Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

Ambivalent About Love? Join the Club!

It is normal and expected to be ambivalent in love, but what do you do about it?

Sadly, we maintain so many cultural myths about romantic relationships that can ultimately be rather destructive. Somehow many have a romantically (and perhaps Hollywood) inspired myth that there is one perfect mate for them out there if only they can find them. Call it the Sleepless in Seattle effect (named after the popular Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie from a number of years ago) or maybe call it the needle in the haystack effect. It basically states that of the 7 billion people on the planet there is that one perfect person who is just right for you and your job is to find that soulmate made and ready just for you. Yeah, right! This is a common theme in movies but perhaps not so true in reality.

Additionally, we often have the view that once you partner with someone then your relationship is at high risk or is based on falsehoods if you find yourself attracted to or fantasize about someone else. Finally, we also have this view that being ambivalent about our partner is a sign that the relationship is broken or not right. All these myths are just that—myths! 

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Any thoughtful person is going to find that they are ambivalent (at least to a certain extent) about not only their partnered relationships but about pretty much everything else in life (e.g., work, vacation plans, friends, what to have for dinner). Why might this be so? Whenever we make any decision and we say “yes” to one thing, that means that we are saying “no” to something else. We decrease our options, and we generally really like options. In psychology we call this the reactance theory—we like keeping our freedoms and options open. With every “yes” or “no” there is both gain and loss. If you decide to vacation in location X, you can’t also vacation in location Y at the same time. If you take job A, you can't take job B. If you decide to partner with person 1, then you then can’t partner with person 2. So, ambivalence can be expected among all thoughtful and realistic people when it comes to love interests, marriage, work, vacations, and so forth. It is normal and expected.

The challenge is not to overly analyze how you feel or think about your ambivalence but rather to reflect on the various decisions that you make after making a commitment to someone. You decide daily (and I do mean daily) to be faithful, honest, thoughtful, loving, and so forth—or not. Obviously romantic intimate relationships should be loving and certainly more good than bad, but to expect that people are not going to be at least in some ways ambivalent about their partners is being just plain unrealistic. So, be ambivalent, but then decide to behave in ways that are consistent with your values and commitment. Don’t sweat the rest. This is helpful as you think about not only your intimate relationships but about most all other imporant commitments and decisions you make in life. 

So, what do you think? 

 

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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