Chipping Away at an Iceberg of Resentment


I’ve watched plenty of relationships having disagreements unfold in real life and on reality shows. Like a lot of people, I become an amateur family therapist in those moments.

I quietly observe misinterpretations and miscommunications happening in real-time. Someone takes something the wrong way and responds in an angry tone, then the other person becomes defensive; within minutes, the tension is thick enough to cut with a knife.

Meanwhile, like an omnipresent story narrator, I can unwind the conversation in my mind and pinpoint when/how it veered off course, why both people are upset, and why each person is both right and wrong.

Oh, honey, I can see WHY you thought he was saying ABC and why that upset you, but I think what he really meant was XYZ.

These reflections leave me talking to my TV in a room alone or, if it’s in person, mulling over the situation while I keep my mouth shut (since inserting oneself in a domestic incident with unsolicited advice is a terrible idea).

Isn’t it ironic that we can approach everyone and everything else **oh so rationally** yet we have the same disagreements with our own loved ones?

I was speaking with a friend the other day about long-term relationships and the inability of some couples to communicate effectively. I wrote a poem about it called “The Tip of the Iceberg.”

Being in a long-term relationship with a romantic partner, a relative, a roommate, etc. produces so many experiences and memories over time. And people tend to hold on to the negative ones – times they felt disrespected, times their trust was broken or their feelings were badly hurt…

Eventually, you get what I call “the tip of the iceberg effect” 

Where the thing you are arguing about is not what you are really arguing about. The current disagreement is surface-level. What fuels the two people fighting is the rest of the iceberg, all the resentment that has cumulated over time. As the iceberg of resentment grows, people become less and less capable of articulating exactly what they feel and why.

I’m yelling at you because you didn’t take out the garbage after I asked three times. And this may seem like an overreaction. You might walk away from this thinking I’m a nag who gets off on lecturing you. And maybe I’ll walk away thinking you’re a total POS… All over some trash…

But the garbage is just the tip of the iceberg. If we dug deep, it would come to light that I’ve felt taken for granted for a long time. And it’s never crossed my mind because I’m focused on my own grievances – but maybe you feel the same way.

I think it’s inevitable to some extent. 

Remember this old saying? “Familiarity breeds contempt.” No one is perfect, yet we’re all the heroes of our own stories. We justify our actions and crucify others for theirs. Of course, we will bicker and misunderstand each other sometimes.

But I also think it may be helpful to A. self-reflect and B. give grace.

When it feels like communication has totally broken down with someone, search within and ask Why? What is really upsetting me? What needs to happen for this issue or relationship to be resolved? Perhaps speak with a counselor and/or journal to articulate it.

Extending grace is a simple concept that is easier said than done. 

Our huge egos get in the way. And, crazy enough, it’s easier to give grace to a stranger than a loved one because we don’t know all their flaws and they don’t know ours. There’s no history there, no iceberg.

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