Marriage can be full of ambivalence. Many couples are saturated & stuck in it. These couples are secretly in love with the certainty of maintaining the status quo, like going on the exact same vacation every year for two decades. There are too many partners who are afraid to explore either getting better or parting ways. You have to risk being uncomfortable to make things better.

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Ambivalent Marriages & Relationships, What to do?

Couples stuck in ambivalence are secretly in love with maintaining the status quo. Not being wholehearted about either improvement or leaving, erases so many missed opportunities. Living with a constant level of unhappiness and resentments is like living with malaria. You can do the work to repair & restore vitality to your relationship.

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Not being whole hearted about either improvement or leaving, erases so many missed opportunities in marriage & partnership. The opportunity to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to not dismiss your sex life as unimportant, to restore vitality to the two of you instead of being room mates who manage the business of being a family or to stop quietly stashing your own private misery.

Ambivalent couples are overdosed on their fears of taking risks or working on serious solutions. These are couples who rotate through a series of therapists half heartedly listening to what is said. (To balance what I just said it’s tricky to find a therapist you can trust enough to be authentic with. You both have to like the therapist or both not like the therapist otherwise you set up a triangle of trouble. You both need to feel challenged & supported which is why I like the challenge of couples work so much. (One last word of advice; you can look up ratings on therapists at

Many years ago, when I told my therapist I was worried about drowning in raising children & losing track of my husband she said; schedule a standing appointment for a date 2x’s a month. I went home & found a babysitter, Mary Dugan & she came on Wednesdays twice a month. I tell clients this advice to improve their marriage & visit after visit nothing has changed. You have to take action to change, it’s work to make something new happen.

Solving problems requires an investment in energy & a commitment to make things different in marriage. I believe ambivalent couples have one foot in & one foot out so the goal is maintaining things exactly the way they are. The status quo is seductive.

This means ignoring the price that both pay to live with a constant level of resentments & unhappiness. I imagine it’s like living with malaria, which strikes it’s victims over & over the rest of their lives. Collecting that stash of resentments can’t be good for your soul to live with.

Lots of married couples decide to cash in their stash of resentment chips when the last kid goes off to college. When you have kids maintaining the status quo is a very powerful direction. I would also question how much disrespect is being dumped in front of the kids? Disrespect that is ordinary & occasionally ugly is a very poisonous thing to witness.

Our culture is seduced by bingeing on t.v, all the attention given to social media which interrupts honest conversations, too much drinking which helps many float through their problems, anything that is easy helps us avoid & deflect. Relationships are messy, discussions about hard topics are awkward, hearing hard truths about your selfishness or people-pleasing can be hard to deal with & repair seems impossible so people give up before they even try.

In many ambivalent couples there is a pattern of doom that is constantly repeated. One person makes a big effort, then they get discouraged & in despair they give up. Then the other person tries, gets discouraged & then they fall down that hole of despair & give up. The trick is to get both people invested at the same time. Then both people need to be open to doing the work of change.

It’s a lot easier to give up on marriage & constantly complain which spills over onto everyone that lives together, than to do the work.

Ambivalent couples get stuck in their belief systems.”It’s not worth it”, “Why bother” and often someone tells themselves the self righteous narrative “It’s all their fault, I tried already”. Marriage takes a commitment to do the work.

Someone recently commented on an old blog post that they were in a relationship with a sociopath who was very convincing so they did not have any part in the problems, not even 10%. How comforting to tell yourself this which escapes the personal growth of learning from your mistakes; didn’t you allow yourself to be convinced instead of trusting your own ability to think for yourself? Be bold, look at yourself instead of aiming at the other person.

There is all this easy diagnosis on the internet of partners being narcissists (instead of narcissistic)
or sociopaths. I respect that diagnosis is complicated & there are two parts to every problem, even if it is only 10%. Step up to the plate & claim your 10,15, 20 or 49% & you will recognize the dark side of who you are & begin an authentic course correction.

Certainly there are many reasons to maintain an ambivalent relationship. In the 30’s & 40’s there is a lot to juggle; parenting, careers, money & chauffeuring kids around. So everything else is more important than the US. The truth is if you learn to build a more authentic relationship by facing the problems, rolling up your sleeves & doing the work you end up with one of the most important parts of life; a relationship that lasts after the kids move on.

Here are Eleven things you can do to move out of being an Ambivalent Couple:
▪ #1. Begin to restore respect for yourself by deciding to make something different happen.
▪ #2. Explain the poisonous pattern described earlier to your partner & ask if you both of you can commit to trying at the same time.
▪ #3. Learn to manage your fears & expectations so there is more room for your own honest efforts & to recognize the other person’s honest efforts.
▪ #4. Embrace the uncertainty, the awkwardness of being more open & vulnerable
▪ #5. Each of you work in individual therapy on your resentments so they are a more manageable size; then consider addressing them in couples. Just one example: It amazes me how often the silent mishandling of a miscarriage by a man is a pivotal moment of pain for so many women.
▪ #6. Give up any fantasy that some where down the road “your prince or princess will arrive” . It’s not useful & untrue. Yes, second relationships can be better but they still will require a lot of work & it’s easy to repeat mistakes.
▪ #7. Be honest with yourself about the price you pay for floating in an unhappy relationship.
▪ #8. Decide to try & find out if it can be different. Ask your partner for 2 specific things they want from you (no vague generalities) then share 2 things you want to make things better. Then DO them.
▪ #9. Read books such as: Too Good To Leave Too Bad to Stay by Mira Kirshenbaum or Should I stay or Should I go? by Bancroft & Patrissi to see if it helps you think more clearly.
▪ #10. Stop pretending it’s good enough, because it probably isn’t.
▪ #11. Recognize the person who wants the relationship the least has the most power. Is that you?

My challenge for you today is to ask yourself some tough questions. Have you lost respect for yourself or your partner? Do you silently nurture your stash of resentments? Do you blame your partner & avoid looking at yourself? Ask yourself What’s the worst that can happen if you decide to try again? Are you willing to give up years of floating unhappily & restore the vitality that life offers by facing what’s missing in your relationship?

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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