Ambivalence as a barometer

Couples therapy marriage therapy couples counseling marriage counseling couple ambivalenceMany movies, books, poems and songs portray stories about romantic love. Tales depicting the emotion and angst in the wake of falling in love, feeling dissatisfied, being broken hearted, splitting up and reuniting are very common.

Perhaps the reason people keep watching, reading and listening to these tales is because we are trying to make sense of the profound emotional effect relationships have upon us and the conflicting and mixed feelings they often bring.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary partly defines ambivalence as, “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings”.

Ambivalence is a common emotion in couple relationships. It virtually always plays a role in our romantic endeavors and can be troubling and even frightening when it arises. However, what if we were able to find a way to work through our discomfort, could ambivalence could be seen as a useful relationship barometer?

Living under the same roof, raising children (with sometimes different parenting styles), navigating finances, pondering which house to buy and how to decorate it, deciding what to make for dinner, divvying up household chores and negotiating how best to pass the time is difficult enough.

Couples face the added challenge of sustaining sexual attraction to one another, keeping the romance alive and finding peace in our intimate relationships. This is no easy feat. It makes sense that ambivalence would emerge in the midst of all of the everyday stress life brings.

It is during the mundane day to day that we truly get to know our partners well- sometimes better than we had ever imagined! As time passes, we increasingly let our guard down and inevitably become more real with each other.

After the courtship period and the goal of “wowing” one another begins to morph into more mature relationship, the excitement and joy can quickly wear off. One or both partners may wonder if they chose the right person to be their committed other. Moreover, we are never exempt, as ambivalence can occur at any point in a relationship.

By definition, however, ambivalence is part and parcel of what it means to be in a couple. What if we entered into our intimate relationships knowing that experiencing ambivalence is normal and will happen sometime (and likely more than once) in the course of our relationship? Maybe it would not be so scary or distressing.

Instead of avoiding the ambivalence, maybe we could decide to dive into it and look at it like a tool. As a barometer gauges pressure in the atmosphere, ambivalence could be a valuable tool we use to evaluate, discern and gauge our relationships.

While ambivalence can be the result of feeling let down by or disappointed in our partners, it also can serve as a reality check for our own expectations and behavior.

While ambivalence can warn us of red flags, it can also move us to ask for what we want and need in our intimate relationships.

While ambivalence can feel unpleasant in the moment, it can also ultimately lead us to evolve, grow and become closer to our partners.

Ambivalence does not have to paralyze us if we treat it as an informative tool that has something to teach us. Maybe it is the very barometer that your relationship needs to get back on track again.

If you find that you are experiencing conflicting feelings or suspect ambivalence is at work in your intimate relationship think about becoming curious. I invite you to jump off of the fence and find out what ambivalence may be teaching you.

If you feel ambivalence is too strong a force in your relationship, feel free to call or text me at 303-475-2757, send me an email or click on the schedule option at the top right of this page to schedule a 20 minute no charge no obligation initial consultation.

4 replies
  1. Justin Lioi
    Justin Lioi says:

    What an interesting piece on using ambivalence. How often do we just get stuck and try to search for something “definite” instead of looking deeply at that feeling? Thanks!

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment Justin! I agree wholeheartedly that searching for something definite contributes to couples getting stuck in intimate relationships. There is always a more deeply seated emotion behind ambivalence that is usually very uncomfortable or unpleasant to look at. I can imagine this is probably why people experiencing ambivalence tend to set up camp on the fence so they can avoid going deeper!

  2. Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC
    Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC says:

    Suzanne! I love that you are talking about ambivalence!

    It’s one of my favorite things to talk about and work within therapy!

    It seems like every situation, including relationship work, is touched by ambivalence and I so appreciate you addressing it in this context!

    It’s curious to me that we so often choose to close our eyes to these feelings . . . but it seems that’s the instinct for all of us . . . to shut down or run the other way.

    I wonder if you have any thoughts about why that might be the case?

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Hi Tamara! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I think that anytime people don’t have a quick answer, it is very uncomfortable. People’s innate tendency is to create meaning and make sense of things. When we have mixed feelings, it is difficult to know how to feel or what to do. However, when we pause, keep breathing and sit with the discomfort and uncertainty, often clarity arises and a necessary or even exciting direction emerges.


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