? Do you feel passion and longevity is something you’re really helping people see that they can work together?

Totally, because I think people expect a lot from their marriages now. I mean, in the past, it was just mostly convenience. It was like a husband and wife, they get together, they make babies, they do the work of life together, and they didn’t really expect to grow and flourish and become the best version of themselves and experience all these incredible things together and be each other’s best friends. There just wasn’t all of these expectations placed on marriage. I think we’ve gotten more demanding of it in the past a little bit, which is also what I think has made it more difficult, because we have all these expectations of one person and one institution. But I absolutely think it’s possible. I think there is a way to live passionately through decades together, and keep learning and growing and reinventing yourself, and making room for both people to flourish, and being an incredible example for your children, and all the things that we expect and demand from marriage.

Yes, and thank you for acknowledging just what our modern expectations typically entail. Because it is a lot for one relationship to fulfill, to your point. I will say, being with my husband, I think we’ve been together 17 years, soon to be 18. And still, I’m like, oh my gosh, learning and deepening in my understanding and just our bond, it continues to deepen and expand. I feel like there is something to be said about that journey of going deep, but also expanding. That’s an endeavor, whether it’s business or health or relationship, it tends to be able to reap great rewards when we do the work.

Totally, and I do think it really is a choice. I mean, it’s a choice. Do I want to keep choosing the same person? Do I want to learn the skill sets needed? Because relationship is just a skill set. And do I want to keep getting to know this person, not for who I want them or need them to be, but who they actually are, and who they are becoming? Because that’s a huge mindset shift just in and of itself. Because I think we get married to the person we want our spouse to be, and then we get this rude awakening where we’re like: “Oh my gosh, wait, this person that we married, that we fell head over heels in love with, wait, they have limitations, they have annoying habits, they have weaknesses. Like, what?” Because of all the chemicals in our brain when we were falling in love, we just thought this person was perfect and they would stay perfect. But I think letting go of the story that we wanted to live and the person that we wanted to be married to, and just realizing that we get to write our own story and this person gets to become whoever they want to become, and I just get to be a witness to it, and I get to keep choosing to get to know them and support them and love them and witness them in all of those things. That’s what makes life so beautiful. But it really is difficult to let go of all of that: “This is what I want. This is what I expect. I’ve written the story already.” Because it just doesn’t work that way.

Absolutely. I understand just the developmental stages of relationship and cultivating intimacy, that that first stage is typically the romance stage, and then the second stage is where this disillusion may happen and there’s a power struggle. And you’re speaking to this human tendency that when we partner and we bond, that it’s easy to fill in the blank, because we still don’t fully know them in a deep, significant way, around how they handle grief, how they handle loss, the upsets, the anger, the sadness, and also through different seasons. So when we do begin to learn more, and granted, everybody is changing. Every individual is changing at any given point. So it’s not like the static person that we’re deepening our understanding, they’re also growing as we’re learning. But that we will confront some of those expectations or the story that we might have written upon early dating. Is that what I’m hearing?

Yeah, because you fall in love with the possibility. You fall in love with that happily ever-after that you thought was going to be. I work with a lot of couples, and I think the biggest cause of unhappiness is: “This didn’t go the way I thought it should go. So what now?” It’s really coming to terms with, maybe you had a child with a disability, maybe you lost a parent too soon; there were all of these things that just weren’t in the plan. So it’s like, how do we regroup, and how do we continue to love and support each other through all of these things? When you look at your life and be like, wait, I was supposed to marry my prince charming, we were going to be rich, and we were going to have this beautiful lavish life, and nothing was ever going to go wrong. And boom!

Lots of booms, and many different versions. I know one of the things that we’re wanting to discuss on today’s episode is about resentment and also the roommate syndrome. Is this one of the things that you feel contributes to the development of resentment? Is that this person is not living up to what I expect or what I hope for?

