The mystery behind love-hate relationships

June 8, 2006 |

People who see their relationships as either all good or all bad tend to have low self-esteem, according to a series of seven studies by Yale researchers published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In two of the studies participants were asked to indicate as quickly as possible whether each of 10 adjectives applied to their relationship partner, adjectives such as caring and warm or greedy and dishonest. Partners in this study included college roommates and mothers.

Individuals low in self-esteem were considerably slower to respond when negative and positive adjectives were alternated than when similar adjectives appeared in blocks. Those high in self-esteem were equally quick to respond to the adjectives no matter how they were presented.

“This suggests it was hard for them to think of their partners as a mix of positive and negative characteristics at a given point in time,” said Margaret Clark, a professor in the Department of Psychology and senior faculty author of the study. “We do not think these results are limited to any one type of relationship. We think they apply to any close relationship.”

Clark said the effects were obtained only when people judged relationship partners. There was no delayed response when judging an object, in this case, their computer.

The researchers first measured self-esteem by asking participants to fill out the Rosenberg self-esteem inventory, a self-report measure of self-esteem. The reaction time task was administered weeks later by an experimenter who did not know their evaluation results.

“Those low in self-esteem are chronically concerned about whether or not their close relationship partners will or will not accept them,” Clark said. “In good times, those low in self-esteem tend to idealize partners, rendering those partners safe for approach and likely to reflect positively upon them. At the first sign of a partner not being perfect, however, they switch to focusing on all possible negatives about the partner so as to justify withdrawing from that partner and not risking vulnerability.”

Based on their research, Clark and Steven Graham, first author of the study, developed a way to measure the extent to which people segregate thoughts about partners into “all good” and “all bad” qualities. Their new scale is called the I-TAPS (Integration of Thoughts About Partners Scale).

From Yale University

55 Responses to The mystery behind love-hate relationships

  1. sarahlou June 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    i am the same but how much do we take and is there a future for us and our partners x

  2. Lyly April 19, 2012 at 10:43 pm #

    Yeaa same thing here we felt in love first time we meet was like a dream but when we start to notice each others characteristics and difference we started to fight a lot hurting each other mentally thank God he never hit me i admit that sometimes i wasnt gentle with him but none of us is able to leave, its so hard seeing the one i lovee my soulmate and being so angry at the same time i know we will always fight but we will luv each other.

  3. Grey Lynn Guy April 11, 2012 at 3:57 am #

    Hey mate. Read my post. Since then I have discovered the cause of the pain. She has Borderline Personality Disorder, along with Narcisstic Personality Disorder along with Histrionic Personality Disorder (they are all related/overlapping). Keep googling/wikipedia-ing and reading to educate yourself. It will help explain a lot. Then you will be able to make a better decision on what to do next. A site that helped me a lot is:

    Read about Cluster-B personality disorders (named above);

    Good luck. Keep reading, learning, stay objective and fair.

  4. NonStopBitching April 10, 2012 at 9:02 pm #

    This is how I feel. I either love my baby momma of three years or I can’t stand her. I feel like I love her but I know I’m not happy, She’s just such a bitch and to high maintnece I work my ass off so she can be a stay at home mom and all she does is bitch and when I can get away for 2-3 hours a month she’s blowin up my phone every twenty minutes talkin shit askin dumb questions begging me to pick her something up from the store or tellin me when to be home if she’s not calling me shady I love her but I don’t know how much I can take and fearful of loosening my daughters relationship as well she’s three months now Any Help Please?!?

  5. Grey Lynn Guy April 2, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    Thanks Pharaoh. I loooked up Borderline Personality Disorder on Wikipedia. My God, that’s exactly it. I’m torn as what to do now. We’ve separated but remained friends at a distance. She should address this but I’m not really in the position to suggest it. In fact, she would be very offended if I suggested that she had BPD and should seek help. Very conflicted here.

  6. Grey Lynn Guy April 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    Thanks mate. Will have an online read.

  7. pharaoh March 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Grey Lynn Guy, have you ever heard of Borderline Personality Disorder? It sounds like she has it. You should definitely read more about it. I think it will help you understand your relationship a lot better. It’s not as simple as a love-hate relationship, she has a mental illness. Good luck with everything.

