You know a couple just like this. Trust me, you do. They love each other. They hate each other. They’ll never leave each other.
The can’t-live-with-you-can’t-live-without-you energy is exhausting — especially for the people in their lives who have to deal with the constant ups and downs knowing that it’s unlikely to get better. It’s also exhausting for the couple, but they’re often trapped in a cycle they aren’t aware of, don’t know how to fix, or have normalized to the point that they don’t even realize the level of toxicity they’re managing on a daily basis.
But love and hate aren’t the same thing, so how can they coexist?
What Is a Love-Hate Relationship?
In fact, this type of relationship is driven by extremes. The constant drama fuels the sense of passion. From the outside looking in, this can seem terribly toxic, but the people in the relationship feel bonded and romanticize the connection.
Some people are at higher risk for others to end up in a love-hate relational paradigm. People who experienced high intensity, volatile parenting styles often interpret high drama as love. Because they were raised in constant conflict, this actually feels comfortable to them. They know how to navigate it.
Normal, healthy, and happy relationships are where they might experience the most discomfort after a lifetime of learning that love can only exist within the push-pull dynamic of a toxic relationship. A peaceful love, to the person raised with anything but, can feel boring or passionless. They don’t know how to exist within a relationship that doesn’t push them to the edge and pull them back again.
It might be hard for them to understand why healthy people walk away when they attempt to engage in this dynamic. They believe that a person who stays to participate is a person who loves them. It’s easier to believe that than to acknowledge that people who stay in a love-hate dynamic are equally unhealthy.
It is possible to turn a love-hate relationship into a loving, healthy one that doesn’t lose the passion. But first, you have to recognize if you’re in a relationship that looks like this.
13 Signs You Are in a Love-Hate Relationship
Healthy, secure individuals have no problem picking up on the signs of a love-hate relationship. They usually aren’t the ones who find themselves trapped in one. For those of us who didn’t have a stable early childhood experience or healthy relationships, there’s a learning curve that has to be navigated. It can be hard to see the signs when we’ve never known anything different.
1. Fights are volatile and happen often
Every relationship has ups and downs, but not every relationship has frequent arguments. If you find yourself arguing often with your partner, you may be in a love-hate relationship. Disagreements should be respectful, kind, and considerate of the other person’s feelings. Both people should have a chance to speak. Arguments involving raised voices, name-calling, condescension, criticism, disrespect, and contempt aren’t normal, healthy disagreements but a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
However, for this relationship to qualify for the love-hate scenario, there also has to be a dramatic reconciliation on par with the high energy disagreement. If you have all the fighting with none of the making up, you’re just in a toxic relationship — period. If you’re in one with both extremes, you’re in a love-hate cycle that just might be able to be fixed.
2. You Romanticize Friction as Passion
We can blame the film industry and romance novels all we want for selling the narrative of romance as high drama and friction, or we can admit that these narratives exist because many homes are dysfunctional. If we grow up with people who yell at us all the time but also say they love us, we may have incorrectly interpreted this as a normal relational experience rather than a damaged — and damaging — one.
If you fight all the time but still describe your relationship in romantic terms, you’re not experiencing passion. You’re experiencing the stress of high highs and low lows. Passion may be a part of it, but what’s happening isn’t romantic.
3. You’re On-Again/Off-Again
If you have an on-again/off-again relationship, you are also in a love-hate relationship. In healthy relationships, you don’t keep breaking up and getting back together. You’re able to resolve your disagreements without dissolving the relationship. If you keep breaking up and making up, you’re stuck in a cycle that benefits no one.
4. Your Loved Ones Worry About Your Relationship
If you’re in a love-hate relationship, you’ve probably had someone who loves you tell you that it’s unhealthy and they’re worried about you. Unless, of course, all your friends and family also have unhealthy relationships. Someone somewhere has probably suggested that they don’t like how your significant other treats you. In fact, it’s quite possible that their friends hate you, and your friends hate them.
First of all, someone who doesn’t like your friends isn’t a good fit for you. Someone your friends don’t like is probably not a good fit either. The people closest to you often have a pretty good read on your relationships. They may not always tell you, but when they do, you better believe it’s from genuine concern and not a desire to interfere in your love life.
5. There’s an Element of Violence
Don’t skip this one thinking it doesn’t apply to you. If you or your partner throw things, punch walls, or yell at one another, you’re experiencing an element of violence in the relationship. Emotional violence is as valid, and as harmful, as the physical kind.
