Author: Sarah Meyer & Renée Shen
If you’re like most women, you’ve probably been in a situation where a man has been acting “hot and cold” with you, and you're now asking yourself: "why is he hot and cold?"
This can be a completely normal thing to experience, and it can come down to the natural differences between men and women.
In some cases, a man might not have any idea that he’s acting in a way that you perceive as hot and cold- he may just be doing what feels right to him.
This kind of behaviour can also, however, be a sign of an abusive relationship. Or perhaps more commonly, it can mean that a man isn’t in love with you, and is using you instead.
How do we tell the difference?
As we go through 6 no-BS reasons why he is hot and cold with you, you will see that there are a lot of different ways for a man to show up as “hot and cold”.
We may not always be talking about the same thing. So if you want to understand your man’s behaviour, maybe the best thing you can do is to understand where he’s coming from in acting like this, and what it actually means that he’s running hot and cold with you.
Here are some patterns that we might refer to as “hot and cold”:
As you can see, some of these patterns are very different from one another, and may be explained by completely different psychology.
So as we look at some reasons why he is hot and cold with you, let’s think about which kinds of actions might fit with each reason.
But just before we do that, you might find it helpful to know, especially when you have a hot and cold guy, that there’s one specific emotional trigger that makes a man emotionally to commit to you…
Before we try to understand any man’s behaviour and answer the question of why is he hot and cold, it’s important to be aware that men can approach relationships and dating very differently to women.
In particular, although they fall in love just as hard as women do or maybe harder, men may not spend as much time thinking about love and relationships as women.
When we think back to our ancestors, the hunter-gatherers, we can see how men evolved their capacity to focus on work, or more specifically, hunting.
Being able to get into “work mode” and produce results of value, was extremely important, not only to the individual man and his own survival and reproductive success, but to everyone in the tribe.
Of course, women worked too, but they probably did not have to earn their place in the tribe in the same ways that men did.
Even if a woman did nothing else, she was, on average, still valuable for her capacity to bear children.
But men who didn’t contribute anything and had no real domain of competence, may have faced exclusion, death, or even capital punishment.
Evolutionary psychologist Richard Wrangham has argued that capital punishment may have been a pervasive way of punishing immoral behaviour in primal environments.
What this means, in practical terms, is that a man can be deeply in love, but he isn’t necessarily going to stay in that place of hanging on to every word and soaking up every detail forever.
He is going to feel an internal pull to get back to work and make something of himself. After all, in hunter-gatherer times, he might have died if he didn’t.
This answers, at least to some extent, the inquiry, why is he hot and cold.
And while he will not likely abandon you if he truly loves you, there will certainly be times where a man shifting focus from relationship mode to work mode can feel like hot and cold behaviour.
This is mostly a matter of perception.
If you could think like a man for a day, you’d probably see that he does still love you and isn’t purposely acting hot and cold.
You would see that he has no intention of hurting you, and that he doesn’t even realise that you have noticed a change in him.
If your man is acting hot and cold for this reason, but he always comes back to you after getting into work mode for a little while, you probably have nothing to worry about.
I don’t want to offer false reassurance, so I want to make it really clear what I’m talking about here.
I’m not talking about a man disappearing because “work was really busy” for 3 weeks and not texting or calling you.
Unless you are in the early dating stages, and probably not even then, that is unlikely to be about work.
That particular scenario may be more about just keeping you around to get his sexual needs met, or enjoying your company without commitment.
I’m talking about a pattern where a man is consistently present, interested, and affectionate with you, but goes through short periods where he’s a little less focused on you.
With my boyfriend, going into “work mode” might mean he’s a bit more serious, more intense and less relaxed and cuddly.
He might spend less time with me, but he never disappears.
If I need him, he is always there. Depending on the level of commitment in your relationship, this will look different, but generally speaking, men don’t just forget about women they are in love with or are falling in love with. They don’t want to risk letting you go.
