Facing Ambivalence

It is normal to experience uncertainty about your relationship, particularly in the beginning. If, however, you are consistently on the fence about your partner, it will be impossible for your relationship to thrive.

I refer to this state of ambivalence as “stable ambiguity,” and it’s precisely because it’s so stable that it often goes unnoticed. I’ve seen couples parked in stable ambiguity for decades!

There are a thousand ways to be stably ambivalent. You can be in a primary relationship but have someone you run to when things go south. You can be chronically long distance. You can be committed in name only. You can be perennially unsure.

The main problem with these arrangements is that you cannot cherish your partner from a place of ambivalence. And a relationship without cherishing is not much of a relationship at all. Often, the lack of cherishing creates its own problems, ones that conveniently reaffirm the need to be uncertain.

The way out of stable ambiguity is to confront the underlying issues that keep you from fully entering or leaving the relationship. Often, this has to do with longstanding patterns of relating inherited from childhood. Many of us do not learn how to tolerate closeness or distance. Consequently, we feel we need to be in a relationship, but use distancing in place of healthy boundaries when we are overwhelmed.

Some common signs of stable ambiguity include:

  • Increasing emotional distance
  • Decreasing sexual activity
  • Using work or other activities to avoid partner
  • Numbing through alcohol or drug abuse
  • Continuum of infidelities, from flirting outside the relationship to full blown affairs

A stably ambiguous relationship may seem an elegant solution to conflicting desires for closeness and distance, but it does not offer the intimacy we long for. If you or your partner are struggling with ambivalence, it may be time to seek help in getting off the fence.