This isn’t passion like love. Love won’t try to hurt you or scare you. Love doesn’t damage walls and kick doors or step into your personal space to intimidate you. If this is happening in your relationship, don’t ignore it or dismiss it or tell yourself it’s a sign that they care about you deeply.
6. The Jealousy is Real
Love-hate relationships often have a strong element of jealousy in them. It’s part of what fuels the paradigm. That sense of outrage and possessiveness can make you think they care (or vice versa), but it’s really a sign of an immature, insecure relational style.
A relationship with jealousy at the center isn’t loving. It shows a lack of trust and can even extend as far as boundary issues where one person invades the other’s privacy. Sometimes, jealousy exists for good reason — like when you have a legitimate reason to feel like there’s infidelity involved. But in a love-hate relationship, jealousy is just par for the course.
7. There’s Not Any Healthy Space in the Relationship
Many love-hate relationships are codependent — and have, sadly, romanticized that aspect of the relationship. There’s nothing romantic about saying you can’t live without someone. The truth is that we may prefer not to live without someone we love, but that doesn’t mean we’re literally incapable of doing it. In a healthy relationship, they add value to your life but don’t define it.
One aspect of this codependent behavior is that the relationship doesn’t have enough healthy space. It’s important to have a balance between time together and time apart. You should be able to go out with your friends without your partner and let them go out with their friends without you. You’re allowed to have separate interests, alone time you don’t need to justify, and an individual identity that’s separate from your couple identity. Being too enmeshed isn’t romantic; it’s codependent.
8. You Spend a Lot of Time Talking About Your Partner
If you’re both constantly complaining about the relationship to anyone who will listen, that doesn’t sound like love. Why would you stay with someone you don’t even seem to like? That’s the kicker: you stay because you might have experienced a parental style just like this — where someone didn’t like you but said they loved you. It feels normal, but it doesn’t feel good, so you complain.
And complain. And complain some more. You won’t shut up about it. Your dialogue about them is often a list of complaints — and your excuses for why you won’t leave the relationship are just as long.
9. The Relationship is a Source of Stress, Not a Relief from It
Relationships aren’t supposed to add to your stress. A certain amount of relational stress can be normal during disagreements or life changes, but the status quo shouldn’t be crippling stress and anxiety. If it’s not adding value to your life, it’s certainly subtracting it.
Even when the relationship feels really good, do you feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop? This is common for people with anxious attachment styles, but it’s also common for people who are in love-hate relationships. Once you get on the rollercoaster and stay on it a while, you know that any time the relationship goes up to the euphoric levels, it’s bound to fall right back down into the pit of despair. It sounds dramatic because it is — and it’s equally unhealthy.
You learn to be hypervigilant when you participate in relationships with this dynamic. You’re constantly taking the temperature of the relationship because you’ve had to be on guard. You can’t truly relax when you know peace won’t last.
10. Trauma Bonding Exists
Oftentimes, the love-hate relationship creates a trauma bond. You’ve attached to a person who is actually hurting you, and you have a million reasons why. You see the good side no one else does, you understand them like no one else, you don’t think they’ve been treated fairly by life, you jump to their defense at the slightest criticism from family or friends, you think you can change them, and you make excuses for all the ways they hurt you.
This happens in abusive relationships, which often fall under the heading of the love-hate kind. You feel stuck — like you can’t leave even if you want to. There might even be just enough gaslighting within the relationship that you genuinely believe that you’re the unhealthy person causing problems in the relationship.
11. You Think About Breaking Up, Often
Love-hate relationships are just toxic enough that you frequently entertain leaving them. It’s not the occasional thought you have during an intense argument. You actually think about it a lot. You might even have gone as far as imagining your life without them or thought about dating. Yet, as often as you think about it, you’re still in it.
A healthy relationship won’t leave you ruminating on leaving it. Just the fact that your mind keeps returning to that possibility may indicate the relationship isn’t a good fit. If you think about breaking up often and any of the previous aspects are involved in your relationship, you may be participating in a love-hate scenario.
12. Growth is Frightening
In the love-hate relationship, particularly with all its codependent qualities, you may look at signs of personal growth as a problem. You might not want your partner taking that class or pursuing that promotion or doing anything that could potentially grow them away from the relationship. Keeping them close and dependent on you is an assurance they won’t leave you behind.
