FEATURED ARTICLE: What Went Wrong? When Relationships Go From Hot To Cold
Everything was great.
We had been dating for 6 months. We shared the same interests, felt very at
ease together, had (often)
discussed future plans and had even spent some of the holidays together. Our
relationship seemed right on track
and just right in general.
Then, without warning, he said he "needs some time to think and figure
things out." He stopped calling and rarely
returned my calls. When he did, I was often met with silence on the other
end of the line. When I asked "what
happened", I just got a verbal run around of excuses about how busy he is
and/or how much stress he is under
What happened? What did I do? I don't know what to think.
Does the above scenario sound at all familiar? If so, you can relate to
being confused and stunned over the sudden
change in a boyfriend's/girlfriend's behavior.
Now think about this - What if your relationship wasn't what you thought it
was? What if unspoken issues had
existed all along? What if there were signs you chose to ignore or just
didn't see? Are any of these possible?
This sudden change in a couple's relationship is reported quite a bit by
individuals who have just broken up with
a significant other. Unfortunately, it leaves the person who has been
"dumped" with feelings of low self-esteem,
regret, inadequacy and anger.
There is often no real closure, as the couple is never able (willing) to
talk through what went wrong or was never right
with their relationship.
So, how can you know what the problem was and hope to avoid a repeat of this
hurtful experience? You can do this
by examining your failed relationship and gaining insight and understanding
about what just wasn't right between you.
In order to assist you with this; I am providing a basic framework of the
relationship stages a couple must pass
through TOGETHER in order to get to a place of shared intimacy and
commitment. If either person's feelings
change before, during or after one of these stages; it is not necessarily
the "fault" of the other individual. It is simply
a statement about the individuals' rightness (or not) for each other. It is
also a reflection of each individual's relationship
readiness and ability to handle long-term, committed intimacy.
How an individual handles their changing feelings and resultant behavior
toward the other is a subject for another article.
Relationships have stages. We have all read articles and books by authors
who have come up with their own unique
number or names for these. I will try to take a very basic approach to this
and keep it simple and as universal as
This is the first stage. It is physical, intellectual and emotional - on a
very surface level. Girl sees boy and vice versa. They
flirt, talk and get a very basic sense of the other. They are usually
responding to a physical pull. He/she is cute,
funny, charming, interesting to talk to, etc.
Without attraction, first dates wouldn't happen. It can therefore be assumed
that the other person finds us attractive if
we have gotten to a first date.
In a way, this is the easy one. We are unknowns to each other. Things
progress from this point or they do not. Hurt
feelings are minimal. We usually chalk up rejection to; "I'm not his type".
There is no need to analyze or wonder
what went wrong.
If both people feel a strong enough level of attraction continues to exist
after a few dates, they usually move along to
stage two. However, if one finds the other has unattractive characteristics
or behaviors, this can lead to an abrupt change
in the relationship.
Remember, these behaviors or characteristics would be ones that would
manifest in the very early stage of dating.
Some examples: frequently late, never offers to pay, dresses or grooms
sloppily, rude to waitress, etc.
In this second stage, couples begin to test out the idea of themselves as a
unit. Dating is no longer brand new. It is more
comfortable and predictable. Sharing romantic dinners and exciting special
interests are typical dates during this new
and fun time in a growing relationship.
During this stage, flowers are given for no special reason and loving cards
are slipped back and forth with
words like "thinking of you". It's a happy carefree time, when lovers tend
to idealize, romanticize and overlook
that which can be right in front of them. The relationship seems effortless
and spontaneous. Affection is shared openly
and frequently. One's partner seems perfect. There is rarely conflict during
this period. The partners often share
the unrealistic belief that their relationship is so special and unique that
it will always stay this way.
This stage can last from three or four months up to more than a year. It is
actually the shortest stage that any
long-term relationship goes through. It is also the one we wish we could
hold on to forever and long for when it is gone.
This is the stage that love poems speak about. It is also believed (falsely)
by many that this is what long-term
committed love will always be like.