So there’s a little bit of nuance to this, and that’s where we have to trust our gut and sometimes, just wait and see what happens.
But often, a man who is focused on work can have the woman in his life wondering why he is hot and cold, when he’s actually just trying to make a contribution and maybe even make himself into a good provider for her.
This just seems like hot and cold behaviour to us women, because we are happy to stay in relationship mode more of the time.
If this is what’s happening in your relationship, the best thing you can do is understand and accept it.
If you try to keep a man in deep connection with you all the time, he may get resentful and frustrated, or, perhaps worse, he may no longer act like the man you were attracted to in the first place.
He may neglect his ambition and become complacent- which will only make both you and him miserable in the long run.
Instead, do your best to understand. Dig deep and really immerse yourself in his perspective as much as you are able to, as it will allow you to internalise the answers to why is he hot and cold.
Read song lyrics and listen to podcasts that help you get a feel for the terrible pain and emptiness that men experience when they feel like a loser or a failure.
These Travis Tritt lyrics give us some idea of what he’s thinking when he’s trying to provide for you and feels like he hasn’t done enough:
“I had big plans for our future
Said I'd give you the whole world somehow
I tried makin' good on that promise
Thought I'd be so much further by now
Never could build you a castle
Even though you're the queen of my heart
But I've had the best of intentions from the start"
“Now some people think I'm a loser
'Cause I seldom get things right
But you make me feel like a winner
When you wrap me in your arms so tight
Please tell me you will remember
No matter how much I do wrong
That I had the best of intentions all along”
True hot and cold behaviour, rather than the difference in focus that I described above, is more likely to indicate that a man is not committed to you and may not be in love with you.
This is where we need to be really clear about what hot and cold behaviour looks like, and to pay attention to your gut feelings and intuitions about what your man wants from you.
See, if you are willing to accept hot and cold treatment from a man (aside from his need to focus on work from time to time), you are actually communicating that you don’t expect him to take better care of you.
And this means that he’s able to keep you in his life and take from you as it suits him, without giving you more than the minimum that you will put up with.
If you aren’t attuned to this dynamic and are suppressing your need to test him (at least to a point), you could continue in a situation like this for years and years without even realising that your man was never invested in you.
If you’re currently unsure whether your man is invested in you and whether he will eventually commit or not, I recommend taking our quick quiz to find out:
QUIZ TIME: Is your man serious about committing to you? CLICK HERE to find out with this specially crafted quiz!
If a man is using you, he will be hot and cold in the sense that he will:
This kind of behaviour is a sign that a man does not love you.
He might like you, and he might treat you well sometimes because you are a valuable resource for him, but your relationship has likely not inspired the passionate, sometimes sacrificial devotion that you’d see if he were truly invested in you.
In this sense, if you’re thinking about why he is hot and cold, it can be a warning to you to re-evaluate your relationship without wishful thinking. Consider what he wants from you.
What are his actions aimed at?
If he’s hot and cold in these aforementioned ways, he’s aiming to meet his needs and keep you content so that he can continue to just keep you around for his benefit.
If he were aiming for a deep emotional connection with you, or trying to get you to trust him and open up to him, he would be doing things differently.
And perhaps, with another woman, he would do that without holding back, because she inspired it in him without him even realising what had happened.
If this describes your situation, just know that there is absolutely no reason for you to stay here.
There will be other men out there who will fall in love with you and be available to connect with you, consistently.
There is no imperative to accept a lousy deal, no matter how old you are or how scared you might be.
The more you willingly accept a lousy deal now, the less likely you are to be able to attract a good deal later on with a high value man.
This is because the longer we accept being given crumbs, the more it makes us accept lesser treatment.
Consequently, our self esteem lowers whether we like it or not, and the more our actions show that we are low value to men.
If women get used to taking crumbs, they’ll believe that’s what they’re worth, and this belief will manifest in low self esteem, low confidence and worse: even low value behaviour.
