Is the pursuer/distancer dynamic poisoning your relationship?
Do you feel like your partner is smothering you, just being too needy? Do you feel like your spouse is just moving farther away, and any attempts to build closeness are just rebuffed? In therapy, we can work to help you and your spouse build healthier attachment styles that may be able to improve your relationship or save your marriage.
After the initial infatuation or honeymoon stage in a relationship, attachment hormones begin to return to normal levels. As one partner begins to settle in, and begins to return to a wide range of interests and pursuits, the other partner may become insecure about the relationship. The anxious partner seeks to allay anxiety by reaching out for more contact and more intimacy. However, when one spouse is too demanding, the second spouse can feel smothered and react by withdrawing.
Each attempt by the anxious partner to pursue closeness in the relationship triggers a reaction — more distance! When the anxious spouse responds by upping the ante, the second spouse tends to withdraw even more. The cycle of pursuit followed by distance is born.
Spouses can respond to pursuit by creating distance
Learn to recognize behaviors that can create distance in your marriage, such as becoming a workaholic or obsessions with hobbies, or becoming overly involved with your wider circle of family or friends. Recognizing the cycle of pursuit followed by distancing, means that you are on the way to recovery and to working towards saving your marriage.
Can you recognize yourself in this case study?
Phil is feeling left out and a bit anxious because Samantha has picked up her circle of friends. They seem to be spending more time together! Seeking reassurance, Phil puts new demands on Samantha. Samantha responds by working longer hours and spending even more time with her friends. As a reaction, Phil ratchets up his demands and becomes needier. He texts and calls often during the workday. Feeling smothered, Samantha withdraws by staying later at work and going out after work with friends.
The distance-pursuer cycle can spiral out of control
Left alone, you and your spouse can easily spiral farther and farther apart. Paradoxically, this cycle sabotages the intimacy that the needy partner so craves.
In couples therapy, you and your spouse can gain the insights needed to break the cycle.
Are you a pursuer or a distancer?
Pursuers want and demand attention and affection. If the pursuer senses that her spouse is trying to withdraw, the pursuer may react by complaining or criticizing.
The distancer in the relationship is wired to respond to anxiety. When the pursuer is “too much”, the distancer withdraws into work or hobbies ever more intensely.
Therapy may be able to help you break the cycle
Pursuers seek to be reassured. In therapy, pursuers can learn to mitigate or avoid feelings of anxiety without demanding that their spouse actually do the soothing.
Pursuers can be very critical. In therapy, pursuers can learn to be critical in a more effective manner. The distancer can learn to speak up when he is feeling smothered.
Just as the distancer-pursuer cycle can build, hurting your marriage, the inverse is also true. As the pursuer learns skills and builds trusts, the partner is able to provide the emotional space needed to save your marriage. This positive cycle will build-in intimacy, trust and safety in the relationship.
Get help to save your marriage
Contact us today to talk more about what to expect in couples counseling, and please, do not hesitate any longer. Call now to make an appointment, or just fill out the contact form and click send.
Dr. Dana Harron is the founder of Monarch Wellness. She is here to help you and your partner develop positive ways to relate with each other and be together in order to rediscover the joy and friendship that first attracted you to each other.
Dr. Heather Leahy is a Certified Level One Gottman Couples Therapist. She works to promote intimacy, rebuild trust, and help you regain friendship in your relationship.
Dr. Maury Joseph provides therapy where you will feel emotionally supported and appropriately challenged to achieve change. He draws upon models of psychotherapy that can help you change the patterns that are keeping you stuck.