Building a Strong Relationship: Resenting Your Spouse

If your answer is yes, you're not alone. Simmering anger is a common problem among couples with young kids. Here, help from leading marriage counselors.

Chronic Anger is Common

Judy Watson-Remy candidly admits what many other women won't say out loud: She's angry at her husband a lot of the time. "We both work, but I'm still the one responsible for all of the housework and the kids' stuff," says the mother of two from Brooklyn. "My husband does nothing around the house, and that really annoys me."

She has plenty of company: "Chronic anger is common in a lot of marriages -- especially when a couple has young children," says Helene G. Brenner, Ph.D., author of I Know I'm in There Somewhere: A Woman's Guide to Finding Her Inner Voice. The demands of raising kids can take a toll on even the best of relationships, and when couples don't have the time and energy to work through their issues, anger and resentment can build. The result? Consider the words of one angry wife: "I used to be madly in love," she says. "Now I'm just mad."

The Roots of Rage

One of the most common complaints marriage counselors say they hear from angry young moms is that their husbands don't shoulder a fair share of domestic chores. And it's not just the physical labor that gets to them. Women also feel burdened by mental overload -- having to keep track of every shoe size, doctor's appointment, birthday party, and more.

"When my kids were little, I owned the family to-do list," says Lisa Earle McLeod, a mother of two from Atlanta and author of Forget Perfect, a humorous self-help book for women. "I'd say to my husband, 'Do you know when their Girl Scouts meeting is? Do you even know they're in Girl Scouts?'"

Other common gripes for women are that their spouses don't pay enough attention to them or are insensitive to their concerns and needs. "My husband works all day and then comes home and hangs out with the kids," says an at-home mother of three kids under age 5. "After they're in bed, he'll plop himself on the couch and watch ESPN. He doesn't even want to have a conversation with me, and that really makes me crazy. I'm with the kids all day, taking care of them. Don't I deserve to have someone take care of me once in a while?"

Still, she's reluctant to tell her husband how she feels. "I don't want to be the nagging wife," she says. "I know he works hard, and he's tired, and he deserves some time to himself." Every so often, though, her simmering anger will explode into rage. "Some little thing will set me off, and I'll go crazy on him," she confesses.

Explosions like that are typical. "Anger is a scary feeling for women, and they often don't feel comfortable expressing it," says Fiona Travis, Ph.D., a psychologist in Columbus, Ohio. "But they tend to hold on to their resentment, and those feelings build. Then, when things reach the breaking point, all the pain, hurt, and frustration come flooding out."

The Fallout of Anger

Psychologists say that women tend to experience temporary relief after an angry outburst. It feels good to release pent-up emotions, and it helps alleviate the stress that rage can cause. Ultimately, though, it's counterproductive to allow things to reach the boiling point. "What happens then is that a husband will dismiss his wife's feelings because in his eyes she's screaming like a maniac and not making sense," Dr. Brenner says. "As a result, he doesn't take her seriously."

What's worse, repeated meltdowns can cause a man to withdraw even further. "Female rage can be frightening to men," says Daphne Stevens, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in Macon, Georgia. Males react to confrontation with physical symptoms of stress: Their blood pressure goes up, and their heart rate increases. So to avoid the discomfort, a man may simply tread carefully around his wife and her issues or avoid her completely.

As couples grow distant, the first casualty is usually their sex life. "Women have little interest in sex with someone they don't feel emotionally connected to," says psychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D., coauthor of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. And husbands, despite their reputation for boundless lust, tend to avoid intimacy with wives who are mad at them. Over time, lack of sex in a marriage will deepen the estrangement and further erode the relationship. Simmering anger is also hurtful to children, experts say. When women feel resentful, they're more prone to lose their patience with their kids.

Even if they do manage to keep their feelings inside, constant resentment -- and snippy comments or cold, distant glances between partners -- give children a bad example of what marriage should be like.

Greatly Improve Your Marriage

The situation is not hopeless. "If both partners are willing to put the effort into working on their differences and disagreements, most marriages can be greatly improved," says Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., a marriage therapist in San Francisco and author of The Marriage Makeover. Here are his and others' suggestions for dealing with mad-mom syndrome.