It’s often a mutual assurance — which looks like mutually assured destruction outside the relationship. Maintaining the status quo is seen as important. Neither wants the other to change unless they’re going to be changing together. Unfortunately, this attitude can have people encouraging partners to continue an addiction or other unhealthy habit to keep that false sense of closeness.
13. Real Intimacy is Lacking
In a love-hate relationship, you don’t really trust or respect one another. While there may be elements of love, you don’t have elements of healthy vulnerability, trust, and consideration. You may seem intensely bonded, but you likely don’t have the deeper intimacy that comes from being able to address the harder parts of a relationship honestly and without fear.
This isn’t a definitive list of signs. This is just the very tip of a very large, very dangerous iceberg. If you’re not careful, you can go your whole life never experiencing real, healthy, mature love because you committed your life to a love-hate relationship without ever moving it strictly to the realm of love.
How to Fix Your Relationship
Let’s be clear: not all love-hate relationships can be fixed. It takes equal and willing participation by both partners. Without equal effort and willing effort, all you have is one person trying to fix a relationship that might suit the other person down to the ground. I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to work.
However, if you truly love your partner and your partner truly loves you and you both want to change the relationship to make it healthier, there’s hope. Here’s what you need to do.
1. Get Professional Assistance
If you can afford and access therapy, do that. This is important. If you don’t have insurance, there are affordable online therapists available. Some in-office therapists will even have a sliding scale fee based on your income.
Many people try to do this on their own. Why? Do you take care of your own root canal? Do you remove your own infected appendix? Some of you don’t even make your own coffee, preferring a barista to do it for you.
If you want to save your relationship, take the frightening but necessary step of sitting down with a licensed mental health professional who can help you talk out the issues in a safe space. They can help you see your patterns and even teach you better ways to communicate with one another. Don’t wait until you’re breaking up or breaking down to reach for this lifeline.
2. Work On Your Self-Worth
If your early childhood experiences made you susceptible to this kind of relationship, I want you to remember that you’re worthy of unconditional love. You’re worthy of acceptance. You are worthy. Your value isn’t based on what you do. It doesn’t require to be perfect and never make mistakes. It just is — as you are.
If you want to get away from the love-hate dynamic, you’re going to have to stop practicing it with yourself. You can’t love yourself and hate yourself at the same time. Work on your self-love. Encourage your partner to work on their self-love. You’re going to need it.
3. Learn to Respond Rather Than React
When you’re used to the rollercoaster, you’ve probably developed a response pattern. It’s time to break the cycle. Start by becoming aware of your emotions.
- First, find out where you’re feeling it in your body. Is it in your neck, your shoulders, your back, or your head? You might even feel it in your stomach or hold it in your hips. Is it sitting on your chest? Find out where you’re feeling it physically before you go any further. Then, breathe — deepening your inhales and extending your exhales.
- Next, identify what it is you’re feeling. Are you angry? Sad? Sometimes, men experience sadness as anger, and women do the opposite. Regardless of gender norms, ask yourself what you’re really feeling. Don’t use “upset”. Label it. Be as specific as possible. Are you frustrated? Disgusted? Ashamed?
- After you’ve labeled the feeling, follow the thoughts surrounding it. Are you interpreting someone else’s thoughts and motives? Are there assumptions involved? Are you telling yourself a story that involves the past, or are your thoughts centered in the present?
If you can locate the feeling, find where you’re feeling it, and look at the thoughts surrounding it before you react, you can learn to respond. Instead of doing what you’ve always done when you feel triggered and/or emotional, you can choose a response that fits the present situation. Maybe that response is asking for a little space or communicating how it’s making you feel. Whatever you choose, you’ll have a better chance of changing the pattern if you respond rather than react.
4. Use Your Grownup Words
A friend of mine says this all the time and I love it: Use your grownup words. More people could benefit from this excellent advice. Some of our patterns are childish like being passive aggressive or resorting to name-calling when angry. When we use our grownup words, we learn to talk. About our feelings. About how actions make us feel. About what we want and need. When we use grownup words, we can ask for help, ask for space, or state our needs.
Better communication is essential to turn a love-hate relationship to a loving, healthy one. There can’t be any more dramatic ups and downs. You’ll have to learn to recognize intimacy, affection, and even passion without the rollercoaster. And you’ll need to find your grownup words.
