When your spouse has a serious illness like cancer it seems like life starts to revolve around them. Conversations become about treatment and doctors’ appointments, new research, and trials. Daily life is centered around how they are feeling that day and what they need help with. The future becomes about them too. It becomes limited by what they can and can’t do, how their immune system is functioning, and when treatments are scheduled. Of course, this is understandable, but it can lead to caregiver resentment (which is understandable, too!).
Facing a serious illness is a huge challenge! A life-changing challenge. Still, it’s hard for us, too, as the spouse, supporter, and often caregiver. We want to be there for them, love them, and support them. Sometimes we do that to the exclusion of our own welfare. Over time, caring for them takes a toll on us as well. We can start to feel resentment for all the energy that we are focusing on their life. We may find ourselves being short with them or touchy with others and quick to become angry or complain to anyone who will listen. When this happens, the question becomes how to deal with resentment as a spouse and caregiver.
My Resentment Toward Cancer
Throughout my husband’s four-and-a-half-year battle with cancer, resentment would crop up for me frequently. There were times when he was in the thick of treatments, and our whole lives revolved around that. There were also a couple of years when he was free of cancer, but there was always the threat of it coming back. Cancer felt like a shadow over our lives. It affected everything and was always lurking in the background.
He was my partner, husband, and best friend, and I wanted to support him and be there for him. However, sometimes I felt like that was at the cost of my own life and dreams. That is when I really felt resentful. I resented cancer and, sometimes, my husband for having it, even though I knew it was not his choice nor his fault.
What Does Resentment Do to a Marriage?
If we feel resentment toward cancer or the universe for giving our spouse cancer, we may start to focus that resentment on our spouse as the embodiment of the problem. This can show up in our relationship as being short-tempered with them or making snide or sarcastic comments. We may just generally be quick to anger. Sometimes we pretend to be happy to take care of all their needs and endless requests, but inside we resent that we have to do these. With resentment swirling inside, we may even start to distance ourselves from our spouse.
Of course, while all of these responses are understandable, none of them are beneficial for a marriage and can lead to:
- Communication breakdown: If you’re feeling resentful, you may become passive-aggressive, withhold affection, or withdraw emotionally, making it difficult to talk openly and honestly about your feelings and needs.
- Lack of intimacy: You may be less likely to initiate physical contact or express affection toward your partner. This can lead to feelings of rejection and loneliness for your spouse, which can further exacerbate the resentment.
- Increased conflict: You may find yourself becoming more critical, argumentative, or defensive, which can escalate conflicts and make it difficult to find common ground.
So, the question again becomes how to deal with resentment because you don’t want to harm your relationship.
The problem with resentment is it feels terrible. We are arguing with reality and thinking it should be different. We focus on the unfairness of our situation and, by doing so, become a victim in our minds. Then, we feel guilty for even feeling this way. We love our spouses and know they didn’t choose to have cancer!
The only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is.
As I’ve said often, our emotions are always caused by a thought. Thoughts generate feelings. While dealing with caregiver resentment, you may notice yourself thinking things like:
- It shouldn’t be this way.
- I didn’t sign up for this.
- I don’t want to deal with this anymore.
These are the types of thoughts that generate resentment. They keep us powerless, and so we suffer even more.
How to Overcome Caregiver Resentment Toward Husband with a Serious Illness
Knowing how to deal with resentment on this journey begins by accepting that resentment is a complex emotion. We feel it when we perceive we have suffered wrongdoing or injustice and feel our life or situation is unfair.
We didn’t choose this life to be all about doctors, chemotherapy, and watching the person we love suffer and be in pain! Of course, we feel it’s unfair!
The best news is that you can get out of resentment. You do have that power, and it starts by taking four steps:
- Recognize It
- Allow It
- Own It
- Change It
Step 1: Recognize It
Where is resentment showing up for you? Resentment likes to lurk in the background. We are often ashamed of feeling this way, so we try to deny it to ourselves. We ignore it and pretend it’s not there. Sometimes we don’t even realize what we are thinking, we just know we are feeling bitter, angry, or resentful. This is just a signal that you need to pay attention to what you are thinking. The first step toward knowing how to deal with resentment is recognizing it.
Step 2: Allow It
Emotions just are. We think that there are good emotions and bad ones, but it’s not the emotion we are judging, it’s the actions that come from it. The human experience is made up of all emotions, and we cannot deny or ignore the ones we don’t like. Emotions don’t go away until we allow them.
The resentment you feel needs to be acknowledged without judgment. You are not a bad person for feeling this way; you are human! You have to process it, and this can be as simple as telling yourself, “I’m feeling resentful, and that’s OK.”
Step 3: Own It
This is a really important step. When we feel resentful, we become victims of our circumstances. This makes us totally powerless. Instead, we have to own that our thought is the cause of this emotion, NOT the circumstance or anyone else.
To be an emotional adult we have to recognize that we are always the cause of our own emotions. By doing this, it puts us back in the driver’s seat. We get back our power to change how we feel. This is key to overcoming caregiver anger and resentment.
Step 4: Change It
You can change how you feel by changing your primary thought. This may take some practice and repetition. You want to change the thought that is generating your resentment or feeling of unfairness to one that allows you to feel acceptance. Here are some suggestions, but it’s important to make these your own and something that is believable for you. For example:
- This is so unfair! Try changing to… This is just my life right now.
- This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Try changing to… This is exactly how it was always going to be.
- I don’t want to do this anymore! Try changing to… I’m choosing to be there for them and for me.
Dealing with Caregiver Resentment Toward Spouse? Let’s Talk About It
Feeling resentful is very common when you are caring for a spouse with a serious illness or condition. Don’t judge yourself for being human. This is a hard time for you as well as for your spouse. You may not have chosen this situation, but you can choose how you show up for it. You get to decide who you want to be during this time.
I’m not saying it’s easy to learn how to deal with resentment toward your spouse, but I am telling you it’s possible. And I’m here to help you navigate these emotions and overcome caregiver resentment. If you want to dive deeper into this topic and receive personalized steps to help, schedule a free 1-hour coaching call with me today!
Content provided by Women Belong member Marika C Humphreys