Yeah, well, 1,000%. You probably know this as well as anyone, is resentment is the silent intimacy killer. It’s really hard to want to be intimate, not just sexual intimacy, but emotionally, recreationally. It’s hard to be intimate with someone who has disappointed you. So what I work on a lot with couples is letting go of all of those expectations that are either going unmet or have been unmet or continue to be unmet. That’s such a hard way to live, is when you have all these expectations of this person that they’re not living up to, and then you’re just silently resenting this person. You can’t get to know them. You can’t connect. You can’t want to be close to them. Until you just let go of those expectations, and you say, I can control only one thing. I think we all go into marriage thinking that we’re going to fix or better. I think we originally think this person has no flaws, and then we’re like, okay, this person has flaws. Okay, it’s cool, I can help them fix the flaws. You know, we have all these things that we tell ourselves in our head. Like, okay, it’s fine, they’re in a work in progress, I got this. But I think it’s not until we be like, oh, they’re in charge of them, and I’m in charge of me, and there’s nothing I can do about that person at all. It’s only I can be the way I am in relation to this person, and that’s what I can control. That’s what I call my first law of relationships or connection, is that the only thing we have any control over is ourselves. So many people try so hard, for so long, to control all the things that are outside of their control. I think that’s literally the most sad, frustrated, unhappy people I’ve ever met in my life, are the people who are trying to control all the uncontrollables.

In my experience, the attempt to control can look like many different things, and it also can be varying in intensity, if we put it on a spectrum. Would you agree that there’s some level to this? 

Yeah, absolutely, and we do it with all different people too. We try to control our employees. We try to control our spouse. We try to control our children. We try to control the weather, sometimes. It’s like, there are all these things that are very far outside of our control, and we worry about them, and we fret about them, and we try to figure out how we can get them to do the things that we think that we should be doing. A lot of personal development people call this the manual. 

C:\Users\Lenovo\Desktop\pexels-birkaybolushikayesi-18006237.jpg

“We have like a manual for all the people in our lives, and we get really upset and resentful and disappointed when they’re not living up to our manual. The truth is, is we can’t control the other people, but what we can do is burn the manual. That’s very, very hard, lifelong work, to burn our manuals for all the other people. But it brings so much joy and peace when we can actually do it.”

I’m hearing, Monica, as I’m hearing you discuss, and I do agree with you. I also know that many people, or part of just the philosophy that I often work with too is that we’re co-creating, we’re participating in a shared dynamic, and that we have some agreement sometimes. Sometimes we’re to be holding each other accountable. But we don’t want to be refereeing or policing and holding our partner to something. It’s really to your point, they’re their own person and their sense of agency is with themselves, and we get to make some decisions. Boundaries, I think, are best served when there’s something that we can do to take care of and own and have agency around the boundary. Versus I’m trying to put a boundary on someone else that I can’t actually control.

Start from us. That’s part of us controlling ourselves. A boundary will never work if you put it on somebody else.

So if somebody’s listening, and they’re trying to connect with what you’re describing around letting go, letting this person be who they are, burning the manual. Perhaps their boundary is being crossed, or their own limits, or there’s some non-negotiables, or there’s some things that they really question of deep yearning and longing and lack of fulfillment. Or even as we’re describing, these ways in which it impacts their feeling towards their person, their intimacy, their desire. So I’m curious, help me with how you support people in negotiating that.

Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful question. I think the most loving thing you can do for another person is to hold your boundaries. But it has to be understood in the right way. So let me give a really tangible example. Let’s say your spouse yells a lot, and you’re like, I don’t like yelling, I don’t respond to yelling well, I can’t handle it when my spouse yells at me. Well, the truth is, is that we try all the things, and we think that we can control their yelling. So they yell, we cry; they yell, we walk out. Like, we try doing all these things. The only thing that changes here is, they’re going to yell, and if they yell, we can do all these things with the idea that it’s going to make them stop yelling. 