Low value behavior is the last thing you want to exhibit in dating, as it repels the best men away from you, instead attracting the worst types of men (men who want to use you and perhaps abuse you).
By the way, did you know that there are 7 Common Signs that a woman is perceived as low value to all men?
Do You Know What They Are & How to Avoid Them Like the Plague?
(Why is this important? Because men and women perceive value very differently and you don’t want to be making mistakes that would cause quality men to dismiss, abandon or alienate you.)
Worse than just using you, another answer to the mystery of why is he hot and cold, is because he’s trying to control you.
Disclaimer: most men will not do this. Most men, even the selfish ones, are not interested in controlling or manipulating a woman for the sake of it.
A small minority- narcissistic or sociopathic men, however, may purposely or intuitively run hot and cold patterns in order to keep you where they want you.
These patterns will look a little different to the ones I described for the previous reason, although they will usually include some of those as well.
Some examples of hot and cold behaviour that are more specific to narcissistic or sociopathic men include:
If your man is doing these things, it is because either consciously or subconsciously, he wants to feel like he has the power in the relationship.
This may be because he doesn’t have much actual value to add to your life, and he’s wanting to distract you from that fact with games that amplify your emotions about him.
For example, a man like this knows that if he ignores you for a while, you will feel elated when he finally gives you some attention or does something nice for you.
And you’ll associate those positive feelings with him. This is how a trauma bond works.
Women can act like this too, and it may be the case that when your man acts hot and cold, you start to do so as well, because you get sucked into his pattern.
In any case, if you’re wondering why he is so hot and cold with you, and it seems like he’s trying to control you and to mess with your emotions, you may be in a toxic relationship.
Toxic relationships can be really hard to leave, but are also very difficult to salvage. I have written a 7 step guide on how to identify and break a trauma bond here.
By now, many women would still be looking for more answers to the question, why is he hot and cold.
Well, a man can also act hot and cold if your relationship is stressing him out, or you are continually doing things that take value from him.
If he loves you, it might take a lot for him to consider leaving you, but he might compensate for the repeated stress by pulling away from the relationship more frequently.
He might also resort to stonewalling (the silent treatment) or distracting himself with other things.
While this is not a good way of handling conflict, if you’re in a committed relationship and you’re wondering why he is hot and cold, it may be worth looking at your own actions.
If you are being very critical towards your man, for example, he might be experiencing feelings of failure when he’s around you, and even though he loves you and wants to please you, he might feel hurt and scared.
Feelings of fear and failure can sometimes produce outwardly cold behaviour, because the person shuts down and withdraws out of fear of making any more mistakes.
This is particularly common for men, who may not be connected to their negative emotions, or be able to express them in the same ways that women do.
Generally speaking, if you and your man have had a lot of negative interactions recently, there may be bad associations built up in the relationship.
When the relationship has been good in the past and there are positive associations built up as well, this is a recipe for hot and cold behaviour.
Some of the things that can trigger fear and withdrawal in men (cold behaviour) include:
If you think these things could be the reason why he is acting hot and cold, you may need to adjust your own mindset and behaviour.
Perhaps all of your complaints against your man are fair and just from your perspective, but sometimes, people just can’t handle the pressure of trying to be perfect.
And, if we truly love them, should they have to?
Or can we give them the benefit of the doubt sometimes, because of all the times they have earned that from us?
I think this is something that most women in relationships need to watch out for.
It’s a very easy pattern to slip into- expecting your man to make no mistakes and not letting him get away with anything, while at the same time taking it for granted that he will forgive your own mistakes.
A useful way of resetting a relationship where this kind of behaviour has built up, is to try not to say anything critical of your husband or boyfriend for a whole month.
That might sound a little crazy- but it really isn’t, and it can be very transformative.
It really is okay to let go of control, and allow your man to take responsibility for himself.
Even if he doesn’t “improve”, at least you know more about him and his patterns and intentions, so you can make better decisions for your relationship going forward.
