The mystery behind love-hate relationships

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

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55 thoughts on “The mystery behind love-hate relationships”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

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