But if we switch that a little bit and make a boundary. So my boundary is, I’m not going to talk to you until you lower your voice and talk to me respectfully. So we want this person to stop yelling. But you have to understand that I have absolutely no control over whether or not this person yells at me. But what I can control is what I will do when they yell. So I can just say: “Listen, I would love to hear what you have to say. But when you start to yell, I’m going to politely leave the room. Or I’m going to just let you know that I’d be happy to talk with you as soon as your voice matches mine. Or when you yell, I stop listening.” You just let them know. But they always have the option to yell. It’s a very slight difference. But it’s letting them know that I’m not going to do anything to stop you from yelling, I’m just not going to be able to listen to you when you are yelling. So the decision is always theirs. So if you want me to listen to you, you have to stop yelling. But you make the decision whether or not you’re going to yell. If you yell, I will not listen. 

Same thing with drinking, or insert anything. It’s like, you can’t make your partner do anything; you can’t even make your kids do a whole lot of things. You can only set how you are going to, and when you give them that information, then they can even make a better choice. So that’s the great thing about boundaries. I’m going to allow you to make this choice, and I’m going to give you all the information you need to make the best choice.

Yeah, so it’s almost like I’m not going to be available for this dynamic, I’m no longer going to participate in this. I do, for people that are listening, understand, when we change the way that we show up, sometimes our partner might seek us out or really want to encourage us to behave in the ways that have been. So they might test that boundary a lot more than if it was maintained and was consistent. So sometimes implementing is more difficult than the maintaining.

I love that you brought that up, because that’s always how I describe it. So marriage is a dynamic. A lot of people, when they go to work on their marriage, they’ll be like: “This is never going to work, because my spouse isn’t participating. They don’t have any interest in working on the marriage, I’m doing it by myself. So it’s not going to work.” 

C:\Users\Lenovo\Desktop\pexels-ketut-subiyanto-4746575.jpg

“I always explain to people, marriage is a dynamic. So if you change your input, then the whole dynamic has to change. Now they don’t have to like it, and it might not change in the way you want it to change. But if you change the input, absolutely, the dynamic changes.”

The hope is, the thought is, if you raise the level of input you’re putting in, the level of the relationship changes. So it’s very loving to learn these skills, to set these types of boundaries. Now, your partner might not respond well in the beginning, but they have to respond. If you change the steps of the dance, they have to do something different, and the dance changes. 

I’m also hearing what you described a moment ago about the variable of choice. Can you speak a little bit more about that for people who perhaps are married, maybe are people of faith and really take those vows seriously, and yet, there’s something that their partner is limited in their capacity? As you mentioned, turning towards, or even being emotionally available and responsive, just their capacity to engage emotionally is limited. Thus, the other person is feeling pretty lonely or dissatisfied in that arena. They can set boundaries and do things, and yet. Because part of what we’re talking about is when there’s input that is coming towards, I think those boundaries can be more easily set. But it’s when one’s turning away or they’re withdrawing in their boundary, really there’s a choice, and then also a real vulnerability and revealing: “Here’s what I’m wanting, here’s what my values are, here’s what I’m longing for.” That person does have choice to turn towards that or not turn towards that, and equally, the other personalities choice around do I want to continue to participate? But I wonder if you want to say anything about just this turning away or not engaging, and how boundaries fit with that?

I think there’s a lot in relationships that is a risk. I mean, being vulnerable is a risk. If you have a partner that has withdrawn, there’s one of two things that are going to happen. You’re either going to be in this attack withdrawal cycle, which I call these negative patterns of interaction. So you’ve either got the attack-withdrawer. So if your spouse is a withdrawer, then you’re going to either stay on the attack and keep running through that negative cycle. Or you’re going to give up and withdraw yourself, and then both of you are withdrawn and you have nothing. So it’s really difficult. But if you can change the pattern, if you can recognize that it is a pattern, and then you have to be able to take a risk. Because when you get to the point of withdraw-withdraw, then that means nobody’s reaching for either; nobody’s dancing, nobody’s taking the risk. 

