|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 right
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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.
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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 individuals 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
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 possible.
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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
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.
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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
* immature beliefs about what relationships
* 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 the other.
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
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
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
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
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.
The Tactics Used
by Those in Love With a Commitment Phobe - and Why They Don't
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
of a Commitment Phobic Person and
Classifications of Commitment Phobes
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 commitment.
Fortunately, 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 is a licensed therapist
and relationship coach in private practice in McLean, Virginia. She specializes
in working with singles who want to create lasting, intimate relationships.
Toni has over 20 years of post-masters experience in relationship counseling
and coaching with singles and couples. She is the founder and President of
LifeChange Coaching and Consum-mate Relationship Coaching. She developed
and teaches the Creating Lasting Relationships Training, a tele-workshop
designed to help singles to define, implement and fulfill their life and
relationship goals. She has also written numerous email classes for singles
on all aspects of meeting, dating and relating. She is the author of the
email newsletter, The Art of Intimacy, which goes out to thousands of subscribers
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