Love-hate relationships: What are they and when should you step away?

Although they’re often framed as opposites, we can experience both love and hate for something at the same time. A love-hate relationship can exist between friends, family, coworkers, and, most frequently, romantic partners. 

While it is normal to have some negative feelings towards loved ones at times, these negative feelings can be harmful if they overpower feelings of love and affection.

What Does It Mean to Have a Love-Hate Relationship With Something/Someone?

A love-hate relationship means that you hold both positive and negative feelings toward something. In the case of relationships, a person with a love-hate relationship with their partner both loves and hates something(s) about said relationship. These feelings can be both simultaneous or alternating — someone might go from loving to hating their partner very quickly, or experience a complicated mix of both at all times. 

This kind of relationship can manifest itself in a variety of ways. For example, you might love your friend, family member, or partner, but have a difficult time expressing your feelings of frustration when someone does something hurtful or angering.

This difficulty can lead to conflict in a relationship. For example, if someone doesn’t know how to confront a loved one, it can lead to built-up resentment. In turn, these feelings can create distance between partners or lead to outbursts and arguments.

Can You Have a Love-Hate Relationship?

You can have a love-hate relationship with a variety of people or things. For example, you might love Flaming Hot Cheetos but hate the indigestion they cause. You might hate a workout while exercising but love the way it makes you feel afterwards. 

It’s normal to have complicated feelings towards certain things. However, a love-hate relationship toward a romantic partner can be problematic. We might love a person but be frustrated by the choices they make. We may also love the way we feel when we’re with someone part of the time but hate how they treat us at other times. For example, a wife may love her husband for his kindness, his heart, and his connection with their children but hate that he doesn’t choose to spend quality time with her.

It’s common to have minor negative feelings towards your partner or relationship. However, when these feelings overtake feelings of love and affection, it might be a sign that a change needs to happen in the relationship.

What Happens When Love Turns to Hate in a Relationship?

When a love relationship turns into a hate relationship, it usually means that the positive feelings between the partners have been replaced by negative ones. This can occur gradually, slowly over time, or it can happen suddenly due to a specific event or actions on one or both partners’ parts. There are many possible reasons why this may occur:

  • Betrayal: Violations of a partner’s trust can lead to feelings of hatred, such as breaking promises, being dishonest, or infidelity. 
  • Neglect: One partner feeling ignored, unappreciated, or devalued by the other may lead to growing resentments and bitterness overtime. 
  • Values: After couples spend some time together, one might realize that their partner has a different set of beliefs, values, or lifestyles that are incompatible with their own. Depending on how deeply held these values are, this realization can cause someone to hate their partner.
  • Abuse: If a partner or both partners engage in verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, it can lead to feelings of fear, anger, and hatred.

When one of these causes someone to hate their partner, they can channel these feelings in a variety of ways. It may make them act unkindly toward their partner; they could also become cold and distant. Unsurprisingly, it can also lead to a breakup.

What Are the Signs of a Love-Hate Relationship?

There are many signs of a love-hate relationship. These include:

  • Constant highs and lows in the relationship
  • Conflicts followed by intense intimacy
  • Displays of jealousy
  • Possessiveness
  • Ambivalence towards the relationship
  • Frequent breakups and getting back together
  • Sexual attraction combined with strong feelings of anger

If you’ve noticed any of these in your relationship, you might be experiencing a love-hate relationship. It would benefit you to communicate with your partner if behaviors like these are disrupting your relationship. Couples therapy is another useful tool in dealing with relationship conflict. 

Additionally, any of these signs might mean it’s time to end the relationship. While you may love your partner, ask yourself if these positive feelings are worth the turmoil and contempt you experience.

What Is the Emotion Between Love and Hate?

While there isn’t really a word for the emotion between love and hate, there is an emotional intensity which may be described as a combination of the two. 

Love-hate relationships tend to be characterized by this intensity. Often, there may be an intense attraction, passion, or magnetism that keeps the couple together despite their dysfunction so that the relationship continues in that abusive cycle.

What Does Emotionally Ambivalent Mean?

Emotionally ambivalent means having mixed emotions towards something or someone, often feeling both positive and negative emotions at the same time. 

At some point in our lives, we will encounter emotional ambivalence towards something in our lives. This can be an experience with a new activity, acquaintance or budding relationship and the like. These feelings are normal — however, if they are preventing you from connecting to your partner, it might be a good idea to reevaluate the relationship and figure out what’s causing those feelings.

What Is Dysfunctional Love?

Dysfunctional love describes a relationship that is primarily marked by the distress it causes. Even healthy relationships can be dysfunctional at times; however, dysfunctional love may mean that the relationship causes more pain and challenges than it does bringing joy or support. This could refer to a relationship that is categorized as having unhealthy relationship dynamics such as codependency, emotional or physical abuse, or one partner being controlling or manipulative over the other. 

Dysfunctional love can also be characterized as a pattern of repeating negative behaviors, such as breaking up and getting back together repeatedly or engaging in addictive behaviors that harm the relationship. 


Fixing a Love-Hate Relationship

If you’re experiencing a love-hate relationship, be sure to communicate with your partner about it and set the necessary boundaries. Also, consider if it might be time to reach out for professional help. There are plenty of resources that can help you figure out what’s best for you and your partner. Consider trying couples counseling or individual therapy. As you navigate a difficult relationship, remember to keep your and your partner’s mental health and well-being in mind at all times.

How to navigate a love-hate relationship: Recognize negative behaviors in yourself and your partner Communicate about how your actions affect each other Set boundaries Seek support from a loved one or mental health professional

Table of contents

What Does It Mean to Have a Love-Hate Relationship With Something/Someone?

Can You Have a Love-Hate Relationship?

What Happens When Love Turns to Hate in a Relationship?

What Are the Signs of a Love-Hate Relationship?

What Is the Emotion Between Love and Hate?

What Does Emotionally Ambivalent Mean?

What Is Dysfunctional Love?

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  • Gunther, R. (n.d.). Is your relationship dysfunctional?. Psychology Today.

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