I’ve previously written about some of the classic romance writing tropes which I can’t stand, and today I have another to add to the list: Love/hate relationships. These are fictional relationships in which a couple do nothing but fight, sometimes even physically abuse each other, yet at the insistence of the author and the rest of the cast, it is evidence that they are falling in love.
It’s clear why this type of relationship in fiction isn’t too popular anymore and why people are beginning to severely question it. Who looks at a real-life couple arguing and thinks that is what they want from a relationship? It isn’t very romantic to hook up with someone when you still hate them.
Yet readers still love reading about interesting and complex relationships and a dynamic between two incredibly strong-willed individuals working through their feelings can be a good one when done correctly. Hate turning to love is still a popular fanfiction plot as readers enjoy seeing how their favourite characters can go from one emotional extreme to the other. They just don’t want to be tricked into supporting an unrealistic couple with no reason to love one another. These are some of the top ways to write a believable love/hate relationship without dipping into abusive territory:
Write a character arc
The golden rule of writing applies to love/hate relationships too. Rather than showing a couple spend an entire work of fiction bickering then have them suddenly admit their attraction and hook up at the end, give them an actual character arc to show how they and their relationship change over the course of the story. Show how intense hatred can turn to intense love through character interaction gradually softening the relationship.
Overcome a character flaw
An integral part of the character arc is to show a character with a severe flaw which they come to realise and improve. Perhaps the reason your characters start out in a love/hate relationship is because one or both has trust issues or was raised in an abusive household. These can explain the character’s motivation and give them an interesting Hero’s Journey which the readers will want to follow.
Make it comedic
Another way you can get away with a love/hate relationship is to write it in a comedic context. This stems all the way back to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, possibly the very first love/hate relationship story. We can laugh at Benedick and Beatrice’s quips yet still have the sense that they genuinely care for each other and feel happy when they sort things out at the end.
Don’t write physical or mental abuse
The main criticism against love/hate relationships is that authors confuse abusive behaviour with regular domestic arguments, or believe that regular fights are a normal part of relationships. Thankfully people are now waking up to how damaging this message is, but there are still too many borderline abusive relationships in fiction. Arguments may be a common part of relationships, but they should be presented in a constructive manner to allow a couple to air their grievances occasionally, not happen all the time. It should go without saying that physically abusive behaviour has no place in a romance, not even in a comedic context.
Make it purposefully self-destructive
You might, however, decide to go down the opposite route and write this type of relationship as self-destructive on purpose. This can demonstrate the realities of a co-dependant relationship and how it will rarely work out. There are many fascinating real-life examples of couples with a ‘can’t live with them, can’t live without them’ type dynamic. For example, the biopic Sid and Nancy depicts the real-life relationship between the Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen and the disastrous impact it had on their lives.
What are some good and bad examples of love/hate relationships that you have seen in fiction? Tell me in the comments below.