I am writing to you because of a situation that happened this summer that has created such resentment in me that I can't shake it. My husband and I have been married for 25 years and have four children, two with disabilities under the age of 10, a 21 year old who has bipolar disorder and a 17 year old who is very quiet, but otherwise fine.
One day, my father-in-law, who is bipolar himself, was fixing something in our backyard an d left the side gate open. When I came out and saw this, my heart dropped because my severely autistic 9 year old has gotten out before and had to be saved from being hit by a car in the middle of a busy road, so we all know the rules that all doors must be closed and locked at all times.
Because my father-in-law is hard to deal with I usually bite my tongue but this time, in my panic, I screamed at him that he should know better. At the time he had a shovel in his hands and he threw the dirt that was on it at me and shouted 'I should take this shovel and hit you over the head and kill you, you gave my son 4 retards!'
At this outburst no one, including my husband who witnessed it, said anything. I went back in the house upset but about 5 minutes later this question entered my mind. "Why didn't my husband do or say something?"
Of course the big excuse is that his dad has a mental illness, but I just can't get past the hurt that my husband didn't have my back. It's bad enough he said nothing to defend me, but to not say anything after the malicious thing said about our children, is a huge blow.
On the outside I got over it right away, but there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about it and resent my husband for not saying something. Why couldn't he just say 'don't you ever talk to my wife like that and don't you dare every call my kids names ever again or you will not be welcome here'.
Can you tell me how to knock this scene out of my head so it will stop playing over and over again every single day. - Stuck on Resentment
Dear Stuck on Resentment,
First of all, I want to extend my empathy. Even with fabulous support, the challenges that you and your family face are tough. Adding this kind of insult to the mix is too much and it is understandable that you would want your husband to stand up and say so.
So let's talk about the resentment.
The first task in dealing with resentment is to make sure you've pinpointed the real source. Either on your own, with your husband from the start, or with a trusted friend or therapist - find out what's at the core. If it really is only about this one incident then it is much more resolvable because it is contained. If it involves some deeper stuff - a history of not having your back, other hurts involving the kids and their disabilities, etc. - then it can still be resolved but it will likely take more time and effort.
If you didn't do this already, bring your husband into the loop. You say that, "on the outside you got over it right away." Does he even know that you have resentment? He may actually believe you are fine with the situation especially if his coping strategy for dealing with his dad is to just ignore his erratic mood swings. A lifetime of protecting himself from the effects of this disorder may have shutdown his ability to appreciate that this situation went too far.
Communicate with him and don't wait too long because while some wounds heal on their own, wounds like these tend to get infected, causing all kinds of damage and spreading to the rest of the relationship. Whether by writing him a letter or talking directly, speaking about your experience and asking him to validate that, is where you need to start.
If you can, make room for your husband's side. A relationship is about 2 people so there needs to be room for both. Resentment tends to narrow our focus to what we are angry at and can cause us to lose sight of the whole person.
Can you balance this incident with your husband's strengths? Does he have your back in other areas or other ways? Also, allowing that he too likely has his own, possibly deep, issues to deal with can make way for some forgiveness. Has he (and you) ever worked through the guilt and grief that often accompanies the experiences of having a child (and in your case children) with special needs? Has he ever dealt with how his father's own disability impacted his life - and still does?
Finally, consider what would help you deal with your resentment. What might help counter the hurt? Validation that he understands? An apology for not standing up? A belated response to his dad? An agreement to limit time with your father-in-law or to deal with this as a team in the future? The more clearly you appreciate what would help you, the easier it will be to ask for it.
To 'get this out of your head' you will need a change of heart. Start with compassion for yourself and your children. Asking your husband to validate you (with compassion) and make some amends takes it to the next level and may help you remember your compassion toward him as well.
It takes courage to deal with resentment head on instead of letting it infect you and your marriage. I hope this gives you a place to start. Let me know if you have more questions.
Good luck and take care,
Annie Zirkel, LPC is a Relationship Consultant based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She can be reached at (and questions can be submitted to) email@example.com