How A Pursuer-Distancer Dynamic In A Relationship Can Cause Problems

Conflict is natural in any relationship, but with a pursuer and distance dynamic, it becomes all the more challenging to deal with it. According to therapist and author of the book, “Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up,” Dr. Harriet Lerner, someone who pursues is anxious about feeling disconnected from their partner during conflict and their response is to try to move closer to their partner so they can fix things. They do this by forcing communication and connection and may even criticize their partner as being emotionally unavailable. The distancer in the equation pulls back, emotionally and physically, perhaps because they’re uncomfortable with being vulnerable or simply because they want some time to work things through in their head. Problems arise when each person’s default response to conflict becomes a kind of self-reinforcing pattern and the cycle continues every single time. Sometimes, the pursuer can get tired of seeking connection and shut down, which can cause the distancer to take on a pursuing role.

When one partner feels ignored and the other feels overwhelmed, it is easy for both to develop contempt toward the other. You might hear yourself asking your partner, “Why aren’t you telling me how you feel about this whole thing?” A distancer might simply reply, “There’s nothing to talk about. Leave me alone.” Meeting in the middle can hold the key to solving the problem.

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