So in order to break that cycle, and that’s a pretty late stage cycle when you’re in withdraw-withdraw, you’ve got to be able to take some risks. You’ve got to talk about what’s going on in a non-attacking way, because probably withdraw-withdraw came from somehow attack-withdraw, and the withdrawer is probably trying to get away from the implied criticism or something that’s wounding to them. So again, if you can change the way you show up, so if you’re usually very attacking, Gottman would say, try a softened startup. Or learn how to process your own emotions, so that when you go to your partner with your concerns, it doesn’t look like you’re attacking them, or you’re not giving them a reason to withdraw or be defensive or anything like that. So it’s up in your skills. It’s learning how to process through your emotions, really figure out what it is that you want, and then go to your partner and act as a detective. Like, why are they withdrawing, what’s causing pain about the relationship or the dynamic that they’re trying to get away from? It’s going to involve some vulnerability. 

I remember the first time I told my husband that my deepest fear was that he was just going to, at some point, realize, family life and being married to me was too chaotic, and he was just out of there. That’s what I had witnessed growing up. It was my deepest fear. As much as I fought against it, I was kind of recreating it. Until I could just get really vulnerable and say: “Hey, when you turn over and go to sleep when we’re mid-argument, or you take off because you need to cool off and you don’t say anything, it triggers this huge fear in me. This fear that I’m not enough, this fear that you’re going to leave, this fear that I’m going to lose everything. It was so vulnerable. But it gave him the insight to be like: Oh, okay. It changed our dynamic completely. I don’t have that fear anymore, because we’ve built up that trust and all of those things. But that’s what I grew up seeing. I grew up seeing that men leave. Just for whatever reason, that was inside of me, and it caused me to attack when I saw him withdraw, and it created our dynamic. Until I just went: All right, I’ve got to get really vulnerable here, this is going to be a risk. I didn’t know how it was going to go, but it went really well. So that’s that vulnerability piece. 

This is the equation that I always give for creation, for creating the best life possible for passion. It’s curiosity plus vulnerability equals creativity. So it’s not until you can get curious about yourself, curious about your partner, and then just really vulnerable, that you can create that beautiful intimacy that we all long for.

Well, this brings us back to, it sounds like, that one of the things that we might be doing when we’re attacking or criticizing is we’re feeling that deeper fear or insecurity or longing, and the way that we’re trying to protect ourselves through that disappointment, or even through however that attack is. Because the resentment is probably secondary. It’s not the deeper layer, it’s the secondary, and then what we do with that is the attack or the pursuing or the criticizing, in hopes that our partner will respond. But typically, as you’re describing, it’s likely about them; they’re feeling shamed, blamed, made responsible.

In its simplest form, the attack is usually a protest against the feeling of disconnection. So whether that’s coming from the attacker, or coming from the withdrawer, or it’s coming from past wounds or current triggers. If you just strip it down, attack is typically a protest against a feeling of disconnection, and then however the withdrawer takes it, it’s usually trying to get away from this sense of feeling blame shame, what you just said. So that’s that cycle, and it’s breaking it down, and that’s what’s so hard. But really, honestly, it’s why you and I exist. It’s because it’s really hard to see all of those dynamics from the inside. I always say, you can’t see the label from the inside of the bottle. So it’s great to find a neutral third party, who’s not all in the bottle with you, that can say: “Look what’s happening here. You’re doing this, and he’s doing this, and together, you’re creating this cycle.” And people are pretty intelligent. Once they start to see like: “Oh, I see what I’m doing, I see what you’re doing, I see how what I’m doing is causing what you’re doing.” And we can’t get out of it until somebody shows it to you.

Yeah, it’s like a little help with orienting. Things typically move so fast, and perhaps people are paying attention to the content or what’s being said, versus let’s slow down, let’s get really in touch with the deeper layers. Again, helping people orient to that, and once that’s made a little bit more visible, then there’s a little more connection that can occur. To your point, that we’re taking these risks, we’re being vulnerable, and we don’t know what’s going to happen. But that visibility typically is the thing that people want to turn towards. It’s beautiful. 