Finally, a man could be acting hot and cold because he is insecurely attached.
Attachment styles are general patterns that shape our behaviour in close relationships- and are thought to form in infancy and early childhood through the maternal bond.
If the man you are thinking of has experienced childhood abuse, neglect, or emotionally distant/authoritarian parenting, he may have an insecure attachment style, and may experience a lot of (sometimes unconscious) anxiety and avoidance around intimacy.
He might also exhibit these kinds of patterns if he has been through a bad divorce or an abusive romantic relationship.
An anxious or avoidant attachment style can produce hot and cold behaviour, because the affected individual may be hyper-sensitive to cues related to rejection or obligation.
In other words, a man might over-analyze your relationship and decide that you aren’t that into him and you’re going to hurt him- even when you think you’ve shown him plenty of interest.
This could mean that he withdraws out of nowhere.
Or, he might be likely to interpret your behaviour as “too clingy” or suffocating, even when you’ve shown him an appropriate amount of affection, or simply have a normal desire for a committed relationship.
He could also exhibit a jagged and odd type of behavior around intimacy, where one minute he seems to be very loving, and the next, if you try to deepen the intimacy, he seems to retreat in fear or anxiety.
These attitudes are not about you, so much as they are about his own fears and past experiences.
As his fears come in and out, and he has to juggle them with his interest in you, a hot and cold pattern could emerge.
It can be difficult to know, however, if a man is acting hot and cold with you for these reasons.
Too often, we can assume that a man “has trauma” or an avoidant attachment style, when he actually just isn’t that into you.
So while it can be good to keep these things in mind, it’s important not to make too many excuses for him.
If he loves you, or is falling in love with you, he will take pains to try to explain his hot and cold behaviour and let you know that it isn’t because he doesn’t care.
Even if he does this poorly or clumsily, he will make that effort- provided, of course, you show him how you feel.
It’s also important to know that if you yourself have an anxious attachment style, or ar insecurely attached, you may trigger him even more and “inspire” more hot and cold behavior from him.
So it’s very important that you know your own attachment style, and try to develop an “earned” secure attachment.
When you’re more securely attached, your man will also feel safer investing in the relationship.
Yes, even if he’s insecurely attached!
So I recommend that you learn your own attachment style and how to heal it. You’re in luck because we have a women-specific quiz on this that will help you discover your own attachment style:
(Why is this important? It is because your core attachment style largely dictates and influences what happens in your relationship. Thus it’s imperative you understand your core attachment style!)
There are many reasons why he is so hot and cold- and these reasons are very important when we consider how to respond to his behaviour.
Sometimes, for example, your man might have a legitimate reason for acting this way- it may be that he has normal masculine habits that result in a difference in focus, interest, and information processing.
Other times, though, hot and cold behaviour can mean that you are dealing with a man who might be abusive, or simply isn’t going to commit to you.
As you work out what is going on, and think about how to respond, remember that if you are honest and vulnerable in your own reaction, you will know much more about where you stand with him than if you try to pretend you don’t care.
Trying to pretend you don’t care is how you waste years of your life with someone who may not even love you.
So what can you do when your guy is so hot and cold?
Well, without blaming or criticising him, it can be very helpful to simply feel.
Feel the emotions that come up naturally for you when he acts hot and cold with you.
Feel the fear of abandonment, the confusion, the hurt, and allow it to surface in a non-violent way.
For example, you could simply cry, or you could write him a letter, or you could even express your anger towards him so long as you don’t blame and abuse him in the process.
Once you’ve done this, his response should give you a lot more information about why he is so hot and cold with you.
Sarah is a Shen Wade Media Certified Coach.
She has a Masters in psychology and works as a special education advisor in early childhood. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her partner and two children.
She has a passion for evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and personality psychology.
Author & Editor For National Council for Research on Women. Founder of the popular women's dating & relationship advice website, The Feminine Woman and co-founder of NCRW.
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