  8. Karla February 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    feel exactly the same Me and my partner of almost 3 years are just like this but we love each-other to much to leave he often gets on my nerves and i don’t feel he shows enough affection. his moods are unpredictable but he says the same about me, hes just plain confusing , he changed for the past few weeks but hes slowly going back to his old ways one min loving the next leave me alone , I wish I knew where I stood with this guy he drives me mental, but I love him!

  9. Grey Lynn Guy February 14, 2012 at 7:35 pm #


    Re: second to last paragraph:

    She would say the tension existed because I wasn’t expressive enough towards her, but I was aware of this and tried very hard. Even so, did it necessitate verbal and physical assault?

  10. Grey Lynn Guy February 14, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    I have just come out of 1 one year love/hate relationship. My girlfriend used to fly into rages and the police were involved a couple of times. However when we weren’t fighting I have never known tenderness or intimacy as amazing.

    I am 42 and have had regular girlfriends and long term relationships so I am aware of the work a good relationship requires and of my own shortcomings (well, most of them :).

    Alcohol was a factor at certain times. If she had had a few drinks then it was most likely going to end badly. There are fights and then there are fights. I had never been physically punched or kicked until I dated this girl. This happened 8 times and as I said the police were involved twice, and almost another 2 times when I threatened to call them. Only once did I strike back and kicked her back in the shin. When that happened I was horrified with myself, that I could do that to her, even though she had attacked me 6 times before.

    She suffers from anxiety and a little bit of obessive compulsive disorder so I used that as an excuse for her bad behaviour. But the behaviour became worse over time. The emotional abuse was worse though. She criticised me constantly and when in a rage said the most hurtful things that have ever, ever been said to me. It was so out of proportion that I actually excused the behaviour as mental illness because it as so irrational.

    Her anxiety led to insomnia and back pain which made her more irritable, and subsequently critical. She is aware of all these ailments and tries to live a healthy life to alleviate them. She also is aware of her low self esteem issues. I have a little bit of low self esteem too so it probably doesn’t help.

    She maintains that she has never hit another boyfriend (she was 36, I was 41 during the relationship) but I know she has had volatile relationships in the past including and affair with a married man (her words: “it wasn’t meant to happen but the chemistry on both sides was too strong”). He ended up staying with his wife and 2 kids.

    So here I need to take a look at myself and ask: “Am I really the first man she has treated this way? And if so, why?” Now I need to explain that I am not an overly emotionally expressive guy, but I did read “The 5 Love Languages” a few years back and try to practice it’s philosophy. I bring flowers and small gifts on regular occasions, pay sincere compliments, be tactile and put my arm around her and be generous in lovemaking, and do chores for her. Some of that may have come across as a bit mechanical because I’m still learning to be more communicative, but I was trying.

    My other fault was when she was in a rage a would stay calm and try and calm her down which made things worse. Then I would just wait and hoped she would run out of steam which rarely happened. When the abuse went on for too long, or got too bad ( you can only called a F****** C*** so many times before its gets to you ) I would then lose the plot and explode back at her. I would then say hurtful things which I would regret the next day, and Im still sorry for that.

    I am trying to make sense of it all by reading up on anxiety and the psychology of love hate relationships. I have come to a sort of an explanation but I’m wondering if I’m on the right track:

    She is a very beautiful woman, she is very intelligent and is very socially adept. When she organises drinks or a get together the majority of invitees attend and it’s usually a huge success. She is also a self confessed perfectionist and has high expectations. She won’t go to downmarket cafes or restaurants, although she does wear 2nd hand clothes for financial reasons and always looks stunning in them. Go figure.

    I believe that subconciously she has a ‘perfect man syndrome’ meaning that the further you are from her perfect ideal, the more irritable she becomes with things she doesn’t like about you. I think we all do it. I have had girlfirends in the past where things that shouldn’t annoy you do just because you’re not sure about the relationship.

    Now I’m an average guy – 5’10”, 80kg (175lb), gym fit. I have a business degree in finance and marketing. My parents have been married for 48 years and both my sisters are married to great guys for 20+ years. My career over the last 10 years has involved entrepeneurial ventures such as a food business and property broking and subsequently things are a bit of a struggle. I still don’t own my own home but I have some savings so I’m not in debt or broke. I have subconciously probably avoided marital commitment as I couldn’t realistically see myself as a provider for a family. Since I turned 40 I realise that time is running out so maybe I’m putting pressure on myself. I would love a family.

