The idea of a love hate relationship is familiar to most of us. As they say, in love hate relationships, you have to live with someone you love to hate—or with someone you hate to love. Either way, when tempers flare and battle lines are drawn, any unfortunate bystander had better get out of the way quick or risk becoming a casualty.
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Love hate relationships present us with complex emotional landscapes, and navigating them is never an easy task. When things are good, there’s no feeling quite like it. When things are bad, however, it can feel like an all-out, knock-down, drag-out war.
For better or for worse, it can be a thrilling experience—especially in the short-term when it involves lots of break up and make up sex (more on break up sex here). But if children are involved, that introduces a whole new and potentially horrible dimension. Is it better to stay in a love hate relationship for your kids’ sake, or is it better to cut your losses and hightail it out of there? We’ll explore those questions a little bit later, but first let’s get a better understanding of what love hate relationships look like.
5 Common Warning Signs of a Love Hate Relationships
Every love hate relationship exhibits different dynamics. In fact, you could be in one right now and not even know it. So while it’s true that love hate relationships don’t necessarily spell doom for your future, being able to recognize the warning signs is essential to addressing the issue and ultimately working toward an understanding between you and your partner.
1. Surface-level relationship. What do you like about your partner? How deeply do you relate? There’s a difference between surface-level connections and ones that speak to deeper personal qualities. If all you like about your partner are their looks, their job, and the car they drive, this should raise a flag that you may be lacking a deeper connection.
2. Everything is a big deal. For better or for worse, emotional responses show that we care. However, not all problems are created equal. For instance, there’s a big difference between failing to load the dishwasher properly and burning the house down. If every situation has “end-of-the-world consequences”, your partner may learn not to take your reactions very seriously.
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3. All make-up sex and no communication. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a little make-up sex from time to time. After all, sometimes our bodies can say “sorry” better than our words can. And the Bad Girls Bible can teach you how to have some really great sex.
However, it’s dangerous to consider make-up sex a substitute for real conflict resolution. The problem with leaving some things unsaid is that they remain, well, unsaid. If you don’t try to tell your partner what was bothering you in the first place, the problem is likely to come up again.
4. Complaining behind your partner’s back. How you treat a person when they’re not around says a lot about your personal character. It also says a lot about your love life. There’s a difference between sharing relationship concerns with a trusted friend and throwing your partner under the bus. If you don’t have anything nice to say, you may want to examine your feelings toward your partner more closely.
5. Unaligned life goals. We all have lots of different ideas on how we should live our lives and how our relationships can help us reach those goals. Some of us are careerists, while others are free spirits. Some of us seek for short-term flings, while others look for someone to settle down with for life.
You’re obviously free to choose your own goals, but rather than try to force someone else into your way of thinking, it’s best to have the long-term talk sooner rather than later so you’re on the same page. If you’re not, the long-term picture sadly doesn’t look promising.
5 Simple Strategies to Help Your Love Hate Relationship
Some love hate relationships are worth fighting for, but only you can know for sure. In some cases, the relationship was simply built on rocky ground in the first place, and the love hate dynamic is the inevitable result of a relationship that’s outlasted its expiration date.
Other times, a love hate relationship is the result of a formerly good relationship that got off-track a little. Even good relationships require effort to maintain, and in some cases it may not be too late to get back into stable territory.
1. Get your partner involved. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. It’s important to remember that there’s only so much heavy lifting you can do on your own. A healthy relationship is a shared responsibility.
Love hate relationships, however, tend to be lopsided in one direction or the other. Share your concerns with your partner about where you think your relationship is headed. If they are unwilling to commit to finding a solution, it’s unlikely that is one to be found.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. We can be told our whole lives that good communication is essential to any healthy relationship, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to get it right all the time. In truth, almost all of us need a little extra training on the communication front. Commit with your partner to improve communication channels.
Develop new strategies together. Set aside a small part of your day—even if it’s only for a few minutes—so that you can check in with each other. Just knowing that you have this time set aside each day will reduce the chances of your feelings coming out in unexpected ways.
3. Learn emotional triggers, accept differences, and set boundaries. Sometimes we get in fights simply because we don’t understand how something we did could possibly make the other person mad. And when this happens, what do most of us do in response? We fight back.
Unfortunately, neither attack mode nor defense mode tend to solve problems. Staying out of fights often means putting in the work well in advance rather than in the moment. So talk to each other when you’re both calm, learn each other’s most common emotional triggers, and then set up some guardrails to keep each other from flying off the rails. You can learn some turn offs that guys hate and you should avoid here.
4. Don’t scapegoat. Relationships don’t exist in a vacuum. We have the whole world to contend with as well. An aggravating day at work or even just being out in public can leave us so full of tension that we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Often, the end result is that the second we get home, something minuscule can happen that finally sets us off.
Pay attention to your feelings and avoid giving yourself free reign to take out your anger on your partner.
5. Find a pressure release valve. There’s nothing wrong with strong emotions—for good or bad. The problems come with how we choose to express those emotions. This is one reason why make-up sex can be so helpful in easing tension (but not solving problems). But that’s just one example; in truth, it can be just about anything.
You and your partner are far less likely to lash out at each other if you can find other ways to release daily pressure. Physical activities often work the best. If possible, find a shared activity so that you can build lasting bonds with each other while burning away that built-up tension.
When to Make it Work and When to Walk Away
Clearly, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to love hate relationships. On the one hand, if you’re just looking for a short-term fling and have relatively tough skin, why not give it a try? A love hate relationship may be contentious, but it can certainly never be accused of being boring.
And if you went into it with a clearly thought-out escape plan, then more power to you.
But it’s rarely that clear-cut, otherwise a lot more of us might be doing it. As stated above, sometimes a good relationship has been derailed, transforming into the hollow parody of the relationship you once enjoyed. These relationships are worth fighting for, but it’s going to be hard work. Chances are, if your love hate relationship has built up over time to replace a formerly strong bond, then there are some trust issues that will need to be addressed in order to see a brighter day.
Do it for the Kids?
Other times, you’re in a love hate relationship that you don’t want to be in, but you find yourself with other considerations. Chief among these is what to do if children are part of the equation. The traditional wisdom has been that people who find themselves in a love hate relationship should stay together for their children’s sake.
However, many recent scientific discoveries have complicated that idea…
Research has shown that frequent, negative stress can have a profound effect on a child’s development. Children experiencing regular stress develop differently; over time, their brain’s begin to privilege survival functions rather than higher-level thinking.
As a result, children can end up more impulsive and less empathetic, ultimately increasing the likelihood that they too will end up in a potentially destructive love hate relationship in adulthood (Source: John Hopkins School of Education). If you find that you should end the relationship, then this guide on falling out of love can help. The no contact rule can help in this case.
It’s uncertain where this leaves a parent deciding whether to leave or remain in a love hate relationship, as a child is sure to experience stress in either outcome. Every situation has its own unique set of circumstances.
However, the question boils down to this: will your child experience more cumulative stress from witnessing your ongoing love hate relationship firsthand, or will the temporary (though likely more acute) stress of separation be a greater stressor long-term?
Again, the circumstances vary, and all love hate relationships are different. If the love outweighs the hate in your love hate relationship, if it’s more about temporary flare-ups of emotion followed by good problem-solving and reconciliation strategies, then staying together may be the best thing.
However, if the bad far outweighs the good in the relationship, trying to tough it out for your kids’ sake may end up doing more harm than good—for you and them. Only you can know for you sure, but when in doubt, seek an outside opinion.
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