  • Don't let it build. Unless you make a conscious effort to resolve them, bad feelings about a partner will begin to feed on themselves. Once you start looking at someone through a negative lens, everything he does will be wrong. To change your perspective, it's important to step back every once in a while and remind yourself why you married your husband in the first place. Make a mental list of those qualities you most appreciate in your spouse, and try to focus on them. And catch yourself when you're thinking in absolute terms. Avoid saying things like, "He always does this" or "He never does that." Such sweeping statements are probably not accurate -- and can fuel anger.
  • Identify the triggers. Become aware of the times you get the most angry. Do you get irritated when you haven't had a chance to exercise? Is it when you're especially tired? If that's the case, you need to figure out a way to fit in a trip to the gym or an afternoon nap. "It's important for young moms to schedule time to nourish themselves," Dr. Stevens says. Getting reenergized probably won't change your husband's annoying conduct, but it will affect the way you react to it.

The next step is to identify which one of your spouse's behaviors aggravates you the most. Then, figure out whether you play a role in it. "It's easy to assume that the problem is all your partner's," Dr. Coleman says. But both people in a relationship contribute to a bad dynamic. If you're a control freak, for example, can you really expect your husband to take the initiative to make decisions?

You should also talk to your spouse about what's making you mad -- before you explode. "Never let a contentious issue hang in the air without discussing it," Dr. Brenner says. But don't try to work things out when you're feeling angry and upset either. Instead, schedule a time to talk after you've calmed down and can have a clearheaded conversation.

  • Find practical solutions. Are you -- like many busy moms -- mad that your husband doesn't help around the house? If you want help, you'll probably have to spell it out. "Make a list of your most-dreaded tasks, and ask your husband to take on some of them," suggests Aline Zoldbrod, Ph.D., a relationship expert in Lexington, Massachusetts. If you want him to do a particular chore, like laundry or meal preparation, and you're not sure he knows how, offer to teach him.
  • Keep the tone civil. How you say it is just as important as what you say, so plan your words in advance. Instead of screaming, "Stop lying on the couch like a beached whale and help out for once!" try saying, "I need your help -- would you mind unloading the dishwasher tonight so I can read Tommy a bedtime story?" And remember: When your husband does pitch in and doesn't do things exactly the way you would have done them yourself, bite your tongue. Don't criticize an honest effort, or he may not be as willing to help out the next time.
  • Make time for each other. Most marriage counselors recommend that couples try to schedule time alone together at least once a week. Ideally, you should plan a "date" to get away from the demands of home life. But if you can't manage that, at least set aside a regular time-- say, after the kids have gone to bed in the evening or on a weekend afternoon when they're with Grandm -- when you can sit together over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. And instead of talking about your children, try this exercise: Start off by telling your spouse something you really like or admire about him. Then, ask him to say something positive about you in return. This might feel corny and unnatural at first, but experiment. You may find that it prompts a deeper conversation. If nothing else, it may get you laughing -- and that's always a good way to reconnect.

Finally, it's helpful for young parents to remind themselves that this is a particularly stressful period in any marriage. It's natural to argue and fight with each other occasionally, and most good relationships can survive that. In fact, learning to work through your differences and disagreements will help you build a stronger relationship -- one that will survive long beyond these demanding years of raising young kids.

