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

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: This severe form of Love Hurts 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 fall into Despair Event Horizon and accept the pain. 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 Love Makes You Evil and a Destructo-Nookie.

If only one of the partners suffers, then that partner is likely a Love Martyr.

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. See also Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Karim and Zagi in Jyu-Oh-Sei. Their relationship is described at least once as Zagi "ruling" her, and while they have expressed pretty genuine feelings for each other, it's clearly unhealthy.
  • Loveless is absolutely full of this, with almost every relationship (romantic or otherwise) being faintly dysfunctional. The most blatant example is probably Soubi's utter devotion to Seimei, who doesn't care about him in the least and is both verbally and physically abusive. Despite the fact Seimei doesn't love Soubi, Soubi will still do anything he says.
  • An interpretation of Chiaki and Hatori's relationship in Sekai Ichi 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.so
  • Very much so in Mirai Nikki between Yuno and Yuki. The best example is probably when Yuno drugs Yuki, takes him to an abandoned hotel and keeps him chained down in a basement so that the 'happy end' her diary predicts can't be interfered with. Then, when Yuki's friends finally track him down, she traps them and then tries to gas them to death. Thankfully, their relationship get sorted out by the end of the series.
  • Asuka and Shinji in Neon Genesis Evangelion is an Up to Eleven example, as it quite literally causes The End of the World as We Know It. Despite their mutual attraction, she's to much of a Tsundere and he to much of a Shrinking Violet for them to truly understand each other, much less be open with each other about their feelings. Their failed attempts at doing so throughout the series is one of the biggest causes of Angst for both of them throughout the series. This finally comes to a head during The Movie, after Rei blows off Gendo and leaves the ultimate outcome of the Human Instrumentality Project in Shinji's hands. Shinji and Asuka are two of the first to be absorbed by the GNR, and when their souls meet together is essentially the first time in the series that they're open about their feelings with each other. Only by this point, Asuka is so angry and disgusted with him note  that she rejects him, which causes him to try to kill her, and then every other person on earth in an effort to Never Be Hurt Again.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena has a lot of creepy, unhealthy relationships, but the one that best fits this trope is Anthy and Akio/Dios - she used to love him as a brother, but after she sacrificed herself for him he became bitter and selfish and trapped her in a non-consensual, incestuous relationship she was too afraid to escape from. Touga also uses 'joking' romantic behaviour to manipulate and control his younger sister Nanami, but they're not actually in a relationship.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 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 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 "Red Romance" (illustrated by 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.
  • 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?
  • Roy Harper and Cheshire's relationship in Teen Titans and other related series is this, on the part of the former. No one can understand as to how Roy could possibly have any sort of feeling of love towards Cheshire, who is a Psycho for Hire genocidal maniac and the mother of his daughter, Lian. Although there is the fact that most of it stems from him not wanting Lian to see her mother be caged like an animal. In the first Titans series Roy's conflicting feelings towards Cheshire were causing problems with his relationship with Donna Troy, which Donna eventually ended. Not long after Roy finally came to terms with the fact that Cheshire is always going to a heartless murderer and eventually put his feelings to rest after she was convicted. That hasn't stopped Cheshire from multiple attempts at exploiting their past relationship to manipulate Roy for her own ends. The Villains United miniseries leads strength to the argument that Cheshire is incapable of love unless it's a means for her goals.

    Film 
  • 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.
  • 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 woman who can't wait to indulge in the powers and menus of vampirism.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • In Francine Riversí The Mark of the Lion trilogy, Julia goes through at least two of these: the first man she falls in love with turns out to be brutally abusive; the second gives her a baby she really doesn't want and the STD that eventually kills her, before abandoning her and leaving her totally disillusioned. The various affairs she had in between certainly didnít help her slide towards total cynicism or excruciating death by syphilis.
  • Helen and Huntingdon's marriage in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Huntingdon associates love with complete submission and compliance, Helen associates love with trying to improve her husband's faults. At first this only causes a few spats, but later Huntingdon starts going out of the way to be horrible just to spite Helen and Helen stops giving him any affection and encouragement at all. It's more Huntingdon's fault than Helen's, but after a few years their marriage crumbles completely.
  • Ted's and Rose's marriage in the The Joy Luck Club. Their marriage is built more on rebelling against their parents and cultural norms and Rose grows to realize that Ted relies on her passive and submissive nature to blame her for his emotional insecurities.

    Live Action TV 
  • Law & 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 (Trilogy) 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 each other, by the end of the episode it is made clear that the relationship simply would not be good for Monroe. This is mostly due to Monroe having been through Monsters Anonymous program and is trying to stay clean and live a normal, but being around Angelina causes him to lose control and go back to his old ways.
  • 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 rape 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.
  • All the romantic relationships on The Vampire Diaries have a destructive element to them, but the one that qualifies the most is Damon and Elena. Damon is quite abusive towards Elena.
  • Sylar and Elle on Heroes qualifies as she's a sociopathic Company assassin broken by years of Company experimentation on her powers and he's a psychotic serial killer with serious mental issues. They both try to reform for the better, but when the Company lies she's told surfaces including how she manipulated his feelings, Sylar kills her.
  • Elementary reveals that Sherlock and Jamie Moriarty had one. She's the abuser in this case as she invented an entire identity whole cloth in order to study and break him. And succeeded, because it drove him into a drug-fueled downward spiral and a stint in rehab, which kicks off the series. The show also does not shy away from showing that even from prison, Jamie is still exerting her abusive influence over him by writing him letters.