In the way of resentment, I’m curious, do you ever feel that people are resentful? Or do you see that people are resentful, and they don’t even know that they’re resentful? Tell us a little bit more, if you will.

Well, I’ve never been asked that question like that before. So that’s really interesting. But I mean, I do think that you can live in resentment without having any idea. I think about this just in terms of like, I’m always so curious about why people do the things they do. People would do something, and I’m like, why on earth would they do that? It’s just so weird. 

C:\Users\Lenovo\Desktop\pexels-ketut-subiyanto-4834047.jpg

“After years and years of just observing people, I’ve come to the point that a lot of people are operating on this conditioning that they’re not even aware of. They’re trying to either not be like their parents or be like their parents, or they’re modeling, or trying to completely change, and they’re operating on this set of, I don’t know, things that they can’t even see. And we all do it. So it does take a lot of work to look inside of yourself and be really intentional.”

So I think resentment is one of those things that just plays on us, like this passive aggressive behavior, or trying to control things, or there’s all kinds of these, Terry Real calls them losing strategies. So we have all these losing strategies in our relationship, but they’re all operating underneath on the subconscious level. Like, you’re not purposefully yelling, or purposefully withdrawing from all conflict. But it’s like, maybe you saw conflict growing up, and it was really hurtful and damaging. So subconsciously, you’re doing everything you can to stay away from any type of conflict. But really, that’s so damaging. Until you see it, until you’re like: “Oh okay, I see that I’m operating on this set of beliefs that I don’t even recognize.” 

Resentment is a huge one for that. I mean, I think you see these older couples who just are always unhappy with everything. Sometimes to me, I don’t know, but I’m always like, man, they just are unhappy because the resentment in their life has just built and built and built, and I don’t think they see that. I don’t think they choose, the grumpy people that yell at everyone right across their lawn. My son rode his bike on a little corner of this guy’s lawn, and he’s yelling at the kid. I’m like, what happened to that man in his life, that he cares so much about the little tiny corner that he’s going to yell at a 12-year-old on his bike? It’s these subconscious things. I don’t think that he would choose to be that way if he could see himself acting like that, and we do that in relationships so much.

Yes, thank you for responding to that. I don’t know that I was even thinking about that question. But it does occur to me that I think it happens maybe more than we would expect, and particularly as you’re talking about this element of control, or the ways that we might be engaging in these control, or even tendencies that are unhelpful and not productive, like being a perfectionist or overworking or being Type A. Typically those things, I find, correlate strongly with being in the intellect, and maybe being less connected and present with the felt experience and the emotion. So it’s almost this idea that if I work harder, then I will fix it or resolve it, and I won’t feel X, Y and Z, so I’ve just got to work harder. Yet, as we know, that typically doesn’t result to the lasting real change that you’re referring to. Super helpful. Even to the gentleman that was yelling at your son, it’s just even if he has real feelings about protection of his lawn, that’s the best strategy, is to yell at a kid.

Well, it’s so funny, because in my mind, I’m like, maybe he can’t control anything that’s happening in his household. So he comes outside and yells at the kids that are driving across his lawn, because he has a feeling of control there. I’m always creating stories, like, maybe that’s what’s happening, I don’t know. But I think there is some truth to that, is that we want some control. So we employ these losing strategies at times that are just not helpful. But we don’t know. A lot of times, once it’s pointed out, it’s glaring. I do think to your point, being really comfortable with our emotions, being able to name them, being able to process them, being able to sit in them, being okay with them, not shaming ourselves for them. All the time, I have thoughts cross my mind, and I’m like, whoa, that was a horrible thought! Like, someone’s going to get in a car accident and die or something. I just recognize there’s that thought again, and not braiding myself or whatever. It’s being really comfortable with being human and imperfect, and just allowing those emotions, and then being self-aware enough to process them. I think that’s really what coaching and therapy and all of those things are about, is just making us conscious of the unconscious.

