Is a Love-Hate Relationship Healthy?

Can you have a love-hate relationship?
on February 07, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

In the intricate tapestry of human emotions, few patterns are as complex and perplexing as the love-hate relationship. 

Even though it seems like a contradiction, love can seamlessly intertwine with hate, turning relationships into a rollercoaster of highs and lows. But what exactly drives these tumultuous relationships? Are they a sign of deep passion, a reflection of underlying issues, or perhaps a bit of both? 

From the fiery dynamics of romantic partners to the competitive camaraderie in workplaces, love-hate relationships can be tricky to navigate — as these intense emotions can make it difficult to sustain a healthy dynamic. 

If you’re in a love-hate relationship, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind these intense emotions, and their effect on your well-being. 

Key Takeaways
  • Love-hate relationships are marked by intense emotions of affection and hostility, often fluctuating rapidly between these extremes. This dynamic can occur not only in romantic relationships but also among family members, friends, and co-workers.
  • Love-hate relationships can range from volatile, with explosive arguments and passionate reunions, to more subtle fluctuations between affection and disdain. In these relationships, the intertwining of love and hate creates a challenging and often unhealthy dynamic. When hate and contempt are present, it becomes incredibly challenging to rebuild the relationship, even if there is a strong commitment or shared obligations.
  • Insecurities, fears, and attachment styles play a significant role in the development of love-hate dynamics. Individuals with insecure attachment styles may struggle with consistent emotional responses, leading to a cycle of extreme love and hate.
  • The shift from love to hate can be overwhelming, changing how partners perceive each other and leading to increased conflict and resentment.

What is a love-hate relationship? 

The definition of love-hate relationships details a dynamic between couples whereby they hate each other just as much as they love each other. This form of an unhealthy relationship sees couples bounce from one end of the love-hate spectrum to the other, with the entire dynamic based on these extreme (and conflicting) emotions. 

Research reveals a very complex relationship between love and hate in relationships, where the deeper the love, the deeper the hatred — particularly in the context of betrayal. While love-hate relationships usually refer to romantic love, this dynamic can also exist between family members, friends, and even co-workers. 

While love-hate relationships are characterized by the back-and-forth between each extreme emotion, research reveals that feelings of hate can have a lasting impact on the relationship overall. Even if the couple manages to resolve their issues, people are more likely to report less intimacy, satisfaction, and love with people they have previously hated. 

Which doesn’t spell a happy ending for this kind of relationship. 

“As a couples therapist, once a couple reaches the point of hate and contempt it is incredibly challenging to support the couple in rebonding and finding love again,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired. 

“Even though they want to work on the relationship and might be deeply committed to it because of having children or other shared obligations. When you look at a person and despise them, it is challenging to move past that. That being said temporary feeling deep hurt, perhaps after a betrayal from someone you love is not the same as profound disgust for them as a person that could be more associated with hating them.” 

What is an example of a love-hate relationship? 

There are many different examples of love-hate relationships, with different extremes existing amongst numerous couples. 

While some love-hate relationships are more volatile, with explosive arguments and passionate reunions, other variations may bounce between more subtle expressions of love and hate. 

Perhaps love-hate relationships are most well-known for their stake in the concept of both break-up sex and make-up sex — with both just as likely depending on the day of the week. 

It’s important to note that the hateful aspect of these relationships is often associated with those with narcissistic tendencies, who can be prone to more aggressive reactions. If your relationship has escalated to violent or physical behaviors, it’s important to seek professional help, safety, and support.

What causes a love-hate relationship? 

A love-hate relationship is characterized by intense and often fluctuating emotions of both affection and hostility, and several factors can contribute to this kind of dynamic. While these relationships can be deeply passionate, they can also be emotionally draining and potentially unhealthy if the negative aspects outweigh the positive.

Due to their complexity, there is often not one cause of love-hate relationships, but rather a combination of emotional, psychological, and situational factors. 

Brushing things under the rug may seem like a coping strategy at the time, but can go on to fuel love-hate relationships. It’s often these issues that lay under the surface that serve to trigger consistent arguments, with rising intensity. 

After all, love brings out vulnerability, but even though this is part of any relationship, it can trigger fears and insecurities in couples. In response to this, your loved one might lash out just as things were going well — as if they’re intentionally trying to sabotage the healthy equilibrium you’ve reached! 

This kind of behavior is often linked back to attachment styles, with insecurely attached individuals struggling with consistent emotional responses. Therefore they might find themselves continuously bouncing between extreme love and extreme hate in their love lives — with a lack of consistency corrupting their relationship journey. 

10 signs of a love-hate relationship 

  1. Altering attitudes: This type of relationship is characterized by both intensely positive and negative feelings. One day you feel like you have the best romantic partner in the world, and the next feelings of hate derail everything! These altering attitudes naturally damage the well-being of the relationship, as you never know where you stand.  

  2. Bounce between make-up and break-up: Just as you makeup, it feels like you’re heading into another break-up! With so many intense emotions in play, it’s difficult to sustain a healthy relationship. 

  3. Constantly challenging: While all relationships can feel like a rollercoaster ride, love-hate relationships are consistently challenging, and filled with extreme emotions. While feelings of love exist, the challenges outweigh these positive emotions and shape it into a toxic relationship.

