Fleeting Feelings of Hate May Be OK for Couples, in Small Doses

Article ID: 695356

Released: 6-Jun-2018 8:05 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: Family Institute at Northwestern University

It happens in every intimate relationship, a moment when frustration or upset or disdain grows so large that the thought crosses the mind: I hate him / I hate her. Love and hate - they aren't opposites, and it's not a zero sum game where the more of one means the less of the other. Both feelings can stir, as they inevitably do.

Research has found that people feel both positive and negative emotions towards their partners, often without realizing it - or allowing themselves to realize it.1 For many of us, "I hate my partner" triggers guilt or shame, a sense that we're doing something wrong or that something is wrong with us for feeling this way. "I hate my partner" can also trigger fear that the relationship is in serious trouble, or was doomed from the start. People who love one another don't feel this way, we mistakenly tell ourselves, not realizing that moments of strong dislike can occur even within the strongest partnerships.

What matters is whether moments of hate are truly fleeting moments versus ongoing states - the latter being a kind of background music to partnered life. Moments pass; states linger. Marriage researcher John Gottman talks about the 5:1 ratio of positivity to negativity as a feature of stable, happy couples (at least during the conflict conversations they engaged in during his research studies). That may be key: whether moments of positivity ("I cherish her" or "I admire her") significantly outweigh moments of negativity ("I hate him"). Too much of the latter and the relationship needs help - perhaps some couple counseling to investigate the source of all that sourness and what it might take to sweeten things up a bit.

But who can deny that the people with whom we share our lives, the people on whom we impose our habits and quirks, shifting moods and challenging temperament - they impose the same on us - are the people most able to trigger our strongest emotions, whether feelings of deep love and admiration or the impulse to shout words of frustration from the nearest rooftop.

"...hating your partner in the moment does not mean that you don't also love them a lot - which is actually a bit of a revelation (and a relief)."2

References & Citations
  1. Zayas, V. and Shoda, Y. "Love you? Hate you? Maybe it's both: Evidence that significant others trigger bivalent-priming." Social Psychological and Personality Science. Vol. 6:1 (56-64) January, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550614541297
  2. Gordon, A.M. "What to do when you hate the one you love." www.greatergood.berkeley.edu. July 12, 2017.

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