Dear Neil: I am in a three year relationship with “Goeff” who is extremely unpredictable and volatile in his emotions. Although he has never physically lost control of himself, emotionally he can get set off by anything—making a request that he do something different, disappointing him in some way or getting upset at him over something he says or does. Sometimes he’s emotionally upset, angry or volatile and he doesn’t even know why, or it’s about something completely unrelated to me.
I have such strong vacillating emotions toward Geoff. I love him, but I’m embarrassed and sometimes afraid to be around him. I keep thinking there’s something wrong with him. We are intensely passionate with each other, but I can never tell what will set off his next temper tantrum or emotional explosion. My life with Geoff is so unpredictable that I constantly feel off balance. Can you help me decide what to do with this relationship? I love him, but I frequently don’t like or respect him, how he handles himself or how he treats me.
Off Balance and Confused In Vancouver
Dear Off Balance: Emotional roller coaster relationships have a melodrama quality to them. They’re hypnotic and intense—the polar opposite of boring. They’re exciting in an almost perverse way.
Why are they so hypnotic and exciting? Intensity feels passionate—and most of us confuse passion with love. A volatile relationship forces you into strong emotional involvement: you feel—frequently all at the same time—connection, fear, passion, hurt, anger, love, outrage, desire and revulsion.
These passionate, confusing roller coaster emotions feel strong and intense. They force upon you a myriad of powerful feelings ranging from love, to lust, to disgust, to anger, to sadness, to hate. There’s no room for bland, milquetoast, bored emotions. Just as taking a ride on the fastest, scariest, most death-defying roller coaster pumps adrenaline into you, so being in a roller coaster relationship also pumps you full of intensity and adrenaline.
There’s no way to be in such a relationship—with all this adrenaline, melodrama and intensity—and to not feel strong emotional involvement. It is hypnotic. A moth-to-the-flame feeling where you feel compelled to get your next “fix” of intensity and adrenaline, even though you know it’s an unhealthy and unwise way to live.
What can you do about all of this? You can be determined to get off and stay off the emotional roller coaster of intense hot/cold, up/down, love/hate emotions. You can stay emotionally steady and balanced yourself, regardless of your boyfriend’s mood swings, and you can quit getting seduced by—and being attracted to—his emotional intensity as a substitute for slow, steady, solid, reliable, intimate loving connection over time. You can insist on stability in his moods, and some good conflict resolution, negotiating, compromising and communication skills—and you can insist that those skills be used in the relationship on an on-going day to day basis.
Great emotional intensity is not love, and it is not passion. It just feels like love and passion, and that’s why you feel so stuck.