They say there’s a thin line between love and hate but what do you do when your life is defined by the ups and downs of a love-hate relationship? For one thing, it can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Periods of stability become few and far between and you can end up feeling as you live on an emotional roller coaster, never quite sure what to expect next. Sound familiar?
More often than not, when a couple experience a love-hate relationship, either one or both parties will have learned some maladaptive behaviours from their childhood. There might have been neglect, abuse, lack of love, constant criticism or ambivalent parents who offered love conditionally. When a parent isn’t consistent, a child learns ways to cope with the instability and they take these coping skills with them into their adult relationships. We tend to revert to familiar patterns, and if those early patterns involved a lot of emotional upheaval, gravitating towards that same pattern seems normal. A dysfunctional childhood sets the scene for future stability or instability and inadvertently predisposes a person to love-hate relationships.
Of course this can be counteracted to some degree by self awareness, reparenting yourself and gaining perspective on a loveless or abusive childhood. As an adult we can make choices that are in our own best interests but often those early experiences linger underneath and can be triggered by a partner that somehow reminds us, or acts in a similar way, to a significant adult from our childhood. This can bring old patterns of dealing with emotional stress flooding back.
A dysfunctional upbringing can definitely contribute to love-hate relationships. Some children learn to think a certain way about their parents/experiences in order for their lives to be less distressing. This thinking borne out of a stressful environment can lead to a thinking disorder – the most common one being Emotionally Unstable Disorder (formerly called Borderline Personality Disorder – BPD).
People with BPD feel emotions more easily, more deeply and for longer than others do. Emotions may repeatedly resurge and persist a long time. Consequently it may take longer than normal for people with BPD to return to a stable emotional baseline following an intense emotional experience. The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive.
The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive.
This disorder occurs in most by early adulthood. The unstable pattern of interacting with others has persisted for years and is usually closely related to the person’s self-image and early social interactions. The pattern is present in a variety of settings (e.g., not just at work or home) and often is accompanied by a similar lability (fluctuating back and forth, sometimes in a quick manner) in a person’s emotions and feelings. Relationships and the person’s emotion may often be characterized as being shallow.
A person with this disorder will also often exhibit impulsive behaviours and have a majority of the following symptoms:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
- Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
- Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
- Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms
Love-hate relationships suggest there is an underlying issue that is not being dealt with. Identify the regular triggers/reasons for the emotional upheaval. Recognising a pattern can help to prevent them arising. If you suspect there is more to this than a lack of communication, it is always worth seeing a therapist to talk through the issues with.
All relationships have ups and downs but if you find that your relationship is draining you for extended periods, it might be time to re-assess. Life is tricky enough without having a safe calm home to return to.
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