Is your partner playing hot and cold? Here’s how to tell — and what to do about it — if they are.
Is your partner playing hot and cold? One minute you’re high on the warmth of their attention, the next minute you’re frozen out and left wondering what happened. You begin to question your actions. Did you say the wrong thing? Did you make the wrong move?
It’s long been the rule that when dating someone whose behavior is marked by hot and cold reactivity, you’re standing on shaky ground. Behavioral extremes indicate a power play is being employed. Whether you call it push/pull, on/off, or hot and cold, the end result is the same. You’re left feeling confused and frustrated.
Whether done consciously or unconsciously, this type of behavior activates longing and pursuit. It’s utilized because it works. If we don’t understand the game of hot and cold, we can find ourselves pulled into a drama of confusion.
Knowledge is power. Modern dating is tricky. Once we have the ability to see hot and cold for what it is, we’re less likely to suffer its negative effects. Understanding this type of behavior is crucial even for those of you committed to not playing games.
“Flee, and they follow. Follow, and they flee.”
This is the core thinking of the partner who initiates hot/cold, and serves as their safety net to vulnerability. Why? Because relationship uncertainty makes human beings yearn for stability. Our automatic response is to chase when the “other” pulls away. What was once readily available is suddenly gone, and no matter how hard we try to regain our partner’s former affection, it now seems beyond our reach.
The hot phase is designed to get you in the gate that leads to the corral, where you’ll later be harnessed. Then comes the cold phase.
No, your partner’s not confused. They don’t need more time to figure out their emotions. They’re not sorting out their last breakup, and they’re not swamped at work. Although that may be your hope, it’s not the case.
The hot/cold scenario typifies much more than a lack of certainty on a lover’s part. It’s a pattern. And it’s crafted for control.
The Phases of Hot and Cold
The “hot” phase begins with a bang of overwhelming recognition. Your partner has placed you firmly on their radar. Bathed in newfound attention, flattery and flirtation spark a strong attraction for this person. You quickly find yourself craving more of this delicious new feeling.
This phase lures you into the hopes of the possibility of romance. Contact is reciprocal, time is made to see each other, and forward movement is evident. There’s an easy, open connection. The hot phase is designed to get you in the gate that leads to the corral, where you’ll later be harnessed.
Then comes the “cold” phase. Your partner begins to pull away making you long for their previous attention. Whether initiated by a cold-shoulder, avoidance, or lack of communication… the sudden disconnect rattles your confidence.
This phase activates loss, making you yearn for them and wait with bated breath for their call or text. You wonder what happened and begin to question every move you made. Without realizing it, you’ve submitted to their need for emotional and psychological control.
The Hot/Cold Cycle
Hot. Cold. Repeat. These are the basic dance steps to this type of behavior. Each step is a phase, and each phase has a cycle. This formula is predictable and consistent even when your partner’s reactions are not.
The beautiful truth is that this has nothing to do with you. You’re not at fault. There’s nothing you did, or didn’t do, that’s causing this.
Simply put, when you pull away, they’ll re-engage you. When you advance, they’ll pull away. After a cycle or two of this routine you’ll be so confused you won’t know which way to move. The pattern repeats itself for as long as you’re willing to play this game.
The beautiful truth is that this has nothing to do with you. You’re not at fault. There’s nothing you did, or didn’t do, that’s causing this. Don’t let your friends analyze your situation and convince you otherwise. Just notice where you are in the cycle and don’t let it disempower you. Understanding what comes next puts you back in control of your own reactions.
About Your Hot/Cold Partner
There’s a marked difference between a relationship hiccup and the game of hot and cold. Relationship hiccups occur because your partner is emotionally invested, but scared. There’s open communication about their fear. Once stated, the hot phase normally reboots and continues with forward movement. A hot and cold player reverts to cold as the norm, with bursts of hot that don’t result in forward movement.
The cycles of hot and cold may make you feel like the powerless one. It appears as though as though your partner has all the strength. But it’s just the opposite — real power is the ability to maintain intimacy.
The root cause of this behavior is a desperate attempt to gain control over the uncontrollable; love. It’s a way to feel love without getting hurt. But the partner, who’s committed to playing safe, will never allow himself or herself to experience love. They’ll toy at it, dipping their toes in and out of the water without ever getting wet.
