The Truth Behind That Sudden Breakup

You’ve been dating for a few weeks or months and having a great time, when suddenly he stops calling. Just like that.

You’ve been together for years, and while it’s not a perfect relationship, you’re content enough, and you think she is, too. So why is she asking for a divorce?

Sudden break-ups are as bewildering as they are hurtful. They leave you feeling betrayed and distrustful. After all, if you can’t rely on your own perceptions of a relationship’s satisfaction, what can you rely on?

If you’ve ever been befuddled by the shocking disappearance of a date or a mate, let’s help you make sense of what happened, and what to do about it.

The Dance-away Lover

When you’ve been seeing someone for a while and all is going well, it’s hard to imagine somebody running. Yet some lovers blithely dance away without a word of explanation, leaving you unnerved, trying to figure out what happened. Both men and women get caught up in obsessing over the dancer’s motives, ruminating over every word spoken, every tiny disagreement – and wearing out friends’ patience with endless analyses of possible motives for the disappearance. In every case, that’s a lot of wasted energy. Here’s why: there are only four key reasons someone disappears early on in a budding relationship – and what you need to know and do about them are all exactly the same.

  • Reasons You’ll Never Guess: Dumb and superficial reasons, like: you snore. You don’t like Thai food. He’d rather shag a supermodel. Whatever the rationale, you’ll never know because he is too ashamed of his own pettiness to admit it.

What to do: Get over it. Stop trying to figure him/her out. Next!

  • Chased/Unchaste: Someone else has been pursuing your gal with feverish interest, and she likes being pursued better than anything. Or maybe she’s the one doing the chasing. Either way, as chaser or chased, it’s hot new blood that warms all her extremities…and off she goes.

What to do: Get over it. Stop trying to figure him/her out. Next!

  • Stinkin’ Instinct: Something isn’t quite right…isn’t totally clicking. You both sense it, but you’re inclined to play things out, banking on improvement. She lacks patience, or is following a gut instinct that says you aren’t a keeper. Trouble is, she isn’t gutsy enough to talk about her vague feelings. So she stops returning your calls, cancels plans, and tries to fade away. Like, maybe you won’t notice?

What to do: Get over it. Stop trying to figure him/her out. Next!

  • Scared Kissless: Gosh, he really, really likes you – but you’re cramping his style. His crew is howling because he hangs out with you so much, plus, he’s getting antsy over the “C” word (commitment…but “crew” fits, too). Finally, he panics and heads for the hills…er, the pub…with his boys, of course.

What to do: Get over it. Stop trying to figure him out. (Sometimes the “him” is a her, but this style is usually male).

Here’s the bottom line: Someone who doesn’t have the chops to tell you cleanly why the relationship isn’t working for them is not worth the expenditure of energy that psychoanalyzing his or her motives will cost you. The most you can learn from this experience is to let go gracefully; to keep from emotionally malingering in a relationship that no longer exists – and it doesn’t matter why. You may hurt, even grieve, but maintain dignity and never let him/her see you sweat. Or cry. Or scream.

The Dance of Denial

The long-term relationship that ends with a (seemingly) sudden break-up is quite different from the dating scenario. Rather than dancing away wordlessly, the unhappy partner has probably been expressing dissatisfaction for many months or years to someone who doesn’t take her seriously or chooses to deny problems instead of actively tackling them. The spouse who says, “It’s over” is actually saying “I’ve had enough!” Yet, to her mate, the ending seems like it’s out of the blue because he’s been tuning out blatant clues all along.

This pattern most often plays out in hetero relationships with the woman initiating the break-up and the man being dumbfounded. Often, men enter therapy over this kind of loss. Blindsided and bewildered, they’ll say things like, “I don’t understand what happened. Sure, we had our problems like any couple, but I wasn’t unhappy and I didn’t think she was, either.” Only as the therapist begins to dig deeper is it revealed that the woman had been expressing her discontent for a long time, and her guy had dismissed her as “having had a bad day,” or “one of her fits.” He didn’t listen; he didn’t want to hear what she was saying.

Understandably, no man wants to believe that there’s a crisis in paradise when he isn’t miserable himself – thus, the pattern of negating his partner’s upset keeps his own boat from rocking. Ironically, it’s this pattern of denial, of reframing her unhappiness as something transient, that knocks the relationship off its foundation. Feeling that her spouse belittles her concerns and shirks accountability for his role in their difficulties, she loses faith in her man and in their relationship. When she makes a unilateral decision to end it, he’s dumbstruck, because he had convinced himself that everything was ok.

Once she’s out the door it’s probably too late to make amends, but if any of this sounds familiar, and you’re lucky enough to get another chance (either with her or someone else) you can learn from past mistakes. Key lesson: not listening when a woman tells you she’s unhappy is a whopper of an error. The price of denial and inattention is a steep one – but you won’t have to pay it if you listen closely and address problems before they multiply.

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