Totally. I know that I’ve done this, and I’m trying to recall a specific example that I can share. I think one that’s vague, where I’ve been resentful or get tight or get a little terse, and this has been less recent, it’s probably maybe 10 years ago. It’s about sharing domestic duties, because my husband and I both work. I remember, perhaps not even knowing that I felt resentful, but I was just tight in my body, and then when I slowed down. I mean, just even being busy is an interference of this real connection with present awareness and feeling. So when I could query and understand, like I’m annoyed with my husband, there’s certain indicators that could maybe alert us to like: Oh, I maybe have some feelings here, or I might be feeling resentful. 

Maybe when he touches and I’m like, ugh, maybe that’s a little resentment. I don’t know. 

I mean, it wasn’t that strong, but still. Just even to notice just the tightness of feeling something and to recognize, and if it felt unfair, or there was something happening, and then being able to have a conversation. To your point earlier, not so much to control, but to recognize, I’m participating in this, but somehow I’m not enjoying this experience, and I want to be able to share with you. Even if it feels petty, I want to be able to clear that. That’s part of sometimes what we think about, I think in relationship, is the emotional hygiene and keeping that clean, and being able to do some of that repair work too, if there’s something that’s been off.

Yeah, and we talked about intimacy as to how important it is. But to see and be seen, that is intimacy. So it’s like, I see this in myself, I see that I’m feeling frustrated that the division of labor in our household isn’t working out in my favor. It’s really vulnerable to go to your spouse and be like, maybe this is petty, I don’t know, maybe this isn’t warranted, I don’t know. But I want you to see me for who I am, and that I don’t feel good about who’s doing the dishes and who’s picking up the kids and who’s making dinner, etc. It’s just testing that out. It’s like, I’m going to allow you to see me in all of my imperfection, and let’s renegotiate this. That’s okay. I think some of us are so afraid of the conflict and so afraid to be seen, that we’ll sweep it under the rug for years. That’s where that resentment and that roommate syndrome and that withdraw-withdraw all comes from.

Thank you. I do think this is important for people to have some potential things to start thinking about, around how to combat or how to deal with any of the resentment they might be noticing, and we’re talking about it here, sounds like.

Yeah, I don’t shy away from conflict. I think that that is one of the most important pieces of advice. 

C:\Users\Lenovo\Desktop\pexels-pavel-danilyuk-8551571.jpg

“A lot of people are so afraid of conflict for so many reasons, and some people think that conflict means that they married the wrong person, or it means that it’s never going to work. But conflict is actually the great innovator of relationships.”

It’s like, you’re always going to experience conflict. That is literally what marriage is, it’s two opposites getting married. It’s just no two people are ever going to see eye to eye. It’s so funny, I heard this somewhere, and I always say it, and then I think about it and I’m like, it’s kind of a weird saying. But no two people can see a tree from the same angle. If you try to put your heads together, you’re going to see it from a different angle. So if you just remember that in your marriage, if you’re being really honest, you’re probably never going to see the same situation, the same scenario, in the same exact way. There’s always going to be different opinions, there’s always going to be different preferences, different ideas, different experiences, or viewpoints. So if you’re being really honest, all of your marriage is going to be one big conflict. 

So how can we learn to understand each other, to respect each other, to disagree kindly? I’m even talking to my kids about this. Because school started, and my girls are going to high school together, and they’re fighting over clothes and what time they leave and all the things. I’m like, “Listen, I don’t expect you to agree. I do expect you to disagree kindly. I don’t expect you to agree all the time, I do expect you to figure out how to disagree kindly. Because that’s what your father and I have done for 20 years.” We’re so different from each other. We grew up differently. Our experiences were different. We grew up in different parts of the country. Like, we had very different experiences. So when it comes to just about anything, if I’m being honest and he’s being honest, we’re going to disagree. But we’ve learned how to collaborate with each other, we’ve learned how to talk about our feelings, we’ve learned how to disagree respectfully, and I love it. That’s what brings passion. That’s what brings connection and collaboration. We don’t see things in the same way. So it’s great that he notices things that I don’t, and he comes up with solutions that I would never have thought of on my own, and we do this together. So now I’ve learned to celebrate the conflict, to celebrate the differences. Because holy crap, we’ve gotten so much farther in life than if I had married somebody who was exactly the same as me. That would have been so boring!

It wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic and how dimensional, and what range you have, and the creativity that comes from this process.

Exactly. If you marry someone who’s exactly like you, you just think you just cloned yourselves. I think about my children and how diverse and beautiful and incredible they are, and I’m like, that came physiologically from the two of us mixing, but also emotionally and in all the other ways that we’ve mixed. 

Absolutely. For people who do have some hesitation around approaching conflict, I really want to say, the way in which you’re describing, there’s some fundamental elemental things that give safety that perhaps people don’t have. So thus, it can feel like they’re trying to engage in conflict without some of that foundation, which can be very disorienting and even volatile and challenging. 

How to manage it well, yes, definitely. You want to be safe. I mean, there’s abuse, there’s all kinds of really horrible, dangerous things.

Or just even having clarity about what you’re feeling. It’s just this emotional dump, and the person is like, I don’t know what you’re communicating.

Totally, you want to learn how to navigate conflict well. I mean, that’s an obsession of mine, obviously. But there’s lots of people that teach conflict resolution. If you’re feeling like you can’t disagree with your spouse, or you don’t want to, or it’s a huge fear, then get some help, learn the skills of conflict. Because it really is such a beautiful thing. I don’t worry about couples that argue, because I can teach them how to argue better. I worry about the couples that don’t, because one of them isn’t being honest or both of them.

Yes. I realized we could pivot and talk about conflict, and this seems like a great segue to the roommate syndrome. So how would you describe that? I mean, I’m sure people can imagine. But what would you like to say about that experience?

Well, I think I would answer in the same way. It’s two people that are afraid to engage with each other because they are afraid of conflict. So I think if you’ve become roommates, it’s kind of like, you either have lost that sense of wonder about the person that you’ve married. I think that happens a lot. I think more than we even realize, is we think that we’re spending quality time with somebody, because we live in the same house, and we sleep in the same bed, and we eat at the same table, and we meticulate in the same area, we think we know everything about this person. But I’m not the same as I was when I had my first child, second child, fourth child, created a business, all of these things. I’m always growing and changing. So if we will approach our relationship in the same way as we did when we were courting, always. Like, giddy about getting to know this person, what is it that they have to say? It’s asking them like, what are you experiencing, what gets you excited? Did you read something today that really made you think? Did you talk to someone that you really enjoyed talking to? Is there something in your life that’s stressful? Is there something I can do to make your life easier? These are all questions I really encourage my couples to talk about daily. Get to know your spouse daily; I call those daily connections. Then weekly, go on a date night; something that is fun and inspiring and different, and you’re creating memories, and you’re out of your daily routine. 

C:\Users\Lenovo\Desktop\pexels-shvets-production-9049705.jpg

“I think the roommate syndrome comes when we just assume we know everything about the person, and we lose interest in them. Then other people start to look interesting to us, and other experiences start to seem interesting to us. So we lose that zest for the person that we’re with.”

I think that that is just a choice, it really is just a choice. You can recognize that this person that you’ve been living with, my husband and I are going on 22 years, but I learn something new about him all the time. He’s always reevaluating the way he thinks about religion and relationships and my children and his work, there’s always something. It’s funny because I think I do spend an inordinate amount of time with my husband; we go work out together in the mornings, we get ready, we do the kids’ stuff together, and then we have a little bit of time after that, and then we see each other at night, and we really do talk a lot. But I’m always curious and interested. Not what did you do today. What did you experience today? What did you feel today? What did you learn today? That is what keeps me giddy and butterflies and so excited to see him every time, even if it’s only been a few minutes since I’ve seen him the last time. So I think that we can always be cultivating that curiosity, that excitement, that newness, that interest in the person we’ve chosen to marry.

