This week one of the themes that has come up a lot in my counseling work is resentment and offense. This got me thinking, praying and researching this topic. I share my reflections about how there is a trap of offense and resentment laid out for both the betrayed and betrayer.
Offense with reason
Resentment, a feeling one finds listed in the “anger” slice of most feelings wheels, is a natural reaction to those who have offended us. Offenses, are generally, injustices and one can be righteously angry about injustice. If the injustice we are talking about takes the form of an ongoing pattern of abuse or betrayal, then a strong sense of offense/resentment should naturally arise. Like all forms of anger, resentment should drive us to make changes: changes which stop the injustice and bring justice.
In the case of betrayed partners, stopping the injustice will often take the form of confrontation and boundaries. If this doesn’t work, and the injustice continues, then consequences will usually come into play. Good consequences will separate us from the source of the injustice and give us protection.
Stuck in resentment
There are some situations where protection from gross injustice is not possible. Jesus was teaching people who lived under a tyrannical government who perpetrated injustices on the Jewish (and other conquered) people constantly. Likewise, it is rare, but sometimes happens that women cannot safely fully protect themselves from ongoing injustice, in the form of a betrayer husband, due to external circumstances and vulnerabilities (e.g., lack of support). In a few more cases women feel they cannot bring consequences to bear (such as leaving) because of internal circumstances (e.g., trauma bonding).
When we cannot stop injustice, it is very difficult not to end up in a state of ongoing resentment that becomes sinful. That may sound like a strong statement, but it’s interesting to note that the word “offense” used in the gospels is a Greek word (skandalon) that can be translated “stumbling block” or “temptation to sin”. In Luke 17:1 Jesus talks about the inevitability of offense and gives a warning to those who cause the offense/stumbling block/temptation to sin.
Unfortunately, if we get caught in resentment—as natural and just as that offense reaction initially was—we can end up in sin. Moreover, we can end up hurting ourselves and others from that place, perhaps even perpetuating the offending by becoming the initiator of new offenses (e.g., feeling and showing contempt, not just righteous anger, toward the one who offended us).
I’m talking about real, “the Holy Spirit has convicted me of what I did” offending, and not our betrayer’s definition of “you’re offending me”. Not that their feedback on this should be completely ignored, but in many cases it is skewed, which brings us to…
Offense from a sinful place
Many of our betraying partners/sex addicts hold a lot of resentment towards their wives once they begin to call them out on their sin and abusive behaviors. In fact, many such men are resentful towards models/methods of navigating the betrayal journey (like the M-PTM we use at Naked Truth Recovery) for supporting their wife's a) insistence on change, b) step back from the relationship, c) use of boundaries, etc.
The fact is, just because we feel offended, doesn’t actually mean the other person is doing anything wrong. Matthew, in his gospel records that many who heard Jesus’ teachings were “offended” and rejected him (13:41,57). Earlier in the gospel Jesus says to John (who is checking “are you the One we have been waiting for”), “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (11:6).
Unhealthy reasons we might be offended by someone, and become resentful of them are:
- They are triggering our shame (in particular by pointing out our sin)
- We feel we are entitled to never have to experience emotional discomfort (and they are confronting us and making us feel uncomfortable)
- We feel entitled in other ways (i.e., “you owe me…” thinking)
- They are not living up to our unhealthy/impossible expectations of them (e.g., that they act as our emotional, etc. caretaker when we are both adults – see more on this in Dan Drake’s excellent post)
This kind of thinking is very common today… but it will be particularly obvious in those fighting addiction and/or narcissism. It can help those in recovery to remember their propensity to this kind of “stinkin’ thinkin’” and push back on it with truth.
The way out
When the offense is more justified (I really am being treated with contempt), remembering the bigger picture can help the betrayer not to retaliate in the moment. That picture: these big negative emotions coming at me were because of the massive rupture in our relationship I caused by my betrayal. This is also a moment to use our grounding tools—e.g. take a deep, slow breath, connect with God, remind ourselves that we are going to be “ok”. After that listen to Jesus’ directives for lesser offenses and “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) – which in this case I believe is best demonstrated by using a relational healing tool such as AVR (attend, validate, reassure) or SAVE (see, ask, validate, empathize). Later, go and grieve the offense with the God who does get how hard this journey is.
As for wives who feel they might be caught in ongoing resentment towards the perpetrator of their betrayal, getting good support can make a world of difference. There you will be able to have your pain heard and validated. Moreover, you can talk through the possibilities for creating change—externally (boundaries, consequences) and/or internally (e.g. by connecting with God and others, grieving and letting go, etc.).
In the month of June I'll be looking at answering your questions about the betrayal trauma journey. Go ahead and email those in. I will assume you wish to remain anonymous unless you tell me otherwise.