When Love Bounces Between Love and Hate
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2012 (edited 2018)
Previously titled "You're the Best Ever; I Hate You"
Love and hate relationships start with a bang but often fizzle into distrust, constantly bouncing between the extremes.
“Finally, I‘ve found the love of my life,” we triumphantly declare. “My soul mate—at last!” When past relationships have quickly fell in shambles, new love appears refreshing. But when the roadmap to successful relationships is mysterious, we see success in the first flashes of attraction, proclaiming greatness, decorating the experience with beautiful projections of deeper meaning. Many want love so bad they misconstrue the rush of gleeful beginnings for the security of carefully constructed intimacy.
An experienced therapist once warned a young apprentice, “You will on occasion have a new prospective client who, after a few visits, will praise with great embellishment. They will tell you how wonderful you are. They will triumphantly declare they finally found a therapist who understands. They will talk of the two of you making the perfect therapist-client match. Your ego will be stroked, and you will be inclined to believe in these wonderful affirmations; don’t take that client!”
We would be wise to ponder this insightful instruction, applying the wisdom to romance. Several years ago, I participated in an on-line community. On many occasions participants discovered a friendly spirit and romance ensued. Before even meeting, they would publicly share their lucky find—a soul-mate; the love of their life. Most these relationships ended as quickly as they started. Embedded within us is this yearning for a perfect match. This unrealistic expectation eventually invites disappointment when the imperfections of the imperfect partner are unveiled. Unconditional love and complete acceptance are idealistic hogwash. Relationships scrutinized against these ideals eventually will be dashed against the hard rocks of reality. At some point, we will discover conflicts in desires, either because of differences or imperfections—there will always be episodes to address and disruptions to accept.
Whether we bond immediately with a therapist, a romantic partner, a friend, or the content of a facebook page, eventually differences will emerge that challenge the connection. Stable relationships require work, processing differences and working through conflicting emotions. With effort, we can resolve some of the differences but not all; some conflicts continually resurface, demanding attention, igniting minor tiffs or even exploding into relationship destroying brawls. When these challenges arise, we have choices: We can dissolve the relationship; we can suppress the emotions ignoring the evidence; we can demand change; or we can learn to love despite the divergence of ideas.
"Unconditional love and complete acceptance are idealistic hogwash."
Over the last eight-years at flourishing life society, many followers have come and gone. I have noticed a noteworthy pattern. Occasionally, a new follower arrives, liking and commenting daily. Some gush with great admiration, but time passes and the flowing praise ceases and they soon, I suppose, are lavishing comments at a new page they have found. The perfect match of philosophy seldom exists; eventually ideas will clash and challenge our commitment. With the variety of topics, and the frequency of posting on Flourishing Life Society, there will always be some differences. Soon the perfect match disappoints and the page is abandoned for another site where the engagement hasn’t yet revealed a difference.
The next time you find that perfect match—your soul-mate—slow down and ask, “Does it only seem perfect because the relationship hasn’t encountered its first conflict?” “How will I respond when I discover relationship differences that cause discomfort?” and equally important, “How will my partner respond?” We don’t need to rush to the conflict; but we should be prepared when they arrive. And they will arrive. Will the soul mate become the hated adversary?
We need skills to process displeasure if we want the enjoyments of a lasting relationship. Relationship skills are perishable and dynamic. People are not perfectly predictable, surprises will arise throughout the relationship. With refined skills, we can skillfully navigate through the choppy waters while enjoying the benefits of security and love. Intimacy demands we work through occasional distressing emotions. Successful couples are not successful because of being perfectly matched; they’re successful because they have the emotional maturity and skill to resolve conflict, building the bonds of trust. Those who routinely explode when things don’t feel right or hide behind a mask of indifference create a new dynamic to the relationship. Partners feel threatened, unable to predict which triggers will ignite dangerous tantrums. Instead of comfortable connection, knowing that differences can be dangerous, interactions are tapered, expressions are guarded, hoping to avoid another unfavorable encounter.
When pasts conflicts with a partner has been treacherous, new encounters are tainted with the knowledge, beneath the surface of the immediate issue lies these unresolved hurts. Past discussions that ended badly leave us tender during new disagreements. Embedded emotions resurface and easily overwhelm. With change, trust can be established, over time new interactions can prove the relationship to be a place of safety.
We can start peeling away the layers of hurt, and step by step invite the beginnings of intimacy. Trust creates security; security builds trust. Only when we work through the conflicts can we achieve the closeness we desire, utilizing our strengths, drawing upon outside resources and refraining from the push to run upon normal collisions with differences. I love you; you are different, but we can work through this.
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