The cycles of hot and cold may make you feel like the powerless one. It appears as though as though your partner has all the strength. But it’s just the opposite — real power is the ability to maintain intimacy. Real STRENGTH is the ability to maintain contact. Power and strength of this caliber have no fear of being honest and direct.
Games are an ego default when being “real” feels too scary. Authenticity takes tremendous courage. Being open and honest is a gift that’s born of inner confidence and self-worth. Here’s where the tables turn in your favor. Once you recognize this pattern, you’ve already gained your freedom from the automatic response instigated by your partner’s game.
Handling the Hot/Cold Partner
The best way to handle a hot/cold tug of war is to proceed to honest questioning. Be direct. There’s nothing to lose. Authentic communication reveals your partner’s fears, allowing their concerns to be voiced and worked out while maintaining connection.
Does your questioning meet hostility, defensiveness or resistance? If so, you’ve gained valuable information. This is a partner who’s in the game for an ego boost and doesn’t possess the skill set required for a relationship with you.
Cut your losses and walk away. Your time’s better spent with someone who is capable of honesty, intimacy, and consistent behavior.
After questioning, does your partner react with concern or guilt? Do they reveal their inner conflict? If so, then you may have stumbled upon a highly sensitive and fearful individual. Evaluate your partner carefully. Do they have the capacity for trust? Do they want to explore the possibility of a relationship with you? These are easy questions to ask when you know what you want and what you deserve.
Games are used in lieu of the ability to be real. For those who are straightforward, there’s little interest in anyone who plays games. But knowing of their existence and recognizing their predictable patterns will allow your dating to be a rewarding, rather than confusing, experience.
Originally published at Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission.
What if it happens to you when you are already in a relationship? Is it different then?
This article raises so many questions for me. I feel that my partner is palying this game with me but it makes me question wheter I am playing back in my own version or if it is my self defense mechanism that is kicking in and I turn off to keep from being hurt? My relationship has taken so many hot and cold periods, based on whether my partner feels the need for intimacy or not. In the ‘cold’ periods i shut off and supress any need for physical or emotional connection. And once my partner finally turns on again… Read more »
Thank God, i got this article. I fall in love with my work mate, but we have not been consistent. She can tell me how much she loved me but the next day things get worst again. But I truly love her and wanted to be with her. I don’t know what to do.
Thanks for this article Susan, I seem to have read it at just the right time when I needed a timely reminder not to get pulled back into an on again, off again “relationship” with someone who used to do this to punish me or to gain control. I would be direct with him, as you advise, use honest questioning to get to the bottom of what was going on, and 9 times out o f 10, would be bet with the hostility and defensiveness you talk about. It was pretty clear he did it to get a kick out… Read more »
Well, this explains my last relationship. I don’t think she did it deliberately, but I wasted a lot of time responding in exactly the wrong way. At least I’ll know better for next time.
Hi Erik, and thanks for your note. I found this whole topic to be something we’ve all experienced in dating yet no one seemed to break it down and explain what it was and how to handle it. There’s really no way to keep connected to the type of person who plays hot and cold. The nature of this game disallows consistency, which is the key factor to creating and maintaining a healthy relationship. Thank for your comment! Susan
Thank you, Silke! I really appreciate your comment. The key to handling this dating game is to get to “real.” The only way to do that is to jump off the game board and be direct. That’s empowering, and puts the game to an end. From there, as you’ve stated, the real intimacy can occur. Thank you for taking the time to read the article and to write this post. Susan
This is very much how I felt about the last guy I dated. It was confusing, and it did indeed completely shift the power in the relationship. We went from just enjoying each other to my confusion leading to insecurity that made me want to chase him. Eventually, we broke things off. Much as I liked him, I just couldn’t take it!
Brava Diva! Hi Divorced Kat. It’s a push/pull tactic. Oddly, it’s chosen due to their insecurity which ends up making us feel like the insecure one. It’s really horrible to be in the middle of a hot and cold dating game. So much of what is wonderful is turned to confusion and second guessing ourselves. If our partner can’t find the courage to open up and play for real, there’s no other move to make. You did what you had to do to manage the inevitable. Hot and cold is a game that can’t sustain itself. When a person realizes… Read more »
“real power is the ability to maintain intimacy”