Parents Magazine


  1. I’m really tired of advise like this being given to women. It’s damaging and puts the blame and responsibility, yet again, on the woman. Why should a woman make a list of things for her husband to do? Does he not live in the house as well? Is he not a father too? It’s just more work for women! Then telling the woman that she needs to find a way to go to the gym or take an afternoon nap. Really, holy crap why didn’t I think of that and get a watch to stop time so I can fit that into my busy day with no help! And talk to the husband before you get mad? Again, blaming the woman for things getting so bad. Because if she would just say something before she gets angry, none of this would have happened because, duh, little boys (aka their husbands) don’t take anger seriously. I think most women do bring things up over and over in a calm, rational way before they get to the boiling point and it either still doesn’t get taken seriously or it starts an argument because the husband doesn’t want to hear it. Look, I’m not trying to man bash. My husband and I have worked out a lot of issues revolving the home and the kids but this advise would have been absolutely useless to us. All it does is make the woman responsible for everything when she’s already overwhelmed to begin with. But the problem is that men don’t look up articles on how they can better themselves or how to help more without being asked (because they’re not teenagers) so women look up “my husband doesn’t help” out of frustration and feel even more discouraged after reading something like this. My advise is, let your husband read articles that you look up for improvement. I know, still work for the woman, right? Someone has to be the one to start the conversation and I’m willing to bet it won’t be your husband if you’re reading this. Make the husband read articles made for men in this department. Often they don’t listen to their wives because they think they’re being unreasonable. They need a third person to intervene to take it seriously. This was the only thing that opened my husband’s eyes. It’s still always a struggle but instead of telling him and bringing it up over and over, I email him one of these articles and then he checks himself to see if there’s more he can do without waiting for me to ask. Because it’s not the mom’s responsibility to tell the dad that a stinky diaper needs to be changed while he’s holding him and she’s folding laundry. Don’t. Make. Me. Ask. Be responsible!

    1. I agree 100%!!! I have been reading through thousands of books and articles for 15 years now about marriage issues. I have never read one article where they don’t try to suggest the woman change in order to get their husband to help or deal with whatever issue it is. And YES, it always requires the woman to make more work for herself with idiotic ideas like “making a list for the husband of things you need done” and what have you...RIDICULOUS!!
      This is the first time I have ever been like “wow” this woman totally gets it!!! Maybe you should be a counselor of some sort and start putting men in their place instead of everyone babying them and making excuses for them. Thank you Jabberjam254 for your wisdom!!! I salute you for being truthful and bringing it!!

  2. Everyone listen to my testimony and hear how i got a solution for my ABUSIVE HUSBAND, with the help of Dr LOVE, via (, i never believe in spell casting, until when i was was tempted to try it, I have been in married to my husband for 6 years we have a beautiful 5 year old son who is my world. My husband slowly started to take control of everything in my life now I am at the point were all of my family lives clear acrossed the country and I have absolutely no friends I am actually scared to even try to make friends in fear of upseting him. He doesnt physically abuse me he has pushed me a few times but physically no he isnt. He controls everything even though I work fulltime I have no money since he takes it all when I get paid my husband makes 4 times more than me but he takes all of my money so I have nothing to use unless I ask him for funds and give him a good excuse for why I need it. I have to ask permission to go to the store and he checks grocery and shopping bags as well as reciepts whenever I go shoping to ensure I dont buy anything but what he allows the is when he actually lets me leave the house by myself and when I do he ensures that my son is with me at all times. Since he is always accuses me of cheating I have to literally walk with my head down and not say anything about my environment because he feels that out of respect if any man walks by I should not see them or make it look like I see them. He has accused me of cheating on him saying that I am addicted to looking at men even though I never do I am to scared to even look up from the ground to even look at someone by accident. I have no car and whenever I tell him that I want a divorce he threatens to take full custody of my son. The one good thing I can say is that he is a great dad he treats our son completely differently but when it comes to me he will yell at me and degrade me for leaving a wet rag in the sink instead of hanging it up. I feel hurt trapped and pissed at how he treats me. I know that I am a great woman I am smart loving and caring I work full time I take care of our home our son and I go to school but he calls me lazy even though all he ever does is go to work come home and sit on his ass. The horrible part is that even though he treats me this way I still love him and would be the happiest woman in the world if he would just love me the way I needed to be loved. But I know that was probably a delusion and it will never happen. I want to leave so bad but with no money no car and a young son finding a way out is going to be hard, I explained my problem to my friend and she suggested that I should rather contact a love spell doctor that could help me cast a spell to make him change and treat me well, I am the type that never believed in such, but I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the love spell doctor, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my husband will change, he went ahead to cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4 pm. My husband called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that has been happening that he wanted me to forgive him, that he loves me so much and he will never hurt me never again. I was so happy that was how we started living happily again together . Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful love spell doctor who helped me with my own problem. His email: {

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