Destructive Romance

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I love you I hate you I kiss you I rape you
and I cheat and deceive but I need you

—A man singing about his lover, in I Need You by Clawfinger.

I try to forget you, I try to love you, but I hurt you all the time
I can't forget you, I'm afraid to touch you, and I always see you cry

—A man and a woman singing in unison about each other, in Die With You by Blutengel.

A marriage or other (romantic and/or sexual) relationship that is truly destructive, breaking down at least one of the lovers. Probably both. While they may eventually recover, it can also be an emotional counterpart of Defiled Forever.

The characters may or may not be aware of how bad their relationship really is, but in either case the author is very aware: The relationship is not portrayed as amusingly wacky or Romanticized Abuse: No, it is Played for Drama as well as Nightmare Fuel. However, Romanticized Abuse or The Masochism Tango can morph into this trope through the power of Mood Whiplash or Cerebus Syndrome.

If the relationship doesn't contain outright Domestic Abuse, then they are still dragging each other down on an emotional level. This is sometimes done on purpose as a calculated move to make the partner stay: If your partner doesn't have any self-esteem, they'll believe that they don't deserve any better then being with a creep like you. They'll simply accept the pain as if it's a universal truth that Love Hurts. However, please note that the partner does not have to be malicious or abusive; it depends on how sensitive the other character is.

These relationships can sometimes be caused by situations such as A Match Made in Stockholm and messed-up beliefs such as Marital Rape License and Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny. They might lead to situations such as a Destructo-Nookie.

For platonic variants, compare With Friends Like These....

Compare Woman Scorned for when the destructiveness is caused by the termination of the romance rather then the romance itself. Contrast Safe, Sane, and Consensual and Casual Kink for stuff that might look like destructive romance without actually being it. Compare Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny.

Examples of Destructive Romance include:

Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Shinji and Asuka in Neon Genesis Evangelion just don't fit together. While they aren't exactly in a relationship, they both have strong feelings for each other, but they fail so much at communication that both suffer because they believe their feelings to be unrequited. They're similar where they should be different (both have trouble expressing affection because of their crappy past) and different where they should be similar (she's very extroverted and dominant, and poor shy, introverted Shinji can't bring himself to speak up to her/stop her from pushing him around). This is further complicated by the fact that Asuka sees him as a rival. She, in particular, constantly provokes him into doing stupid things, does nothing but insult and abuse him, until he eventually snaps and attempts to strangle her. In the Rebuild continuity, even Asuka herself realizes that Shinji would be better off with his other love interest.
  • An interpretation of Chiaki and Hatori's relationship in Sekaiichi Hatsukoi. While it's obvious they're an Official Couple from the two opening's from the anime, their relationship in series doesn't seem to work. What could have been a Childhood Friend Romance ended up becoming this due to how different the two are in work ethnics and personality. (Chiaki is a childish, lazy person despite being one of the top manga author's in Japan while Hatori is serious, hard working and has to force Chiaki to do almost everything.) It gets to the point that the both can't live without the other supporting them. This has shown to backfire though as once they do get together after Hatori brutally rapes Chiaki mind you and it's not played for fanservice or laughs, the episodes after that shows them fighting more than making love to each other to the point where it seems like both of them can't seem to trust each other to not cheat on them and snap whenever one accuses the other of cheating. And even though they recoil at the end of the episode, it ends up being repeated in the next episode simply because the only reason they're in a relationship to begin with is the fact they can't function without the other. And of course, both drag in Chiaki's friend Yanase into the picture who always ends up suffering from their arguments and disagreements physically and emotionally.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Fables, the relationship between Jack and Rose Red has more then a hint of this even from the start, with Rose Red eventually realizing that they only brought out the worst in each other. When she later reconnects with him, it's out of pure self-hatred. Their new relationship drags her down even further.
  • In Lucifer, Lady Lys' spirit gets permanently broken by her mortal lover Cristopher Rudd. And you thought a romance between a demon and a human would be bad for the human?
  • In Bitchy Bitch, Midge is so fragile that any romance she experiences is likely to turn into this.
  • In Bitchy Butch, one of the main sources of the protagonist's permanent foul mood is that she got her heart broken by her first serious girlfriend. First the girlfriend was unfaithful, sleeping with another woman without asking for an open relationship first. When discovered, she declares an open relationship retroactively, and Butchy accepts it on a theoretical level. On a emotional level, she obviously never got over it.
  • In The Feeling Prince Charles Had, love itself is portrayed as a destructive force that is bound to break people down emotionally.
  • The comic series Flinch once featured a short story titled A Red Romance (illustrated by DCAU's Bruce Timm, of all people) where a man and a woman, both sociopathic lowlifes, fall in love and begin a relationship that involves sickening amounts of Masochistic Tangoing, until even this violence isn't enough to satisfy their desires. It leads to the jaded man hiring a specialist to torture and kill her while he watches, only to discover she hired the specialist for the exact same reason. The story ends with the couple in orgasmic ecstasy as they watch one another get horribly brutalized, before finally killing them and leaving them in each other's arms on the bloodstained bed. A story that manages to be touchingly romantic AND incredibly disturbing at the same time.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Bad Timing: The film charts the emotional, spiritual, and physical ups and downs of a young couple's relationship that is fueled by their compulsion to attack, manipulate, and humiliate one another.
  • The War of the Roses walks the line between hilarious and genuinely scary. The film follows the courtship and marriage of a nice-but-shallow couple, followed by the most un-amicable divorce imaginable.
  • Gilda is all about the love-hate relationship between Johnny and Gilda. The entire plot revolves around the psychological, emotional and physical abuse they inflict on one another, which gets increasingly nasty and violent and bizarre, to the point where both of them are practically mentally unhinged by the end of the film.
  • Thirst: You have a vampire priest struggling to keep his humanity and ethics and a women who can't wait to indulge in the powers and menus of vampirism.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The novel The Story of O exists in two versions. These versions have very different endings, casting the rest of the story in very different lights. In the most popular version, which most adaptations are built on, the relationship is simply Casual Kink and Property of Love. The other version is a Destructive Romance presented as Romanticized Abuse during most of the book but then abruptly changes tone at the end. It ends with the protagonist and her boyfriend agreeing that she should commit suicide... and she does.
  • The English Patient. Everyone singing its praises as one of the great romantic stories of its time has missed that Katharine cheating on her husband with Almasy is portrayed as a highly destructive obsession that ends in the pointless deaths of all three.
  • Gone with the Wind features Rhett and Scarlett's marriage starting okay, but due to Scarlett's obsession with Ashley Wilkes taking prevalence over Rhett and her family, the marriage becomes destructive.
  • Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights’’.
  • Twilight could be considered an example.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey would fall right into this. Inspired by Twilight funnily enough!


