I’m looking for a word to describe the dynamics of a relationship that oscillates between being loving/harmonious and toxic.

By relationship, I’m primarily referring to a romantic relationship between a couple, however it can also apply to any (romantic, familial or platonic )relationship.

I hope my question makes sense. Grammar savants feel free to edit my post.

  • Do you want a noun? an adjective? "a word that describes" could be either. Jan 2, 2021 at 21:31
  • A see-saw relationship.
    – Lambie
    Nov 19, 2022 at 16:01

7 Answers 7


up-and-down (or up and down) relationship

mercurial relationship

enter image description here https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=up+and+down+relationship%2Cmercurial+relationship&year_start=1945&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=3


While I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "single word", I can't believe nobody has suggested love-hate relationship yet, which has all sorts of rich metaphorical usages beyond sexual relationships.

Wiki also links to on-again, off-again relationship, which is typically but not exclusively used in a romantic context.

And for Japanophiles, tsundere describes a similar dynamic/perennial trope of teen romance stories, which has been enjoying a steady rise in usage since the turn of the millennium.


Such a relationship can be termed bittersweet.


bittersweet adjective
Definition of bittersweet (Entry 2 of 2)

1: being at once bitter and sweet
especially : pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret
a bittersweet ballad
bittersweet memories

  • Had this been posted as an answer on the day I would have selected this as the top answer.
    – piccolo
    Jan 5, 2021 at 22:26



Informal. a person or group that is friendly toward another because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment or rivalry: Clearly, turning the competition into frenemies is good for your business.

source https://www.dictionary.com/browse/frenemy


"an unstable relationship"

  • "liable to change or alteration, an unstable economy, unstable weather." MW
  • "disposed to temperamental, emotional, or psychological variability." TFD

You could also use "unsteady" or "shaky".


Hot and cold.


'Cause you're hot then you're cold You're yes then you're no You're in then you're out You're up then you're down You're wrong when it's right It's black and it's white We fight, we break up We kiss, we make up (You) You don't really want to stay, no (You) But you don't really want to go-o You're hot then you're cold You're yes then you're no You're in then you're out You're up then you're down


Volatile !
Example given in Definition:

If you and your best friend have a volatile relationship, you frequently fight and make up.

Volatile from Latin volatilis, "fleeting, transitory," always gives the sense of sudden, radical change. Think of it as the opposite of stable.

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