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Love-hate Relationship Traps

Do you feel caught in a love-hate relationship that you can’t escape? Maybe you have tried several times to leave but get seduced into staying because your partner morphs into an irresistibly affectionate, tuned in and available person. In that moment you are washed with the ‘love’ part of the love-hate relationship. It feels so reassuring; so blissful; and so delicious that it’s as if the ‘hate’ part of the love-hate relationship melts away. In that moment the only thing you are aware of is the good, nurturing, comforting soul mate. So why wouldn’t you lap it up?

But a few days later you get angry with partner. Broken promises, lies and taking you for granted builds up a hatred inside you. All the love you felt just a short time ago no longer exists and hate, vengeance and feelings of retaliating envelope your mind and body. You become suspicious of any ‘niceness.’ You are on guard because you don’t want to get seduced by what feels like a false invitation to stay around and ignore the mistreatment. So now the ‘hate’ in the love-hate relationship takes over. You don’t remember ever feeling anything but hate, anger and resentment towards this partner who frustrates you, doesn’t comfort or feed you. Why would you want to subject yourself to this torture? Why wouldn’t you punish your mean partner by depriving them of your goodness, by leaving?

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Love-hate Relationships make you feel as if you are with Jekyll and Hyde

In a love-hate relationship you wonder why your partner be so wonderful and trustworthy for a while and then turn into a mean brute who is abusive and dismissive?

The truth is, your partner isn’t two different people, any more than you are. But you are having two wildly different experiences of your partner in the love-hate dimensions. You want to the good parts to be purely good, so you get rid of any awareness of the hateful side of your partner. You get to wallow in the luxury of what feels like you are one and the same person. You are locked into good feelings that both of you swim in and enjoy. But sooner or later your partner is going to pull away a bit, and you are going to be alarmed. You feel threatened that all this good stuff is going to change and it does. But it’s impossible for you to hold onto it as a real experience that you can keep in your memory. All you can do is react to the threat and protect yourself. The best way of doing that is to give a name to this partner who is now taking something away from you and that you have no control over. You give it the name of hate. You are fully in the ‘hate’ mode of the love-hate relationship.

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Love-hate relationships are exciting, but stressful

Thirty-three year old art curator Kiera was consumed with her forty-year old partner, a carpet importer Tobias. They exchanged texts several times for hours on end until they got together in the evenings. When he was traveling for his job they went to sleep talking to each other on FaceTime or Skype. There was an absence of tension, as if they were using the same lungs to breathe in and out in precisely the same rhythm. Kiera didn’t worry or stress, but nor did she think. In the love part of the love-hate relationship, thinking wasn’t necessary. In fact it was downright dangerous. If she used her mind to think, then she would feel separate from Tobias and then she’s be alone, having to bear all the slings and arrows of life, no longer protected by the bubble where she and Tobias were merged.

Each time Tobias went on a business trip the threat of ripping up their united selves raised its ugly head. If Tobias sounded sleepy or preoccupied with an element of business, Kiera’s heart would burst out of her skin as she smelled the odor of becoming two different people, instead of their usual magical one mind, thinking and feeling the same thing all the time. A helpless feeling wafted over her, and stressed her out. She could hardly breathe; her head throbbed and she felt wobbly as if she wasn’t stable on her own two feet.

It was exactly as Kiera had felt so many times as an infant when her mother would be there and make her feel protected and adored, and then suddenly go off and leave her to do her own thing. There was no preparation or easing in, just an ugly tear in the contact, leaving infant Kiera to cope with intense fears of danger and helplessness. Kiera hated her mother for putting her in that position when she was so vulnerable, and without any power or control over her experience. Hate became the tool with which to staunch the terror of helplessness. Kiera had her first taste of a love-hate relationship before the age of two years!

Now as a grown woman, when she was transported back to that perfect sense of protection and togetherness with Tobias, it was all love and no hate in the love-hate relationship. But when the glue came unstuck, Kiera was left feeling like her infant self.Threatened with a loss of “oneness”, Kiera got angry and was filled with hate. She couldn’t tolerate Tobias choosing to shift away – because it revealed a difference between in that moment. It was as if the ‘love’ part of the love-hate relationship was destroyed, and she was left with hate, and envy that he could shift away and survive without her, whereas she felt threatened by the loss.

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‘Hate’ in the Love-hate relationships provides temporary power and strength

Kiera needed to survive the threat of loss when Tobias shifted to having a different need to her.  Hate dissolved the love part of the love-hate relationship that only a few moments ago was offering security and trust. The ‘hate’ in the love-hate relationship made sure she survived.

In another few days, when Tobias returned and they were physically together, Kiera felt the stickiness of the glue again, because she longed for the bliss she had previously experienced and it was being dangled in front of her. She was attracted back into that mesh, relieved of all her negative emotions. She got rid of the hatred, envy, resentment and vengeance. The whole ball of bad feelings was sloughed off like water off a ducks back. The ‘love’ in the love-hate relationship was restored with much relief – until the next time the cycle got activated.

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Love-Hate Relationship Cycles are Hard Wired but Can Be Re-wired

Tired and fearful of being stuck in the love-hate cycle Kiera came to individual counseling hoping to end this pattern. She was really scared that she would never be able to trust and settle down in a more steady, safe and predictable relationship. It was hard for her to get in touch with the helpless and scared feelings that led to hate and withdrawal – they were too much to bear on her own. But through the consistency and reliability of the therapeutic relationship, Kiera came to tolerate separations with retaliating with hate to manage feelings of helplessness. Together we worked on her experiences in real time with Tobias which became easier over time. Now she is working on allowing some of the ‘hate’ feelings to get stirred into the ‘love’ feelings inside the love-hate relationship swings. That helped her stay in touch with the reality that relationships encompass both sides of spectrum; are normal, natural and allow for balance.

copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2018

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