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‘Shall I stay or shall I go’? Feeling ambivalent about your relationship?

Ambivalence in your head and heart does one thing - it creates distance between you and your partner.

Do you find yourself frequently moving between ‘shall I stay or shall I go’? This is what I mean by ambivalence in your relationship. Ambivalence and confusion are usual temporary states in relationship from time to time. Ambivalence occurs in intimate relationships when there are opposing emotions and desires towards the other person. This creates an uncertainty about wanting to be in the relationship. It affects both partners despite the fact that it may only emanate from one of the partners. Your ambivalence leaves you feeling pulled in two different directions simultaneously. Or you flip-flop back and forth between the two feelings. At the root of ambivalence are issues around connection, intimacy, and separation. (Bicultural relationships add even more complexity to this issue – shall I go home?; Do I want to spend the rest of my life here?).

Ambivalence in your head and heart does one thing – it creates distance between you and your partner.

While ambivalence is a normal emotion and we all experience it in one degree or another. Problems arise when you function under the belief that there should be only one state of being in your relationship. There is no longer space for ‘shades of grey’. Ambivalence is characterized by an ‘all-or-nothing’ or ‘black-and-white’ thinking pattern.  Many of us have a tendency to split our experiences into polarities – good/bad; right/wrong; love/hate; or joy/sadness. But this rigidity of thought patterns requiring a choice between two extremes creates the tension between the two positions making it feel very uncomfortable.  The two sides represent two internal dialogues. We are constantly dealing with the opposite of our experience (even if only unconsciously). Ambivalence occurs when we are stuck between those two polarities, and are unable to reconcile them. Sitting in the space of wanting two things equally and yet being unsure of what the right next move is – produces both stress and distance in your relationship. Feeling ambivalent about your relationship is very destabilizing. This is because ambivalence pulls the individual and the relationship in different directions resulting in an atmosphere of uncertainty and unpredictability that creates instability between the partners.

Your ambivalence towards your partner leads to practical realities:

Yet ambivalence is also a decision – it is the decision not to make a decision. You are married not to your partner at that moment but to your ambivalence. This is a lonely and frustrating place to be.

Instead spend your time usefully. Find out what it is you need to be happy and then go about getting it.

If one partner is ambivalent it has an impact on the other partner. Chronic ambivalence will inhibit deeper intimacy. Both partners slowly develop behaviors around this (sometimes unspoken) conflict. The goal being to attempt to pull their partner closer, or push them away. Each partner is expressing a particular role in the conflict over being in the relationship or out of it which creates the ambivalent tension between them. Each partner identified with one end of the polarity. Partners may often breakup multiple times, or repeatedly threaten to breakup. The relationship becomes an emotional rollercoaster alternating between feeling hopeful and breaking up. In this environment it can be difficult for both partners to be themselves, or be open with each other. Anything that either of them believes could cause the relationship to end, will be denied or held back. As each partner withholds aspects of themselves from the other distance is created and anxiety increases over the possibility of separation. And the vicious circle repeats again. 

Things you can do to help yourself with your ambivalence:

Our intimate relationships should be a source of comfort and stability. It is up to each partner to take responsibility for their role in the relationship. Jump into your relationship with both feet, don’t sit on the fence. Ambivalence only holds you back in your relationship.

If you need to talk about your situation with a professional – contact us:

This post is inspired by the book Too Good to Leave/Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum.

Are you feeling ambivalent about your relationship?

If you would like to talk about some of the issues in your own relationship that this post raised – contact us.

Helping Couples Thrive – deciding whether to stay or go
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