5. Build Better Boundaries
People in love-hate relationships just don’t have good boundaries. If you did, you’d be able to take the hate out of the equation or leave the relationship. As you try to fix your relationship, you’re going to have to set some healthy boundaries for yourself and respect your partner’s boundaries, too. You might like the former better than the latter, but both are necessary.
To set a boundary, clearly state your needs and expectations. You’ll also need to set a consequence for violating that boundary. For instance, I’ll gladly discuss this issue with you, but if you raise your voice to me, I’ll no longer participate in this conversation or stay in this space. You’ve communicated that you’re open to a discussion but not open to it devolving into a volatile argument.
Boundaries need to be clear and consistent. Expect this to take a while to get right. I’ve been working on boundaries for years, and I strongly suspect I’ll be doing that for the rest of my life. It doesn’t come easily or naturally to me, but I’m learning. You can, too.
6. Create Stronger, Separate Social Support
If you really want to have a healthy relationship, you both need to create stronger social support outside the relationship. You both should be able to have separate relationships with friends and family and to make time to spend with them without your significant other. It’s important to take the time to strengthen the relationships because I know one thing is true: If you’ve been participating in a love-hate relationship, you’ve damaged your other relationships.
Your friends have had to listen to you complain about the relationship without you leaving it. They’ve probably had to include your significant other when they’d have rather spent the time with you. They’ve given you advice out of genuine concern, which you’ve probably ignored. They’ve had to listen to you defend a relationship that’s unhealthy. You may even have stopped spending time with them because of your relationship.
In the process of creating stronger social support, you may need to mend these relationships and make amends for your behavior. Don’t fall into a love-hate relationship with your friends because you couldn’t ‘fess up to your bad behavior, apologize, and work to make it right. Don’t expect all to be forgiven just because you’ve decided to get healthy either. It could take time to rebuild that trust.
7. Address Your Attachment Issues
You have attachment issues. You had an attachment style from childhood, and you may have learned one from your adult relationships. If you’re in a love-hate relationship, you’re not securely attached to your partner. You might be dealing with anxious, avoidant, or fearful-avoidant attachment. Learn about attachment styles and how they impact your relationship. This will help you become a more secure, healthy partner.
Anyone can become securely attached. It just takes work. Understanding your attachment style can help you see why you react the way you do. It can also help you understand your partner. Once you see the world through the lens of attachment theory, you might extend more compassion to yourself as well as to others.
8. Embrace Relationship Green Lights
If you truly want to be healthy, you need to know what a healthy relationship even looks like. You’ve likely romanticized behaviors that are toxic. You’ll need to learn to identify relationship green lights — the signs that it’s a healthy choice for you. But more than identify them, you’ll need to learn to sit in the discomfort that comes from being out of the toxic environment you associate with comfort.
When love looks like love-hate, it can feel really weird to be in a healthy relationship. It will likely be anxiety-provoking. You may suspect that your partner doesn’t love you or find yourself attuned to every shift in mood. You’ll have to work through emotional triggers and hypervigilance to adjust to a new normal.
You’ll need to recognize all the relationship green lights as a sign of love, not a lack of passion. Green lights could look like respectful communication, space within the relationship, separate friends and interests, healthy boundaries, and the ability to directly address conflict. For someone without a healthy relationship history, this can be frightening, but the only way to build better relationships is to learn what that looks like and embrace it — even when it’s scary.
The Only Conclusion to Love-Hate Relationships
Love-hate relationships have to end. There’s no other choice. This doesn’t mean you have to leave your partner or be left by them. It does mean that you need to learn how to have a relationship rooted in love.
No relationship can thrive when hate is involved. You can disagree — and you will. You can have bad days and doubts about the relationship. You can have boring days when you wonder where the passion went. You can feel, at times, disconnected and have to find a way to reconnect. But hate will never be a part of a healthy relationship. The hate cannot survive if you want the relationship to thrive.
Love-hate relationships are so common we think they’re normal. Even I will dive in with relish to an enemies-to-lovers romance. While I find it enjoyable to read or watch, I don’t apply it to life. It’s not how healthy love works.
Someone who keeps pushing you away to pull you in isn’t showing you love. They’re just showing you that they aren’t emotionally healed or mature. A lot of us haven’t learned to love in healthy ways.
It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve love or aren’t capable of being healthy. It just means there is a learning curve. If you make the effort and do the work, you’ll likely find that a truly loving relationship has more passion than the can’t-live-with-you-can’t-live-without-you relationship ever will.
Article originally published on The Truly Charming