Spring is here, love is in the air, and wedding planning is in the final stages.
Romance may be in full bloom, but there are signs of a sobering reality everywhere, from the 50 percent divorce rate in the United States to the caveats expressed in prenuptials.
Is there such a thing as love/hate relationships? Their existence presumes that the people involved are opposites; not the case, according to Stuart Cohen, author of The Seventh System: Harnessing the Power of Your Emotional System.
Love is a feeling, over time, of oneness, harmony and a deep bond with another person. Hate is not the opposite of love, but a kind of entrenched anger, he says.
It is easy to understand how you can be angry at someone with whom you feel a strong love connection. When someone you love has violated you, anger arises. If that violation is ongoing or never resolved, it sometimes can develop into ongoing feelings of hate irrespective of coexisting love, according to Cohen.
Love/hate relationships exist because of unresolved arguments, feelings and childhood triggers that build up, leading a man or woman to start seeing his or her partner as the enemy, cautions therapist Sharon Rivkin, author of Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy and a specialist in conflict resolution.
To get to the heart of the matter, Rivkin argues that couples need to know what they are fighting about, which means asking the right questions of each other.
Terri Orbuch, known as "The Love Doctor" (www.drterrithelovedoctor.com), is the project director of the Early Years of Marriage Project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, and reportedly the longest-running study of married couples ever conducted.
The project has followed the evolution of 373 different marriages since 1986, results of which are offered in her book, 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great.
Orbuch, who currently serves as a research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan and a professor at Oakland University, says one of the most significant findings from her landmark marriage study is that couples who report that they "never" fight are more likely to divorce than those who argue.
What actually makes or breaks a marriage, she claims, centers on how spouses choose to deal with their irritation, anger, unmet expectations and desire to criticize.
Love and hate are both extreme emotions, and people need to realize that it is actually a good sign when feelings run that strong since it shows partners care about each other and are emotionally invested in the relationship, says Orbuch.
When feelings run neutral or indifferent, that actually spells trouble; it reveals that the people in the relationship no longer care and are unable to communicate, she adds.
Orbuch sees the myths, witty sitcom banter between couples and fairy tale-relationships we hear about as the culprits in making people equate passion, joy and a conflict-free household with the sure-fire components to a successful marriage.
"My research," she says, "has pointed out that conflict is healthy, and it is absolutely necessary. If people in a relationship internalize things for too long, this will lead to the kind of emotional explosion that will leave the partner in the dark about what he or she did wrong.
"People need to address their issues and arguments at the moment they come up so resolution and discussion can take place in the immediate, and the problems that can lead to divorce will not accumulate."
However, Lesli M. W. Doares, author of the book A Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After With More Intention, Less Work, meanwhile, expresses some doubt that the healthy conflict theory is a one-size-fits-all-couples solution.
It's only when infatuation fades that we can see our partner for who he or she really is, both positive and challenging, says Doares.
Being able to love that entire individual is a function of growing up and engaging our mature selves.
This requires the ability and motivation to look at ourselves first, she adds. It is this process that allows people to work through feelings of anger and uncertainty and be able to create a successful relationship.
Tina B. Tessina, also known as "Dr. Romance" and a columnist at Yahoo! Personals and Match.com, says the more we care, the higher the stakes are in the gamble we call love.
Anger management and abatement, she concludes, require learning about your anger — what it means, what triggers it and how to use it in a healthy way.