“I’m coming over. I need to talk.”
I don’t think I’m ever going to forget getting that text on a sunny Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago. Tom and I had been dating for three months at that point. I knew him well enough to know what he probably wanted to talk about: he was getting cold feet about dating. On our first date, he was very up-front with me. Tom had been on several one-time dates in the six months before we met, but he hadn’t dated anyone at all for five years before that. He’d been focusing on going back to school and launching his career in a new industry instead. His long break from dating was always in the back of my mind, but we had such a strong connection that I didn’t think about it much in the three months we were together.
The whole break-up discussion lasted about half an hour. Tom was so upset he could barely talk. The problem wasn’t with anything I did, he told me over and over. He just didn’t think he was ready to be in a relationship at all.
Getting cold feet about continuing a relationship is something we usually associate with big milestones, like moving in together or getting married, but overwhelming doubts without a clear problem source can strike at any time in a relationship.
So what happens when your boyfriend gets cold feet? How do you get him back?
* Remember it’s probably not something you did.
When a partner gets cold feet without other issues in the relationship, it’s easy to look at yourself for faults. Even if you were the absolutely perfect partner, your ex being on-board with the direction of your relationship one day and backing out the next is more about how he sees himself than how he sees you. If you focus too much on what you could have done differently or ways you could have been better, you keep yourself from moving forward and taking the necessary steps to get back together when he’s ready.
* Don’t deny his feelings or bargain away your own.
Even if his reasons for breaking up a good thing seem short-sighted or like minor issues, don’t tell your ex that his feelings are wrong or don’t matter. It’s impossible to use logic to talk someone out of their emotions; those are two very different but essential brain functions. Instead of asking him to explain or justify his decision, ask questions about how he feels, how long he’s been doubting the relationship, and what events made him feel this way most recently. By not denying his emotions, you show him that it’s safe for him to tell you how he feels. This is especially helpful if he realizes a few days or weeks later what a mistake he’s made by leaving. He’ll know you will accept him back without making him feel silly or broken because of his doubts.
At the same time, it’s not all about him. Breaking up, especially when it’s unexpected, hurts. Putting on a brave face and pretending that it doesn’t robs you of being able to tell someone who’s very important in your life how you feel. If you ever hope to rebuild emotional intimacy and trust with your boyfriend, honestly sharing how you feel, even if it’s negative, is essential.
* Give him space.
The natural reaction to someone leaving is to chase after him. This backfires spectacularly in the case of cold feet, where his doubts about where your relationship is going are telling him to flee instead of fix the problem. Even though your intention is to fix the relationship, pursuing him will make him feel like he still hasn’t gotten away and he’ll run more. Keep the initial break-up conversation as short and to-the-point as you can while still letting both of you express how you feel. Don’t ask the same question twice. After the break-up, don’t contact him at all for several days unless absolutely necessary, like for arranging a time to return belongings or for one of you to move. If you do have to communicate with him, don’t say anything about your relationship – stick to the practical details.
* Tell him you miss him.
After a few days of not being in contact, your life may seem like it’s full of big, empty spaces that used to be taken up by spending time with your ex. Even when a relationship is toxic and needs to end, it’s a huge adjustment to go from spending hours a week with someone to not having him around at all. Even though he’s the one who ended things, he feels the same way about you because you’re missing from the daily routine of his life, too.
When you feel that enough time has passed for his original feelings from the day of the break-up have faded and missing you has set in, get back in contact. Text is the least confrontational way, since you can each reply at your own pace. Keep things simple, only a message or two to open up communication again. Tell him one specific thing that you miss about him. “I ordered pizza tonight, but you weren’t here to eat my leftover crusts, I’ve been thinking about you a lot,” connects him back to your shared past much more than “I miss you.” Absolutely do not ask him to get back together, or he’ll run away again. Let him come to you.
The point of taking these steps after your boyfriend gets cold feet is to show him that the two of you are alike, not different, and that your relationship is stronger than he thinks.
* By keeping the focus in the initial break-up on him and how he feels rather than on you and what you could have done differently, you keep the discussion in the present, not the past.
* Listening to and respecting the way he feels while also expressing your own emotions about the break-up shows him that you have similar concerns: hurt, sadness, and disappointment over things not working out as you both planned before. A partner getting cold feet in your relationship is usually a surprise not because he went to bed one night secure in the relationship and woke up feeling trapped in the morning; he’s probably been having these feelings for some time but hiding them. Talking them out shows that your relationship can survive tough discussions, which will make him more likely to try again while being more open with his feelings.
* Giving him space shows him that you will listen when he says he needs something and make it happen.
* Telling him honestly that you miss him when you do (and he misses you) proves that the two of you are going through the same emotions at the same time. Using specific examples reminds him of your shared past, just when he’s feeling your absence in his life the most.
Everyone recovers from cold feet at their own pace. By making sure he knows that the two of you are alike and moving in the same direction, it will be easier for your ex-boyfriend to see himself back in a relationship with you.
What about Tom? Last night, I texted him to tell him I missed him. Today, he told me that he misses me, too.