Are You The Pursuer or Distancer in Your Relationship?
Do you find yourself in a vicious cycle of a pursuer-distancer pattern when you argue with your partner? This dynamic in relationships is when the pursuer keeps pushing and trying to seek connection and more interaction during an argument with their partner. The distancer often feels the need for more space and distance. The pursuer often feels dismissed and angrier as the distancer feels attacked and withdraws even more. The more the distancer withdraws the more the pursuer pursues. Pursuing and distancing are common ways that couples deal with stress when they argue or fight. This common pattern is bound to spiral and escalate causing increasingly more contention, misunderstanding, and disconnect in the relationship.
How to Work Through this Unhealthy Pattern:
It’s important that together, the pursuer and distancer agree to work to overcome this negative cycle. Here’s what to do to eliminate the pursuer-distancer pattern:
- Recognize that the pattern exists – often a challenging step for couples is to take ownership and acknowledge how they contribute to this negative dynamic.
- Strategize ways on how to meet your partner half-way – the pursuer and distancer are both responsible for working on their own issues.
- For the pursuer – this person might seek ways to restrain the impulse to want to immediately connect. Pursuing is typically an approach to seek external soothing from others. It is helpful for the pursuer to adopt an alternate strategy, such as developing a softer approach by sharing feelings instead of casting blame or attacking while recognizing that the partner is hurt and may have their own uncommunicated feelings.
- For the distancer – this person can do their part by communicating honestly when feeling upset, bothered or uncomfortable and asking for space and time. But, they need to make their partner feel acknowledged and it’s their responsibility to schedule time to speak when they are ready (usually this should not take more than a few hours/definitely not more than 1 day.)
As a team with your partner, you can transform the cycle.
You can work your way out of this cycle as you structure in this “time out rule” into the relationship. The person who calls the timeout is responsible for setting up a time to talk in the near future. It’s very important that when you decide to take a timeout and talk later, set the time to talk right then. A good time to talk would be in an hour or maybe the next day depending on the mood of your current discussion. This way you feel secure that you will have the opportunity to communicate your subjective experiences and feelings to each other.
Strong relationships can transcend the stress with mutual respect and appreciation after understanding each other. The cycle is broken when the pursuer’s needs for attention and affection are met while the distancer gets the space to come forward, trusting that he or she will not be criticized or attacked. Working on communication issues with your partner requires patience, understanding, and kindness on your relationship journey together.