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Law and Order Special Victims Unit has portrayed many of these over the years. In one episode, Olivia tries in vain to convince a woman to report her husband for Domestic Abuse. Of course she refuses to betray her beloved like that and eventually ends up dying in Olivia's arms, stabbed to death by her husband.
  • In the North and South US miniseries, Madeleine is married off to the villain Justin - who gradually breaks her down over the years, eventually turning her into a drugged down empty shell of a human being. It lasts until the hero save her with his love.
  • On Glee, Terri spells out to Will that the only reason their marriage works is because it is a Destructive Romance. Will, actually wanting to be in a healthy relationship, leaves.
  • Monroe and Angelina's relationship is presented as this on Grimm. Though it is clear that the two characters care deeply about eachother, by the end of the episode it is made clear that the relationship simply would not be good for Monroe.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Spike's interest in Buffy started as Stalker with a Crush, but she regarded his advances with contempt. But after Buffy falls into depression in Season 6 she secretly starts sleeping with him. Unfortunately this only ends up making things worse -- Spike is convinced Buffy wants to come over to The Dark Side and is frustrated by her unwillingness to either return his love or abandon her friends, while their Interplay of Sex and Violence, her lust for a soulless monster who's supposed to be her enemy and her guilt over using Spike without respecting his own feelings only increase Buffy's self-loathing. At one point she savagely beats an unresisting Spike, describing him in terms that are clearly referring to herself ("There is nothing good or clean in you! You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real!"). The In-Universe Values Dissonance between the two reaches a point where after she ends the relationship, Spike tries to inflict the Victim Falls For Rapist trope on an injured Buffy; fortunately Buffy is able to fend him off and Spike realises that, even for him, this act is crossing the Moral Event Horizon, and motivates him to go on a quest to regain his soul.
  • In Moonlight, Josef describes Mick's relationship with his sire/ex-girlfriend Coraline as this to Mick's current love interest, Beth.

Josef: You have to understand, Mick and Coraline's relationship was one of those terrifying, completely self-
destructive freakshows that you spend your whole life searching for knowing it can only end in one or both of you dead.
Beth: That's your idea of love?
Josef: What can I tell you, I'm a romantic.

  • Niles and Maris's marriage in Frasier was depicted as this, only being stable when Niles was miserable and cowed and Maris was wrapped up in her own pursuits, and erupting into vicious fights, break-ups and various forms of abuse (on Maris's part) whenever this status quo was shaken up. It was hinted that the main reason that it lasted as long as it did (and the amount of backsliding that occurred during their drawn-out breakup) was because of Niles's insecurity and co-dependence, and Maris's enjoyment of having someone to control.

Music[edit | hide]

  • Blutengel has several songs on this theme, often from the point of view of a former Bastard Boyfriend who realizes how horrible he has been.
  • Clawfinger milks this trope in songs such as "I Need You" (see page quote) and "Love Is Just A Four Letter Word".
  • Eminem and Rihanna's hit "Love the Way You Lie."
  • The Alpha Couple from The Mountain Goats is this all over. Even their inevitable, final reconciliation has threatening undertones:

Oh sing, sing, sing, for the dying of the day.
Sing for the flames that will rip through here
And the smoke that will carry us away.
Yeah, sing for the damage we've done
And the worse things that we'll do
Open your mouth up and sing for me now
And I will sing for you.

  • The self-explanatory "(I Hate) Everything About You" by Three Days Grace.
  • The lyrics of Sara Bareilles's "Gravity" may count as a mild version of this trope, as the song appears to be about a genuine but not-terribly-healthy passionate relationship.
  • Go to the Mattress by Get Set Go features a couple who are just terrible together.

I'm a lecher, she's a cheater
I'll let her cut me, she likes to let me beat her
I'm a fucker, she's a screamer
I may be tougher, but she's definitely meaner.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

Mess with their heads. Get it so the victims love their keepers, will do anything for them (even better if they can work one of the couple against the other--so sweet, that betrayal).
Night Horrors: Immortal Sinners, pg. 74


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Norma and Joe's relationship in Sunset Boulevard: and oh, what a dysfunctional one it is, with Norma's outbursts and Joe's passive aggressive BS. Close to the end, it turns out that Norma's relationship with her butler is even worse.
  1. Diablerie causes vampires to sometimes pickup traits of the soul they ate. It's implied that's why the couple do what they do, despite their actions mirroring their own tragic histories.