Patrick McCurry Counsellor Eastbourne Canary Wharf

Counselling and Psychotherapy in Eastbourne, East Sussex and Canary Wharf, London and Online.

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I love you, I hate you

27 April 2024

I hate you, I love you

I hate that I love you

 I hate u I love u, Gnash

 The people you love are usually the ones that can hurt you the most. That’s why there are so many songs about love turned sour, the beloved becoming the hated.

 How do deal with anger or aggression in our intimate relationships? When we think about romantic love we may have an image of a couple in love, taking care of each other, being thoughtful and kind. But loving relationships will also at times contain the opposite of this image - resentments, frustrations, dissatisfactions and even hatreds.

 In fact, one can argue that maintaining passion in a romantic relationship, sexual or otherwise, involves making space for these less comfortable feelings.. If we repress or make taboo certain emotions then the risk is we flatten all of the emotions and the relationship becomes dull and unsatisfying.

 Therapist and writer Stephen A. Mitchell argues that romantic love involves us becoming completely focused on the loved one, even dependent. We are filled with hopes and longings. These feelings create the conditions for vulnerability and disappointment. When someone can hurt us so deeply, by not responding to our longings for example, there is a great capacity to feel anger in return. 

 A part of us wants to control our partner, in order to have our needs and wants satisfied, but complete control is never possible. Because of this power the other person holds over us, we can easily feel humiliated. “This is why objects of desire are so easily transformed into objects of revenge,” says Mitchell: “Sustaining romance requires tolerating a sense of vulnerability and aggression. The deeper the passion, the more precarious the vulnerability and the more potentially destructive the aggression.”

 Of course, we would hope that, even if there is a mix of feelings, there are more positive feelings than negative when it comes to our partner. Too much anger or resentment will cause major problems for a couple. 

Complex feelings

Researchin 2014 by US psychologists Vivian Zayas and Yuichi Shoda confirms this idea. They found that the spontaneous feelings that came up when they reminded people about their partners were more complex than people might have guessed. The study showed that people generally held both positive and negative feelings about their partners. The negative feelings are often less conscious, as participants would often say that they only had positive feelings about their partner. 

 In psychology, holding both positive and negative thoughts or feelings about someone is called ambivalence. The Zayas/Shoda study suggests that ambivalence is a normal part of relationships with people we are very close to - we will often feel positively towards them but sometimes we will feel angry, disappointed or even hateful.

 Of course, there’s a big difference between feeling angry, or even hateful, and acting it out in a destructive way. It’s not the feelings that are the problem but, for some people, what we do with the feelings.

 The first step in dealing with such feelings is acknowledging them and not beating ourselves up for having them. If we can take the pressure off ourselves and acknowledge that everyone in an intimate relationship will have a mixture of feelings, then we are less likely to either act them out or repress them. 


 When we can accept the full range of our feelings towards our partner we are less likely to engage in splitting, which is when we divide the world into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people or things. This was confirmed in the Zayas/Shoda study, which showed that with people we don’t like, such as some ex-partners or family members, there were a significant number of less conscious positive feelings that people had when reminded of those people. 

 Power dynamics in our relationships are an important element of the feelings of anger or even rage we may sometimes feel towards our partner. When we really desire someone and need them to treat us in a certain way we lay ourselves open to not getting what we want. That can leave us feeling extremely vulnerable and anger or rage can then be triggered.

 Relationship psychologist Esther Perel notes that in our more egalitarian culture we are often not comfortable acknowledging that power dynamics may be operating in intimate relationships. But our romantic relationships are also influenced by experiences of power we had as children in our families of origin. We may have felt dominated by one or both of our parents, or perhaps an older sibling. That can leave us extremely sensitive to any kind of re-experience of feeling dominated, controlled or vulnerable. 


 Perel points out that as adults we seek to avoid feeling vulnerable and may try to control the relationship as part of that response.

 She says: “When we put our hopes on one person, our dependence soars. So do our frustrations and disappointments. The greater our helplessness, the more dangerous the threat of humiliation. The more we need, the angrier we are when we don’t get it.”

 When we become aware of this rage we are scared of it, because it feels risky and destructive. We may therefore do our best to pretend it’s not there, to keep things ‘nice’. Of course, this rarely works because the feelings will find a way out. 

 The challenge, therefore, is to find a way of containing the aggression that is present in relationships - not acting it out unthinkingly but neither suppressing it or rationalising it away. When we try to exclude natural aggression or anger from the relationship we end up losing something important - spontaneity, sexual passion, aliveness. And in any case, as I’ve suggested, the anger or aggression will usually find a way of being expressed in indirect ways, such as through passive aggression, depression or even illness.

“When we confuse assertion with aggression, neutralise otherness, adjust our longings and reason away our hostility, we assemble a calmness that is reassuring but not very exciting,” says Perel. 



Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel, 2007.

Can Love Last?, Stephen A. Mitchell, 2002