Many relationships begin to stumble at the end of this period. For that is
when reality begins to set in. As partners
begin to experience some disagreement, conflict and/or shared challenges-
the relationship shifts as do the
dynamics between the partners.
Though many relationships move past this stage, a number do not. Why? There
are many reasons. These can include:
- lack of readiness for the challenges of the next stage
- issues with commitment and fidelity
- immature beliefs about what relationships should be
- being stuck on an idealized, romanticized notion of love
If one of the partners is not ready for a less than perfect and more
demanding stage of love, they will exhibit this in their
behavior, language and overall level of openness and availability towards
This is when the couple begins to think more seriously of a future with each
other. The focus tends to be;
how well do we get along, do we share similar interests and do I want to
date this person exclusively?
Growth Through Negotiation
This is a very challenging and growing time in all relationship building.
Reality comes into play as the couple
settles into the comfort and predictability of their togetherness. Little
issues can become blown-up into large conflicts.
The individuals begin to compete for their share of control and their place
in this growing union. Differences
can become highlighted instead of minimized.
This is often the period when couples experience their first fight. Hurt
feelings can occur as that once loving
and completely accepting other person airs a criticism or voices annoyance
or concern. Often, the individuals
believe it is the other person who needs to change.
This is where the need for (or lack of) communication, problem-solving and
negotiating skills becomes apparent.
For without an adequate measure of these, disagreements can break down into
screaming matches where
insults and recriminations are fired like missiles.
If the individuals can listen, be supportive of each other's feelings,
compromise and not lay blame, they have
a good chance of working through this stage and achieving a true intimacy.
This does not mean they will share
all the same beliefs and opinions or that they will necessarily even like
the other's view. However, having and
showing respect is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship.
Not only will relationships fail without these relationship-building
strengths, they can also abruptly end if
one of the partners decides that they don't feel the same way about this
person in their less than idealized
state. The reality may not be to their liking or just something they are not
ready for in general. Either way,
they will pull back, present differently or disappear without warning. How
they handle their changing feelings
is further information about their level of relationship readiness and
maturity in general.
Intimacy is the reward that is gained when a couple has successfully worked
through the difficult last stage of
negotiation. It is almost like a new coming together with much greater self
(and other) awareness. This new information
can work to solidify the union or give one of both individuals enough new
information about the other to require
a reassessment of their desire to remain together.
Each person looks at the other in their (naked) state and asks; "Is this the
person I want to be with?" Here their individual
differences are highlighted. The early romantic haze has cleared. What they
have to offer to each other and to
a future life together comes into play.
This is a time when couples often begin to contemplate each other's
attributes in a more practical way.
They look at the other's strengths and weaknesses. They evaluate each
other's potential as a future spouse,
parent, provider, caregiver, partner, etc.
Relationships can be tested more during this time. Infidelity is one
dysfunctional way that some individuals
do this. Often, this leads to the end of the relationship.
When differences can be seen, aired and accepted, the couple has a good
chance of moving on together
from this place. Essentially, they have decided they want to be with the
other, warts and all.
When the behavior of one or both partners change, it is generally because
they have made a conscious or
unconscious decision regarding the wrongness of the other for them or for
the type of relationship they seek.
This is the final stage of relationship building. Once individuals have
reached this place, they are ready to
cement their bond. While much growth and work will lay ahead in a future
life together, they are
ready to begin this life soon.
New challenges arise during each stage, and will happen here as well.
However, if the couple has successfully
worked through the previous stages, they should have many of the tools they
The external problems and pressures that come with life will test their
resolve and commitment over the
years. They may need to reassess, re-negotiate and renew their feelings and
they will be in possession of the basic tools required.
If they choose well to begin with, they should be successful.
As you evaluate your failed relationship, note the stage you were in when
the change occurred. Chances are that
the necessary level of readiness and maturity was not present in one or both
of you. Perhaps one of you
decided that this is not the kind of partner or relationship I am seeking.
This new information and insight should help you to choose a future partner
who is better suited to you and desirous
of the same kind of relationship that you are.
Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2004 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved. Distribution Rights: The above material is copyrighted, but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information.
posted on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 5:46 PM