“You are the love of my life.”
“I can’t take this anymore.”
These are not uncommon statements within one and the same relationship. We may find certain aspects of our partner very difficult to live with, and we may have traits that our partner finds difficult to live with.
The term Relational Ambivalence refers to contradictory thoughts and feelings for the same person. Feelings of pleasure and panic, affection and loathing, hatred and desire all felt towards one person create Relational Ambivalence.
In the case of family relationships with parents and siblings we may feel a genetic, forever connection and yet a part of us may want to separate ourselves from them. We may feel relational ambivalence with our children as we experience deep love like never before, & also at times unparalleled frustration.
In a dating relationship one may feel the push of loss of independence and yet at the same time the pull of safety and commitment. We may want the best of both worlds and feel an unwillingness to pay any (perceived) cost for what we want. In a stagnant relationship we may constantly evaluate what we are experiencing and wonder if there is a more fulfilling one possible… waiting just around the corner.
In long term relationships we may have a long history with many experiences ranging from security and safety in predictability, to boredom, to high friction and toxicity. We may feel trapped and want to consider leaving but may not be willing to let go the positive aspects that the long-term relationship has such as a home and family built together. What sometimes feels like bliss, other times may feel like misery.
Romantic love has its own expectation and doubts in a way that other relationships do not. The expectation is that ambivalence will be put to rest and that we will rise above it. The notion of romantic love being unconditional and absolute, and a deep source of happiness raises the pressure on relationships which, in reality, are not typically smooth or perfect. We expect our doubts will be eased and we will feel a conviction like no other. However, for most relationships ambivalence and uncertainty are an inherent part of the experience.
“Forever” might be part of the initial plan in long-term romantic relationships, however when we don’t meet each other’s needs, or when mistakes or transgressions mar the relationship, it can be a jarring reminder that love has the capacity to cause deep hurt. One of love’s most confounding experiences is we still love the very person who has caused us deep hurt.
Relational Ambivalence is disconcerting, disturbing and uncomfortable. It creates internal contradictions and can lead to ruminating thoughts. It can create self-doubt, and feelings of failure. Often in such situations, we pressurize ourselves to make choices to either leave the situation, justify and stay even though we are plagued with contradictory feelings, or we remain in ambivalence and indecision.
Ambivalence is a part of relationships. Sometimes we need to resolution – certainly in the case of unsafe or violent relationships. Other times holding space for the ambivalence is part of the relationship journey, and a manner of radical acceptance – as it applies to the relationship, and to us.
The concept of being in the ambivalence requires acceptance without trying to change, rationalize or negotiate any aspect. It requires acceptance that we can love someone without loving every aspect of them. It is healthy and realistic to allow space for contradictory feelings sometimes. Perhaps it is healthy to allow ourselves to really dislike the person we love sometimes. And perhaps it is important to be able to hold in our vision the flaws that may exist, and still have love and regard.