NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, November 24, 2017

How Ongoing Ambivalence Can Ruin Your Relationship

I've written prior articles about ambivalence in relationships (see my articles: Your Relationship: Should You Stay or Should You Go?,  An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading LoveOpening Up to New Possibilities in Your LifeThe Connection Between Ambivalence and Mixed Messages).  In this article, I'm focusing on how ongoing ambivalence can ruin your relationship.

How Ongoing Ambivalence Can Ruin Your Relationship

What Does Ambivalence Look Like in Relationships?

There are many ways that people can be ambivalent in a relationship:
  • Being unable to make a decision if they want to remain in a relationship that's fraught with problems.
  • Going back and forth with their partner as to whether they're in a committed relationship or not.
And so on.

Fictionalized Vignette:  How Ongoing Ambivalence Can Ruin Your Relationship

Ina and Bill
Ina and Bill decided to see a psychotherapist in couples counseling because they weren't getting along.

Ina explained that, even though they were living together for five years, Bill couldn't decide if he wanted to get married.

How Ongoing Ambivalence Can Ruin Your Relationship 
Ina was concerned because she wanted to have a baby and she didn't want to wait much longer.  She was afraid that if she waited, she wouldn't be able to have a baby due to her age.

She also wanted to have a life where she felt settled and comfortable and not always worried about her partner's ambivalence about the relationship.

Bill looked embarrassed and told the therapist that he felt Ina was being too judgmental and pressuring him too much.  He said he loved Ina, but he just didn't feel ready to get married.  He couldn't understand why they couldn't just keep living together, "What's the big deal about getting married?"

Ina said that she didn't want to have a baby without being married.  It was against her core values, and wouldn't compromise on something that was so important to her.

Bill said he liked children, and he hoped that he and Ina would have children "one day," but he wasn't ready to have children now.

After several couples therapy sessions where they felt they were both getting nowhere, they decided to leave couples counseling and each go into their own individual therapy.

Once she began individual therapy, Ina told her therapist that she loved Bill very much, but she didn't want to stay in the relationship if it wasn't going to lead to marriage.  She was clear about this.  She just wasn't sure how much more time she should give Bill to figure things out.

In Bill's individual therapy, he acknowledged that he was ambivalent about getting married, even though he loved Ina very much and didn't want to lose her.

As he continued to work with his therapist, Bill realized that he had a lot of fears about getting married.  He had never known anyone who had a good marriage, especially not his parents (see my article: You Can't Change the Past, But You Can Change How the Past Affects You).

On the one hand, Bill feared that if they got married, their relationship would be ruined.  But, on the other hand, he knew how important marriage and children were to Ina, and he feared he would lose her if he didn't agree to get married soon.

After several months of being in individual therapy and with her 34th birthday soon approaching, Ina told Bill that she thought it was better for them to end their relationship.

She told him that she hoped he would find someone who would be willing to just live together and she hoped that she would find a loving relationship where her partner would be willing to get married and have children.

As Ina began packing her things, Bill had his first panic attack, and he called his therapist to set up an appointment for that evening.

After he got off the phone with his therapist, Bill was a little calmer and he persuaded Ina not to move out just yet.  He asked her to give him more time to work on his ambivalence and the fears that he had about being married.

Reluctantly, Ina agreed to stay three more months, but she said she would leave if there was no change after that.

During his therapy session that evening, Bill told his therapist that the thought of Ina moving out and leaving him was much more painful than the thought of getting married, and he wanted to work on his fears and ambivalence.

Bill and his therapist worked on the root of his fears, which had more to do with his family history than it did with his relationship with Ina (see my article: Healing Old Emotional Childhood Wounds That Are Affecting Your Current Relationship).

Over time, Bill learned to separate his fears related to his family history from whether or not he wanted to marry Ina (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma in Psychotherapy: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now"

His therapist, who was a trauma therapist, helped Bill to work through his traumatic childhood history.

How Ongoing Ambivalence in Your Relationship Can Be Overcome in Therapy

By the end of three months, Bill still had some ambivalence and fear, but he was much clearer that he wanted to marry Ina, so they started planning their wedding.

The vignette above illustrates how ambivalence and underlying fear can ruin a relationship.

In this particular example, as is the case in many relationships where one or both people are ambivalent, the ambivalence was related to a dysfunctional family history.

One of the goals in therapy is to help clients to separate their feelings about the past from the present.

When you can make a distinction between the past and what's happening in your relationship in the present, you're more likely to make better decisions.

Working through a history of family trauma can free you from that history so that you can lead a more fulfilling life.

Getting Help in Therapy
Ongoing ambivalence in a relationship tends to erode the relationship.

After a while, whatever good feelings there were between the two people can be lost when the ambivalence is chronic for one or both people.

If you're in a relationship where you're either the one who is ambivalent or the one who is trying to deal with your partner's ambivalence, it can be very painful to deal with on your own.

Rather than continuing to suffer alone, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional, who can help you to identify the problems related to the ambivalence and work through the issues so that you can make better decisions about the relationship (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many individuals and couples to overcome problems in their relationship.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.