I believe that … “ The preoccupation with separation or being afraid of it altogether, is the rock the relationship is teetering on”.
Recently, I heard from a reader who wondered whether he should leave a relationship that had soured. He said they were both preoccupied with whether they should separate or stay. It was so frightening to be teetering within a rocky relationship. He was numb and couldn’t tell what he was feeling daily.
Initially I told him that in order to make good decisions, “tune into your body and tap into the wisdom of your gut instinct. Your body will give you feedback by how it feels and if you are in a state of resistance or ease. Then you make a decision.”
But then I began to think about the whole concept of ambivalence and how it stops us from making the decisions that we need to make.
I was thinking how issues around connection, communication, intimacy and separation are often the root cause of ambivalence within ourselves. I think to being in the present and able to fully inhabit your life, is to accept that life is fragile and imperfect. And despite the risks that it could be gone in the next moment, we deserve to “go for it” anyways. And then we are seeking Serenity because we are being true to ourself.
So you may ask – “What is ambivalence and how can it raise its head in our relationships? Who wants to know Anyways? And why does it matter? Why should I care?
This article is written for other people who have gone or is going through domestic violence. When we sit on the fence and can’t decide what to do about the abuse, our ambivalence may cause us harm. Why does it matter? Because Greg and I want you to know it is safe to make the decision to move on if it needs to be done. You only have one life to live, so make it a happy one, a FUN one, a satisfying and meaningful life of significance. Don’t let another person ever take away your birthright to love, joy, peace, well-being and safety.
So the subject at hand is : Ambivalence. What?
WHAT IS AMBIVALENCE?
Ambivalence happens in relationships when we desire something but we have opposite emotions at the same time, towards the other person. This then creates an unsettled and fluctuating feeling about being in the relationship.
We usually are split emotionally between feeling good or bad or seeing things as wrong or right. We can be somewhere between love and hate and happy or sad. And a lot of the time we can feel both at the same time without even knowing it. And as we get closer to someone, there is always the possibility that the relationship will end. So every time we say “yes”, somewhere subconsciously there is a little guy named Iago sitting on our shoulder telling us different. (Iago is the culprit in the Lion King and Shakespeares Othello).
When we think we want to stay in a disheartening relationship, we are ignoring our “No” for a time being. And so our “Yes” gives us hope and promise of things getting better. This is because as soon as we say “yes” to staying – we have bought into the nightmare belief that he will change as long as you do “xyz”. You fill in the blank.
If we don’t really have our heart into something, we are full of reluctance and feeling unsure. This unease makes us hold back and we are not fully able to commit to our saying “yes”, period.
So not only does me saying “yes” but wanting to say “no” affect me, but now its locked into my subconscious without knowing it, and it taints my entire experiences daily. So we are stuck between feeling its too good to leave, and its too bad to stay.
And this makes it impossible to be living in the present or “The Now”.
So here is a passage I wrote in my diary in 2007 about my ambivalence in a current abusive relationship at the time.
“I think the ambivalence in my heart goes hand in hand with distance in our relationship. When I’m feeling ambivalent with XYZ, I make distance from him. We spend less time together. We talk less, and about less important things. We stop doing things together. There is this cool, formal, ritualistic quality to our relationship. I make distance from XYZ because I’m having an emotionally intense affair with my own ambivalence. And this distance only serves to make the ambivalence worse. It’s like the ambivalence has taken on a life of its own.”
A CHRONIC PATTERN OF AMBIVALENCE
This is called cause and effect. Another way this can be said is – If we are confused consistently, we don’t make decisions that represent who we are, and so we feel out of kilter inside and can’t enjoy anything.
As we try to figure out what’s happening inside us and in the relationship, we sit on the ambivalent fence temporarily, until we finally fall off or leap off. Or we just stay stuck there on the barbed wire. Usually while we are in this state of conflicting forces of our emotions, we subconsciously have placed the matter onto the “back burner” of the stove while we take the time to make sense of the information.
In this perplexed state, there becomes this long-lasting response to the world and where we see ourselves placed within it. But this confusion serves its purpose; there is a payoff for being indecisive. Our defence mechanism is ignore rationalizing our situation so that we don’t have to look at it in the face. We can just not engage in anything in case it comes to bite us in the ass. Our confusion keeps us “disassociated” or unengaged with what it is we want in life, how we live it, even if we are sad or happy. Its just safer to not rock the boat because we are “AFRAID”.
My diary from back in 2005 said on the topic of the ambivalence trap (its an interesting perspective from back then when I was trying to figure out my predicament in a bad marriage that needed to end:
The Ambivalence trap
The more I try to weigh the mountain of facts and feelings that have accumulated, the more confused I get. The more confused I feel, the less I trust myself. The less I trust myself, the more I wait, allowing more confusing evidence to pile up. I feel trapped in a pumpkin shell. Sometimes I feel the truth in my mind, but I don’t feel it with my heart. Sometimes I feel the truth but I just need confirmation. I am going to take whatever time I need to feel confident that I’m on the right path to making the right decision.