    Music 
  • Marilyn Manson has two entire albums based on this, Eat Me, Drink Me and The High End of Low. Both were written throughout Manson's relationship with actress Evan Rachel-Wood. EMDM starts okay and starts to spiral out of control (which is exactly how things were going in their relationship) and The High End of Low, which was written in order, starts with Manson begging her to let him love her in the song Devour and slowly turns from desperate love to hate, to homicidal hate (not hyperbole, he said in an interview that if he hadn't made the album, they both would be dead) to moving on and acceptance. With a few tangents against both America and himself (Arma-goddamn-motherfuckin-geddon being a parody of the album Antichrist Superstar, and We're From America being as critical as you'd expect).
  • 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."
    • By the same token, every one of Eminem's songs about his wife Kim Mathers.
  • Days of the New's "Touch Peel and Stand" is a disturbing example:
    Yes, I've finally found a reason,
    I don't need an excuse.
    I got this time on my hands
    You are the one to abuse.
  • "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' "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.
  • Fiona Apple's "Werewolf" could be the theme-song of this trope:
    I could liken you to a werewolf, the way you left me for dead
    But I admit, that I provided a full moon
    And I could liken you to a shark, the way you bit off my head
    But then again, I was waving around a bleeding open wound
    But you were such a super guy, 'til the second you get a wiff of me
    We're like a wishing well and a bolt of electricity
    But we can still support each other, all we gotta do is avoid each other
    Nothing wrong when a song ends in a minor key...
  • Pink Floyd's "Don't Leave Me Now," from The Wall:
    "Ooooh, babe
    Don't leave me now.
    Don't say it's the end of the road.
    Remember the flowers I sent.
    I need you, babe
    To put through the shredder
    In front of my friends
    Ooooh Babe.
    Dont leave me now.
    How could you go?
    When you know how I need you
    To beat to a pulp on a Saturday night
    Ooooh Babe.
    How could you treat me this way?
    Running away.
    I need you, Babe. Why are you running away?
    Oooooh Babe!"
  • Maroon5's One More Night is about a guy that keeps arguing with his significant other, but he can't leave her due to her excellent love-making in bed. He regrets doing it, but he keeps coming back for more, thus being unable to break out of the abusive relationship.
  • Miranda Lambert's "Bring Me Down"

     Mythology and Religion 
  • Hawaiian mythology gives us Kamapua'a, a trickster demigod, and Pele, the goddess of fire. Their fighting almost destroyed both of them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • All relationships between other vampires are assumed to be this by default in Vampire: The Requiem. It's not surprising.
    • Best example: the Honeymoon Hijackers Charles and Charlene Greengrass. They were kidnapped and turned into vampires on their respective wedding nights by cruel sires, with their spouses killed. Charles and Charlene meet one another ten years after their abductions, instantly recognize the predicament of the other, and fall in love. They diablerize their sires, escape vampire society, get into a scary codependent relationship, then perform netorare scenarios and serial killings on any recently married couple they can find.note 
    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
    • Coming full circle, Charlene cheats on Charles. He doesn't know, but she wants him to.

    Theatre 
  • Romeo and Juliet, not really their fault, but the situation ended up pretty badly none the less.
  • 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.
  • Eddie and May in Sam Shepard's play Fool for Love. For over a decade their relationship's been a nonstop violent power struggle consisting of one trying to run away from the other only for the two to come back together time and again. For extra Squick, they also happen to be half-siblings, and even after finding this out they still kept seeing each other. They're also mirroring the dysfunctional dynamic their father had with each of their mothers.

    Web Original 
  • Homestuck: Troll Romance includes a romance based on mutual hatred not to the point where one would kill the partner. Gamzee and Terezi get together under one, which demonstrates how unhealthy it can be if the pairing isn't right. After one year of the relationship, Terezi's had her self confidence shattered, and admits that while she hates Gamzee, being with him makes her hate herself even more. She compares him to a drug, and notes that every insult she takes personally, and can't leave because she's drawn to the wretchedness, and she's disgusted by her dependence. This was part of the reason she had her eyes fixed, having her blindness, which was a proud part of her self-image, cured, devastated her. When Karkat tells her Gamzee will likely end it, she breaks down crying and says that if he throws her away, she really will be pathetic.
    • It's heavily implied if not outright stated this is too vitriolic and abusive ( Gamzee to Terezi, including Gaslighting and outright physical abuse) to be a healthy kismesistude, in comparison to other hate-ships like Vriska and Eridan's or Jack and the Black Queen's.
  • All of Romeo's romances in the Whateley Universe. He's an incredibly handsome mutant and a member of the Bad Seeds (at least one parents must be a supervillain to be admitted). He picks dowdy girls who feel unattractive and tries to turn the ugly duckling into a swan. No matter how successful he is, he always creates someone who doesn't feel attractive enough compared to him and so they mistreat him and then break up with him.
  • In you could make a life, Nikita broke up with Luke while they were teenagers in such a callous manner that Luke never emotionally recovered from it. Their ensuing on-and-off relationship of hatesex and brutal beatdowns for the next seven years only serve to drag the embittered Luke down even further.


Destroy the EvidenceDrama TropesDomestic Abuse
Cycle of RevengeDiscord TropesDivide and Conquer
Demoted MemoriesPsychology TropesDoublethink
Destroy the Abusive HomeAbuse TropesDomestic Abuse
Derailing Love InterestsLove TropesDestructo-Nookie
Despair SpeechCynicism TropesDeus Angst Machina

alternative title(s): Dysfunctional Duo
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