The Dance of Ambivalence

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: I have been separated from my husband for a long time now but we just haven’t made the time to finalize our divorce. We are still good friends and have 2 children together, its just a matter of taking the time out of our busy lives to go do it. But that’s not the reason why I am writing. I have been dating someone for over 2 years now. Someone who himself had a nasty divorce and of course, like most people, are gun shy about getting into another relationship because they don’t want it to happen again. I have been patient with him but lately I have been feeling an over whelming sense of loneliness and worry-some about where my life is going. I know I have been a pain in the butt about this to him and have nagged about where our relationship will go. I feel as though we are on opposite sides of the track with my neediness and him pushing me away. I feel like I need his approval and reassurance all the time that we are going to last forever, almost like a school-girl. I have never been needy nor have I ever felt like I couldn’t go through life on my own, but with him, I am so afraid of loosing him, it scares me to death. I actually make fun of people who act like this and here I am doing what I hate the most. The other night, we had an argument and he tells me he doesn’t get over things too easily and is not sure of where we will go from now on. It about crushed me. I haven’t been able to sleep. I cry uncontrollably. This is just plain insane! I know I should see a counselor but I am so embarrassed by my actions, if I go see one, it will almost prove to him that I think I am crazy too. I just wish I could be strong enough to accept myself and not need him for satisfaction. I am not an ugly person, I know I can get boyfriends, but what I wish is to be happy within myself. I just don’t know how to get there.

A. Most people who see counselors aren’t crazy. Like you, they are simply stuck. You’re not the only one in this relationship, however, who needs a “jump start”. You and your partner are cooperating beautifully in staying stuck and “safe”. Both of you have gone through the pain of separation. As much as you want to move on, both of you are also scared. You can’t commit to each other but you don’t want to lose each other either. So you manage to keep a careful balance of ambivalence. Both of you play both sides of wanting the relationship but not quite going for it. You somehow haven’t found time to finalize your divorce. He doesn’t insist that you get it done and be available to him. You let him know how frightened you are about losing him but act in ways that will guarantee just that. He threatens you with his hurt but doesn’t leave. It’s an artful but painful dance that keeps the relationship standing still. Believe it or not, it all makes a kind of sense. Perhaps the two of you somehow agree that you are wrong for each other but are too afraid of being alone to let go. Or maybe you are right for each other but too scared of getting hurt again to make a new commitment. Or maybe you haven’t let yourselves even ask those questions yet so you don’t really know. I don’t think the issue is being happy with yourself. That’s another distraction. The issue is that after two years there’s a natural pressure to make a decision. Instead of driving yourselves and each other crazy, I hope you two will take a deep breath and talk. It’s time.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Mar 2006

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2006). The Dance of Ambivalence. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2006/03/07/the-dance-of-ambivalence/