Are you Stuck in a Pursuer-Distancer Relationship Pattern?
Many relationships run into trouble because one partner seeks more closeness while the other seeks more distance. It's a cycle that psychologists call a pursuer-distancer dynamic.
Typically, during the initial infatuation stage, you both want to spend as much as time as possible together. Then, reality sets in. One partner feels like they're not getting enough attention, and the other feels suffocated. The more the pursuer clings and nags, the more the distancer criticizes and pulls away.
To make things more complicated, the roles can sometimes change during the course of the relationship. For example, when the pursuer decides to move on, the distancer may suddenly start trying to win them back.
Minor fluctuations are natural in any relationship, but this cycle can become destructive if it becomes too intense or persistent. If you see such warning signs in your relationship, try these more effective methods for staying close.
Steps to Take When You're the Pursuer:
1. Meet your own needs. Be honest with yourself about how much you’re expecting from your partner. You may be exhausting them if you’re placing excessive demands on the relationship. Try making new friends, cultivating outside interests, and fixing your own dilemmas.
2. Ask for what you want. Your partner is more likely to respond to polite and reasonable requests than nagging and vague hints. Make it clear that you’re asking for something, rather than putting them down.
3. Level the field. Who texts more in your relationship? A slight disparity may be insignificant, but if you’re reaching out too much, you may need to exercise some restraint. Resist the impulse to leave repetitive messages just because you want assurance. Try to match each other’s communication frequencies.
4. Back off. It’s essential to talk things over, but you also want to choose the appropriate time. If your partner seems overwhelmed, encourage them to take a break. Schedule your sensitive discussions for a time when you both feel up to the task.
Steps to Take When You're the Distancer:
1. Build trust. You’ll miss out on love if you try to protect yourself by holding back. Instead, learn to trust by remembering that you’re strong enough to deal with disappointments. Notice how your partner shows their concern and good intentions, and treat them with compassion when they make a mistake.
2. Share your feelings. Risk being vulnerable. Start small and work your way up to the deeper issues.
3. Show affection. Let your partner know you appreciate them and find them attractive. Hold hands at the movies or give them a hug when they come home. Make eye contact when they’re talking and ask questions that prove you’re listening.
4. Spend time together. Share your time. Plan a romantic weekend if you’ve been working extra hours for the past month. Wake up early on weekdays so you can get together for breakfast.
Steps to Take in any Relationship:
1. Hold yourself accountable. Focus on how your behavior contributes to the dynamics in your relationship, rather than blaming your partner. You have more control over your own choices.
2. Spot your triggers. Increase your awareness of how you may be inadvertently sabotaging your happiness. Notice when you’re trying to get your own way by checking in too often or withholding affection.
3. Work together. Remember that you’re on the same side. Support each other as you’re trying to develop healthier patterns of interaction.
A healthy relationship allows you and your partner to balance your needs for autonomy and intimacy. Replace the pursuer-distancer cycle with more open and respectful communication so you can both enjoy more love and satisfaction. Working with a qualified relationship coach or therapist can help you (and your partner) learn new communication techniques that can help improve the quality of your relationship.