  4. Uncertain future: When you’re trapped in a cycle of both extremely negative (and positive) emotions, it’s very hard to know where you stand day-to-day. While healthy romantic relationships focus on the future, love-hate relationships don’t have the security of planning. 

  5. Lack of healthy emotional intimacy: While you have an emotional connection, with so many strong feelings in play, your compatibility is corrupted by toxic behaviors. Even though there are positive aspects to the relationship, there is no solid foundation of healthy emotional intimacy to build on. 

  6. Emotional baggage: Negative emotions can’t all be blamed on your romantic partner, with pre-existing insecurities and mental health issues can weigh you down. If you haven’t dealt with unresolved trauma or other issues, it can lend itself to this dynamic. 

  7. Icks: When you’re in the hateful dynamic of your relationship, you find yourself disgusted by the simple things your partner does. No matter what they do, or don’t do, it can feel like they’re purposely trying to get under your skin. 

  8. Resentment: Every time you argue with your partner, it doesn’t just deal with the issue at hand, but all your previously unresolved issues are also brought to the surface. This reveals the building resentment that is bubbling up under the surface. 

  9. Communication breakdown: While you might talk about your relationship with your friends or family members, there isn’t a whole lot of healthy communication present within the relationship. This lack of clear communication allows things to build up, with this kind of relationship defined by explosive arguments and patched-up resolutions.  

  10. Walking on eggshells: Without any healthy boundaries in place, you’re both walking on eggshells around each other — afraid to set off an argument that could cause the relationship to break up (again!)

What happens when love turns to hate in a relationship? 

Love and hate may exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they can quite happily (if that’s the right word!) co-exist within the same relationship. 

Love, passion, and attraction are all very intense emotions. When everything is going well, there can be a positive and passionate intensity to the relationship. However, when love turns to hate, the intensity of these emotions does not die down — contributing to fiery arguments, resentment, and constant conflict. 

This shift in emotional intensity can also trigger a change in perception where qualities once admired may now be viewed critically or with annoyance. This can do more than just taint your future together, but also corrupts your previously happy memories. 

As you go through these changes, conflict starts to dominate the relationship, with disagreements becoming more frequent and more intense. These conflicts serve to further damage the relationship, making hate the dominant emotion. This transition can feel very overwhelming, as someone you loved is now treating you like a totally different person.

While some couples bounce from one to the other, other couples can experience a linear journey from love to hate (and discover it’s far too difficult to make their way back!) 

How to cope in a love-hate relationship 

Coping in a love-hate relationship is challenging, and it often requires an ongoing effort from both partners, as you try and restore a healthy dynamic. 

  1. Self-reflection: Understand your feelings and motivations around the relationship. Why do you love your partner? Why do you hate them? Acknowledging these feelings is the first step in addressing them.

  2. Open communication: Even though it isn’t always easy, engaging in open and honest communication is the only way to move forward. Discuss your feelings, concerns, and needs clearly. It’s crucial to do this during calm moments, not in the heat of an argument!

  3. Set boundaries: What behaviors are acceptable in your relationship and what ones aren’t? Clearly communicate these needs to your partner and spend time reaching a healthy compromise about your relationship needs. 

  4. Healthy conflict resolutionConflict doesn’t have to always have an unhappy ending. Learning and practicing healthy conflict-resolution skills can help you resolve arguments without allowing resentment to build up! This includes active listening, avoiding blame language, and focusing on finding solutions rather than winning arguments.

  5. Focus on the positives: Remind yourself of the positive aspects of your relationship. Why did you fall in love? What do you appreciate about your partner? Focusing on the positive can help balance the negative feelings.

  6. Couples therapy: If both partners are willing, couples counseling can be highly beneficial. It provides a safe space to explore issues in the relationship with the guidance of a professional, who can keep these intense emotions in check. 

  7. Reevaluate the relationship: Is it growing healthier, or are the negative aspects outweighing the positive? Sometimes, the healthiest option might be to end the relationship, especially if it's causing more harm than good.

How do you know when to walk away from a love-hate relationship? 

Knowing when to walk away from a love-hate relationship involves assessing both your relationship and your personal well-being.

If you find yourself consistently unhappy, anxious, or stressed due to the relationship, it's a sign that the relationship is not beneficial to your well-being. Or if there are ongoing patterns of harmful behavior (like verbal abuse, manipulation, or disrespect) that don’t improve despite efforts to change — it’s a definite sign to walk away. 

Sometimes, it’s important to trust your instincts. If something feels consistently wrong in your relationship, it's worth listening to that intuition. There is no shame in walking away from a toxic relationship, even if it’s a difficult and emotional decision. It may be helpful to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist during this process. 

Remember, prioritizing your well-being and happiness should always come first. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a love-hate relationship at work?

    Everyone goes through phases of love and hate at their job! Even though it’s difficult, to experience periods of high job satisfaction and productivity, as well as periods of dissatisfaction, frustration, or burnout is very common. It’s important to understand why you’re feeling this way, and if it’s worth raising your concerns with your manager.
  • What is the difference between love and hate?

    The difference between love and hate, two of the most intense emotions humans experience, may co-exist in complex ways. Love is all about deep affection, care, attachment, and a strong desire for the well-being of others. Love tends to promote feelings of happiness, fulfillment, and security. On the other end of the spectrum, hate is characterized by intense dislike, aversion, or hostility towards someone or something.
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