Absolutely, it’s qualitatively different. I do think it goes to your point about intentionality and some level of effort, because the human normal way of relating in the brain, just conserving energy, is to think we already know. It’s just happening even out of the field of awareness. It’s just we’re subconsciously like, okay, a known variable, and the brain and the body is like, I don’t need to expend a lot more energy. But yeah, what we’re describing here is when we disengage or don’t engage, whether or not we’re not engaging in approaching a difference that might feel conflictual, or then this level of curiosity and interest that cultivates a deeper understanding and intimacy and knowing. That creates more passion, both the engaging in conflict and differences and coming to new creative solutions, and also just a deepening and understanding, both cultivate intimacy. That goes against the grain of how we maybe normally operate, is to be kind of on default mode a little.

Totally, it’s very easy to go on default mode. But I’m like, you know what, take a different route to work. If you usually walk around the neighborhood in this one loop, go the other way. There’s just so many little things that you can do to just reset that default setting that we all have.

Wonderful! Well, I realize that we have limited time. So I’m just curious, is there anything else you want to say that you haven’t touched on around resentment or the roommate syndrome? We’ve touched on a lot, so I recognize that.

I think it’s so fun, I could talk about this obviously forever. 

C:\Users\Lenovo\Desktop\pexels-hugo-martínez-18047308.jpg

“I think relationship is really a skill set. You’re not either born good at relationships, or you’re not. You’re not destined to fail in your marriage. There’s just none of that. It’s like, are you willing to invest your time, energy, and financial resources in learning the skill sets that are necessary to make your relationship exactly what you always hoped and dreamed of? Not look exactly like it hoped, but feel like you always hoped and dreamed it would.”

It’s possible for everyone. So I want to infuse some hope in the listeners. If you’re in a place where you’re just like: “Ah, I just don’t know, it seems like a lot, I don’t know where to start.” Just work on something. Learn a new skill as it relates to your relationship, and it is amazing how quickly things will change. Change the input.

I love it. Thank you, Monica. How can people get in touch with what you’re teaching and where you’re at and what you’re up to?

Oh, you’re so sweet. I really appreciate it. So my website is MonicaTanner.com, just my name. There you can find my podcast, which is called The Secrets of Happily Ever After. You can find free programs that I run, paid programs that I run, ways to work with me, all kinds of things. You can follow me on social media, where I act silly and tell silly stories and do all kinds of silly things. But I’m always looking to connect with people, and it really is my passion. I share a lot about my personal life, because it’s not perfect in any way. But as I learn, as I go and I learn as I go, I love to just share what I’ve learned. Because there’s a lot of pain associated with learning, and sometimes you can just learn from somebody who went before.

Exactly. I do think that this is a topic, historically, that’s been more private. So to be able to give some example of what it looks like in practice. Because I think we perhaps have stories of what the transformation looks like, and we also have stories around what the hardship looks like. It’s helpful to have some guidance around even the nuances of just what it looks like situationally or the dynamics, and just to have example can be so, so supportive.

There’s a lot of bad marriage advice out there, there truly is. It’s hard to decipher. So I think if you’re listening to this and you’re like, okay, what’s the next step? I think it’s just, find somebody that you relate to, find someone who has the same values as you do, and just see if you can learn something new.

Wonderful! Well, I’ll make sure to have all of those links on today’s show notes. Thank you for joining us here today. 

Thank you so, so much for having me. This has been a really awesome fun conversation.

Signing Off

If you have a topic you would like me to discuss, please contact me by clicking on the “Ask Dr. Jessica Higgins” button here. 

Thank you so much for your interest in improving your relationship. 

Also, I would so appreciate your honest rating and review. Please leave a review by clicking here

Thank you!  

*With Amazon Affiliate Links, I may earn a few cents from Amazon, if you purchase the book from this link.

Please leave a Comment

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
and strengthen the connection with your partner.

SEND ME THE FREE GUIDE

Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching