The focus of this post is to elaborate on two related themes: One, the differences between resentful compliance and commitment; Two, how understanding those differences can alter the course of a relationship.
Resentful compliance is an agreement that is not an agreement, but sounds like one. Right away you can see the potential problems resentful compliance might spawn.
Resentful compliance, or going along to get along, as it it sometimes called, means doing something somebody else wants you to do, but, for whatever reason you do not want to do it. Problem is, you do not, or cannot, say “no,” when you want to, and instead you agree to do something just to get the other one off your back.
Here’s the twist–There are the resentfully compliant who do what their partner wants, but are resentful about doing it. Their are also those who don’t do what their partner asks or demands; they say ‘yes,” but passively fail to follow through. They, too, resent their partner for a variety of reasons. They actively agree to do what their partner wants to get them off their back, then passively refuse to follow through.
When complying with a request or demand is accompanied by resentment, and it develops in to a pattern, the resentment toward your partner is palpable, and the disdain for repeatedly selling yourself out is significant. This type of conflict pattern is difficult to break without counseling.
This pattern drives a huge wedge between the two of you. The resentfully compliant one feels bossed around on the surface, and underneath it feels weak, powerless and scared to express him/herself. The resentfully compliant one usually feels unheard, misunderstood, unloved and without a voice. This person is often conflict averse.
The partner of the resentfully compliant one, on the other hand, resents the passive aggressive behavior, and often meets with denial when confronting it. If confronting the resentfully compliant is done with intense emotional reactivity, the price of honesty is deemed too high, and the conversation shuts down as quickly as it began. Rinse, wash and repeat, the gap between two of you widening.
This is a recipe for one of two typical outcomes: either constant bickering and fighting, or, painful distance and silence, like two ships passing in the night. By the way, neither of those lead to a good sex life.
It’s up to the resentfully compliant one to begin to voice their discontent with what’s going on. Your partner is angry and resentful that “you never live up to your commitments,” or, “…you never do what you say!” Likewise, the one making the request must keep their reactivity low when they hear “no” if they want commitment in place of resentful compliance.
What neither understand is that there is never commitment when there is resentful compliance. Resentful compliance negates responsibility, undercuts integrity, and only gives the appearance of a commitment. That is why resentful compliance is often mistaken for a commitment.
Commitment follows a decision to accept responsibility for doing something based on mutual acceptance and/or agreement. A request is considered, discussed with your partner, perhaps with some negotiation, and then acted upon.
When following through with a particular commitment, integrity remains intact, and the trust between the two of you is reinforced. Commitments are made consciously, and typically are made together.
When you follow through with a commitment, you do so because you understand that following through, in general, keeps trust alive. There may, indeed, be the occasional decision to be a good sport and “go along to get along,” but it is not done as part of a pattern that has a core of resentment running through it.
The Partners of The Resentfully Compliant
Are you the partner of someone who is resentfully compliant? If you think you are, ask yourself the following questions:
Does my partner avoid conflict?
If so, what role, if any, do I play in that?
Do I make it difficult for my partner to say “no?”
Am I aware that my partner cannot say “no,” and do I take advantage of that to get what I want at my partner’s expense?
These questions begin to address the core of the patterns that resentfully compliant people and their partners engage in.
The Resentfully Compliant Partner
If you are the resentfully compliant one, ask yourself:
Do I avoid conflict regardless of how my partner responds to me?
Am I afraid to say “no” because of thoughts, beliefs, feelings and patterns I developed in my family of origin?
Do I refuse to accept responsibility for my role in this pattern, and instead blame my partner?
Answers to those questions begin to break the patterns resentfully compliant people and their partners repeat. Discuss them with each other. If necessary, explore them with a counselor who can facilitate a healthy process.
These patterns can be changed, but requires persistence, effort and commitment. Resentful compliance will not work.
Wishing you a satisfying relationship,
Jim Hutt, Ph.D., MFT