If we are to talk about our confusion and as to why we haven’t actually left the relationship or continue to let him abuse us – going for what we want, need or deserve – only reinforces our helplessness. “I don’t know” doesn’t give us a sense of mastery over our world.
I used to feel shame for not leaving. Here is something from that diary I keep telling you about:
The other reason I don’t like to address my need to reclaim power over my life is shame. It’s hard for a smart, competent, educated woman like me to admit I can’t hold my own in the face of XYZs power. It’s embarrassing to admit I feel powerless. To do so would mean I am saying I want power, which in itself is embarrassing for me. Even more so, it would mean I am saying I am weak, which is humiliating. I am reluctant to appear like a helpless victim. I always have to show this glossy exterior in my personality. A smile can hide so much truth. And when I become exceedingly serious, it scares people, they say to me – Smile, lighten up. I’m never able to allow the real me to shine out from under the cloud. But when I look power in the eye, I know there is something toxic going on with it in our relationship that will make me happy to leave. That’s why I just want to be alone so much of the time. When I went away to a hotel for a week, it was really to be very alone and to think seriously about what I want for me, out of the situation at hand.
So neither parter moves forward in the relationship when they are both stuck in these modes. They don’t leave or move closer. They both feel helpless and there’s no more intimacy. (One ends up sleeping in the spare bedroom and the other takes over the main bathroom and the other shares with the kids.)
One partner is uncommitted and the other wants commitment. Thus there is the partner sitting in their nothing box with a remote, and the other is the nagging whiny person feeling alone and betrayed and rejected. So each partner gets into these moods and swing about like monkeys on trees. Then the cycles begin of pull and pushing the partners away. It may lead to an abusive cycle of tension build up, crash and followed by honey moon “I’m sorry phase” and moving forward into another cycle.
Each partner is going through their own cycle and inner conflict. But mostly the conflict is over being in the relationship or out of it. And as each goes through their own cycles, the tension mounts between them as each break into their belief systems on good/bad & right/wrong.
If we could just make up our minds as to “yes I want more of you” or “no – I want less of you”, then the stalemate would move forward into actions and decisions. .
So if we can’t commit to being in the game or out individually or as a couple – we just aren’t engaging and the air is thick. The kids are always walking around tippy toes around the elephant in the living room.
Everything is unpredictable and there’s instability in the household. All this impending doom that they will soon break up, creates an emotional roller coaster ride. It was estimated at one point that the average woman in an abusive relationship will go back and forth within the relationship 7 times before she finally calls it quits. And they threaten each other they will part using it as a power technique to try to get the other partner to jump off the fence and commit. They go between having hope and hopelessness.
When one partner is the committing one and the partner is the stagnating one, the latter feels rejected and not “Good Enough” for the other to fully commit. Then People pleasing occurs and potentially co-dependency.
I remember trying to please my partner at the time to want to stay. I felt if I stayed home from work or school and waited on him hand and foot, he’d want to stay. But it did the opposite. I bought sexy underwear but he only accused me of having a lover. I took it personally that I was hideous. I didn’t know in the end (10 years later ) that my partner all along was gay. It wasn’t me.
I wasn’t able to express my feelings because it wasn’t safe physically. He would mock and mimic me and the abuse only got worse.
And the ex would always try to assign me motives as to why I did things. And I dance around him trying to figure out what his next move was. And again that was in the tension phase of the cycles. I started to hide things. I would hide the laundry that wasn’t done before he got home. I would hide snacks so he wouldn’t call me a blimp. And I hid clothes I bought myself because I had lost 60 pounds and my clothes literally fell off. (Thus also the need to buy more underwear.)
So this is the essence of ambivalence. Neither partner is wanting to be in that relationship the way it is but neither is able to leave.
The preoccupation with separation, wanting more separation or being afraid of it altogether, is the rock the relationship is teetering on.
So each can’t rest and is always hyper vigilant, and high strung. They feel deprived and uneasy.
Its true sometimes we had fun together (me and XYZ) but there was an underlying dissatisfaction and the cycles were short. There is a lot of attention to negative energy thus it is a net-negative relationship that deserves to end. Nothing seems to get resolved usually until a defining moment jumps out and slaps one in the face, and realization occurs followed by an awakening.
They reach the brink of “I am Enough, and I’ve had Enough, and this Relationship is Not Enough”. So we leave.
But do we leave in time – does the abuse cycle get so out of control that we end up hurt physically, or end up dead? There is something very wrong when this happens and I want to write on this further in the next article.
Ambivalence and Domestic Violence