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. Anonymous April 5, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    You read “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” and you fix one third of your problems.

  2. Anonymous April 1, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    My husband and I had been dating off and on for four years before we abruptly decided to get married. We have been married for 3.5 months now and he’s decided to leave me again for probably the 10th time. I am sometimes blown away by his ability to go from Dr. Jekyl to Mr. Hyde. He is a crazy African so maybe that has something to do with it? Not completely sure becasue men are crazy all across the earth. If I do have low self-esteem, it’s because of him. I can’t explain why I keep allowing him back in my life either. I have dismissed the fact that we have a three year old together. After he goes off, he will come back in about a month or two. It is really love and hate. I know I deserve more but how to I break this horrible pattern of emotional abuse at the hands of this man?

  3. Anonymous March 8, 2010 at 1:10 am #

    Well i think relationship is depends on some facts and the most important thing is the healthy communication. So if you are having this and you are providing the best quality to your partner then this will be the sign of the long term relationship.

  4. Anonymous February 16, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    Interesting that you are all going through the same things. But great that you have have found a way to talk and deal with the issues that you are all going through. I think that often when we talk about things we discover ways of solving problem that we would not otherwise know exist..

  5. Anonymous January 10, 2010 at 11:45 pm #

    Well i think relationship is depends on some facts and the most important thing is the healthy communication. So if you are having this and you are providing the best to your partner then this is the sign of the long term relationship.

  6. Anonymous December 17, 2009 at 12:53 am #

    Many times a relationship comes to an end due to misunderstandings in that relation, sometimes immaturity is the reason and at times personal egos clash.

  7. Anonymous November 6, 2009 at 2:06 am #

    when love comes than there is very low ratio of self esteem.this is what i think.because love is very sweet feeling so we should not ruined it by our self esteem.we should maintain proper balance.

  8. Anonymous October 12, 2009 at 7:24 am #

    Well, I’ll relate this little bit. happens more than l’d care to admit.
    Late one night, she knocked on my door. She had drunk again, looking to score…
    Now, l know l should say no but it’s kinda ”hard” when she’s raring to go…
    I may be dumb, but l’m not a dweeb.

    l’m just a sucker with no self-esteem… :(

  9. Anonymous June 21, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    I love my husband, however his moods are unpredictable and sway like the wind. When he becomes verbally degrading, I despize and hate him (sounds like my mother). When he is nice he is nice. I feel like I am on a roller coaster is definantly a love/hate. I don’t consider having a low self esteem. Many people ask why I stay. Its hard.20 months ago he suffered a brain injury. He goes to work,drives and works out in the yard like someone who never had that injury happened. However
    He goes from one extreme to the other. Like night and day…then I get that love/hate thing. Not sure what to do, how to make it better. I know I cannot change him.ugh! Advice? Please

  10. Anonymous May 1, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    where is all his promises??

  11. Anonymous March 19, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    I think it all depends on the two people involed – Ive been in many relationships – some people make you feel secure – some play games and make you feel insecure.

  12. Anonymous March 16, 2009 at 5:01 pm #

    I dont consider myself a person with low self esteem, but everything else you said sure sounds familar. Is there any way a relationaship like this could be fixed? Especially if you know love is there?

  13. Anonymous December 19, 2009 at 6:58 am #

    Your experience sounded so familiar i had to reply. I love my significant other with everything i have. I find myself on this website because well i dont know what to do with my situation. We have been on and off for over four years now and when things are going good, they are Great and our love comes from the core also. but when its bad, its bad. I have lost friends and almost even family over this because we become so emotional and angered when its bad. I just want stablitity and want to feel content and happy with him, but it seems as soon as i feel that way, my world comes crashing down due to an argument or something happens. I am in a constant numb because of this. I miss him when hes gone and find it hard to let this relationship go. Even though its extremely hard when were together. It makes me want to run and hide.

  14. Anonymous July 14, 2009 at 9:04 pm #

    When a brain injury is involved it is hard to leave. If you stay, it is a really hard commitment. I hope he is not hurting you physically. If he is doing that or starts you will need to leave for your own safety. Life sure is hard sometimes.

  15. Anonymous July 14, 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    Sometimes we just have to let go and move on. We all deserve someone who love us for what we are and who we are becoming. The mood swings are a way to control us so we will do what is expected or demanded from us. The best goal is to become independent finacially and get away so we have time to heal and move on. Good luck.

  16. Anonymous July 14, 2009 at 8:46 pm #

    My significant other and I have been at it for 30 years. Love comes from the core, and hate comes from the way he trys to control me. We have been on again and off again forever. When we are together he takes complete control of my life, and when are estranged I am in control of my life, but I miss the good things about him. I just want to forget him and move on with my life. Outside issues always split us up but I am so ready for him to go away when we finally split. He becomes a major stalker that destroys everything I have when we are away from each other and very loving when we are together (as long as he can control me). The entire sititution is just sick. This last time has lasted 27 months with him stalking my house, posessions, and vehicles. I have had six flat tires in the last six weeks. I would like to fade into the sunset and never look back.

  17. Anonymous March 10, 2008 at 2:41 pm #

    We think so… LOL

  18. Anonymous September 8, 2007 at 10:46 am #

    I took the Rosenberg Self-Esteem test and scored 26/30. I wouldn’t consider myself low in self-esteem but I used to be when I met my partner. We have an extreme love/hate relationship that is borderline preposterous. From my personal experience, I don’t necessarily believe that you have to have low self-esteem in order to experience this type of relationship. I think, in my case, that we became so accustomed to this type of behavior that it lingered while I became more confident around others.

  19. Anonymous August 15, 2007 at 1:03 am #

    yea i have low self-esteem too and this line fits me exactly “concerned about whether or not their close relationship partners will or will not accept them”.. i dread making new relationships and specially marriage.

  20. Crimson June 27, 2007 at 8:27 am #

    My God, that sounds so familiar. I have low self-esteem, and I would describe my relationship with my partner as being very ‘love/hate’. Now I know why!

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