    Although I’m behind the 8-ball financially, I think people would describe me as a good natured, gregarious, hard working guy. I have many friends in the 20+ year bracket and have good relationships with all my family.

    In my heart of hearts I don’t think she ever felt I was good enough for her. She didn’t like my hair (so I changed the style – it was overdue to be honest), changed my clothes (once again, needed the update), but she also didn’t like my first name, the way I walked (slouched apparently), the way I sat sometimes, the expressive way I used my hands (I’m half Croatian), the fact I used soap instead face wash (gave me excessive lines on my face), said I had excessive lines on my face, I was too skinny (she likes beefier guys), says that I’m too careful (tight!) with money (despite having unpredicatble income and being in a stronger financial postition than her), the list goes on…

    So I’m not sure if I have the answers. I’m sure she’d put a very persuasive argument to me and tell that I’m wrong on many fronts. We parted a couple of weeks ago after the worst fight ever and then I bumped into her yesterday. It’s was Valetines day ironically.

    Maybe I don’t need to figure it all out- the whys, the ifs the whens. I didn’t really mean for this to be so long but once you start writing it just all pours out, so thanks if you’ve read my long story. Maybe I just need to let time do it’s healing.

    It’s just very hard when the person you are so in love with was so unbelievably cruel to you. Yes we had nice moments but the majority of our time together was underlined by tension, even when we weren’t fighting. I believe this tension existed because I didn’t live up to her pre-conceived expectations.

    I’m just very sad. I still love her and miss her, but the tension and fighting is just untenable. I’m so torn. Even if writing this has been cathartic and nothing else, I guess that helps.

  11. 498 A film January 11, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    Have been in a relationship for an year now and till now it seems that as if had just started a week ago…love never dies!

  12. Anonymous December 17, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    My relationship is just like this, ive been with my gf for just over 2 years and when its good its good, when its bad its really bad. In the end her childishness at times makes me hate her and not even want to see her, she throws shit in my face when we talk, or when i try to help her at driving for instance she just dismisses everything i say, even though im right as her ego wont allow constructive criticism. But when shes not acting like a spoilt twat, were great together and were in love. Its actually a relief to see others in the same situation as me. Every time we have a big argument we break up as i feel id rather not argue but be single instead, but as soon as i break up with her she crys and we end up back together and the cycle continues. I really dont know what to do, i love her but i hate having to walk on eggshells when talking to her or when she asks for advice.

  13. Burgendy December 14, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    My boyfriend and I have been together 9 months however we are in our late 30’s and are looking toward building a life together. Problem is he gets drunk and breaks up with me. When he sobers up he apologizes and we start the cycle again. As soon as we have any disagreement, especially when he has been drinking, he is packing his bags. But then he returns, knocking on my window begging for another chance and then things are good all over again.
    I love him, I just think it can’t be too late to fix us.

  14. Wilson September 21, 2011 at 1:56 am #

    Wao So many responses and it confirms my thought that I am not alone. I think every relationship is a love-hate relationship. No one is perfect ! right ? So in my opinion if you really love your partner and want to live with him without any of the hassles involved, you should talk. Talking it out is a good start for saving a relationship. You can also ask for professional help. A relationship expert can help you find the faults and defaults in a relationship. Every expert works in his/her own way, some have their own relatietherapie (almere) (Netherlands) courses or sessions which can help and some just let you open up and talk to your partner without hesitations.

  15. committed...but? September 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    I can say I’m in a love/hate, passion/pain relationship now going on 3yrs. I have had longer relationships, however just like life I have rolled with punches of those relationships and used that knowledge to help me; reluctantly realizing inturn hurting my current relationship. I have carried around this ” If your playing, I’m playing mentality”. I have stick to that method of thinking until my current relationship after time. yes, i said after time…
    I have to be honest in saying i die cheat but with that mentality i had it wash like inviting a person into a relationship knowing your going to do whatever you felt like doing regardless. My heartless mentality helped me bhuild a wall or forcefield and that there was my “gift and my curse”.
    When I really committed I learned I had a large amount of insecurity which made it easy to have that careless commitment value I once had. That why I refer to my previous mentality as “a gift & a curse”. It help me metor once i changed but unmasked insecurity i struggle with today…. help with advice please :)

Leave a Reply

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *