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February 11, 2024

Are you disturbed by the title of this essay? If so, you’re not alone. 

When nationally recognized couple counselor Terry Real first brought this idea into the public arena, it set off a mild firestorm of controversy — especially among counselors and therapists. One group acknowledged it as a common relationship phenomenon; another saw it as a sign of serious relationship distress — a couple in extreme trouble. Did this latter group miss the point entirely? 

“There are going to be moments when you look at your partner, and at that moment, there is a part of you that just hates their guts,” Real explained. “You're trapped with this horrible human being. You hate the flaws that you did not see for so long, and it’s the only thing you can see right now.”

What Real is describing is a moment in time, a fleeting moment during an especially difficult encounter.  That’s when the thought, and the impulse, is to blurt out, “I hate you right now!”  

Normal marital hatred occurs after couples evolve beyond the early stage of romantic love, with its inevitable illusion of a partner’s perfection, and into a phase of sober discovery as to who one’s partner really is. With the collapse of a fantasized image, an unwelcome reality comes into view. He seemed so patient; she seemed so generous; he seemed so loving; she seemed so forgiving. Faced with a more complete picture of one another, it’s not uncommon at times to hate what we see. Yet it can be hard to acknowledge that truth. It seems a violation of some sacred cultural principle: Thou shalt not hate a spouse. And so the momentary thought can elicit guilt and shame, a sense that I’m bad or wrong to have that thought or feel the strong emotion — typically a blend of disgust and anger — accompanying it.   

Because “I hate you” is typically fleeting, don’t let it frighten you. Unless it stirs often or in an abiding way, it rarely reflects the true state of the union. And if it does arise regularly, treat it as a sign that the relationship may need serious attention, perhaps with the help of a couple counselor.  

References & Citations

i Real, Terrence. Us. (Rodale: New York) 2022