Micro-Resentments: Eliminate the little things that make bigger upsets harder to repair By Don Elium, MFT

Mary is upset because her friend came to their appointment an hour late, leaving her with only five minutes to talk about something important.  

 John is deeply disappointed when his girlfriend said she would return his call by evening but didn’t call back for two days.

 Without resolution, these disrespectful actions might cause micro resentments to build up for both Mary and John. The dictionary defines resentment as “bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.” So, what is a micro resentment? Over time, small slights evolve into micro resentments, which can fill your brain and nervous system with strong negative feelings toward someone you actually like or love. Perhaps unnoticed at first, these unexpressed negative feelings of resentment can erupt, causing the smallest of disagreements to become huge obstacles in your relationship. Left unresolved, resentment can set a person on the road toward contempt, which is extreme dislike and disgust, also known as hatred. Left unresolved and not repaired, micro resentments fill the nervous system like a reservoir that begins to flow over the dam and turns the smallest mismatches into fights with more and more distance in the relationship.

 Resentment can be resolved with sincere apology, ownership of each person’s part in it, emphasizing the positive effort of the other without ignoring the problem, learning from it and making amends. Here are some suggestions for working it out, draining the emotional negative reservoir and reducing the risk of resentment in your relationships:

 1. Be compassionate, merciful, kind and honest toward yourself first. Be honest about your feeling, knowing that misunderstandings and hurt are always part of any close, ongoing relationship. Be reassured that research shows that happy relationships have resentment in them, but the happier couples know how to repair the regretful incidents that normally occur.

 2. Learn to use micro consents. Consent means to give permission for something to happen or agreeing to do something. In our current cultural media, the word consent has been reserved for education about sexual harassment and abuse issues. However, in the above examples, Mary did not give her consent to her friend to misuse her time. John didn’t give consent to his girlfriend to leave him hanging for two days, worrying about what had happened to her. In a committed, ongoing relationship when consent is not given for an action taken or appointments changed without making an effort to inform the other, it creates resentment. These build up into bigger fights and hurts. And, resentment grows and grows and grows.

On the other hand, well-placed and sincere efforts to include micro consents over the little things build positive sentiment, respect, and closeness. It gives the message that you not only value another person’s time, but that you value them and their need and right to have a choice. Cooperation, sincerely going the extra mile, and kindness are the by-products of micro consents. 

3.  Use a preamble: a preliminary or preparatory statement; an introduction. For example: Your friend, Gloria, is typing intently on her computer. Rather than saying, “Hey, where is my notebook?” try, “Hi, Gloria, can I ask you a question?” This gives Gloria a chance to stop her typing, take a breath, and really listen to your question. A preamble can sound too canned if you do this robotically, so find ways to use a preamble to give the listener a chance to choose whether this is a good time or not. Consent is about choice, not a forced action or demand.

4. Learn to apologize when you have a Micro Consent error, as with Gloria, “I am sorry, I could have asked if you had a moment and I didn’t. I am sorry for that.”  This gives Gloria a chance to feel seen and acknowledged for the awkward and low-level startle situation you put her in. Practice in public in grocery stores, move theaters, restaurants. Micro consents often pave the way for a more pleasurable interaction in tense situations in hurried situations in public: “Excuse me, can I ask you a question? Which door is the one to our movie?”

In our lives of instant messages, instant info, instant texts and instant expectations, Micro consents can slow down the startle and adrenaline reactions of our nervous systems thereby reducing micro resentments. With daily practice, your relationship reservoirs of negativity can be refilled and positive sentiment can flow and make the good times better and the bad times less intense and more repairable.