Episode 17 - Pursuer and Distancer

You are so low maintenance and easy going with this Holiday!

Hey everyone, welcome to BWBL episode 17. I am really excited to talk to you guys again, and I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day; if it is something that you celebrate. It is something that Jake and I kinda celebrate, although the other day, he told me something about how “low maintenance and easy going I am with the holiday”, and I was like OMG I don’t know if anyone would ever describe me as one of those things LOL! I thought, “What is going on!” But, I think  honestly, with Jake’s schedule and we just got back from a wonderful trip in Italy, and have a couple cool trips coming up this summer, it just wasn’t super important to me to make reservations as a restaurant or doing any really big gifts or something like that.

We just had a low-key day at home, which was really nice. I just tried cooking a couple new recipes and it was just wonderful. So, I hope however you guys celebrated it was really nice and if you guys don’t celebrate, I get that too. There are a lot of people who don’t celebrate it! I think if it weren’t for me, Jake wouldn’t celebrate it! He kind of considers it another “Hallmark” holiday. Which, hey, I am a big Hallmark fan, so I am all aboard. But, anyways, we are all in different places on that, I guess, anyways, I hope you had a good day!

Hopefully, I can obliterate that!

Today, we are going to be talking about the pursuer and distancer pattern that comes up a lot in different relationships. So, much of this could be super normal.

So, in conflict, one of the things that happens, typically there is one partner who will kind of pull away or withdraw and then the other partner will kind of try to lean in and grasp on to the partner, so we call that the pursuer and distancer pattern.

There are certainly some relationships where both partners can be the pursuer and or distancer, but for the most part there is one pursuer and one distancer. Most of the time in a heterosexual relationship, the women is going to be the pursuer, and the man is going to be the distancer.

Now, hopefully I can obliterate all of that in terms of generalization, because in mine and Jake’s relationship, we are the opposite. Jake is a little bit more of the pursuer, and I am a little bit more of the distancer. Now, I am not sure how much this relates to our own attachment styles or the possibility that I am far more introverted than Jake and so, even though he still tests as an introvert, I tested very high as an introvert. I tested in the 85-90% as an introvert and I think Jake tested a little over the 50%. So, something to that effect, and I don’t know how much of that is related to that.

In conflict, I am often the one who needs a bit more time and space to mull over how I am feeling, think about any feedback that Jake has given me, sometimes I just need time to calm down a little bit. As introverted as I am, I have very strong emotions about certain things. Since there are just a couple of hot topics in mine and Jake’s marriage, there are some things that I need a little bit of time to calm down before I am really able to talk about them in a healthy way.

Jake, being less introverted, I won’t necessarily call him an extrovert - he is just less introverted- and he is very much community oriented. It was funny, we had a day off together a few weeks ago and I think I had a bunch of errands to run that day, and he just said something like, “hey, do you want me to go to the grocery store with you?” And I know Jake, and I know that was his way of saying that he wanted to go to the grocery store with me, not that he was just offering and had time availability or if I wanted him to go with me. He knew that if I had it my own way, that I would say “yes that would be great!” And I would give him half of my grocery list, and I would take the other half and we would divide and conquer. But, because I know Jake and I know that he is all about community, I knew that was his way of wanting to do something together.

So, we went to the grocery store and we hung out the entire time, and we went through the whole grocery list together, down each aisle and I am sure that it just took an extra two minutes and we had a wonderful time.

Jake being less introverted he is much more about community, so for him  when there is conflict he really wants to talk about it and resolve it; really as fast as possible so that he can get back to that sense of connection.

So, here is kinda the interesting thing, pursuers and distancers really, for the most part, want the same thing. They want connection with their partners, they want to get back on the same page with their partners; it is just how they go about it that is quite different.

In some regards, a pursuer who is kind of doing this in an unhealthy way they could push and push and push and push; and eventually push their partner away. Whereas a distancer might withdraw, withdraw, withdraw, withdraw; and eventually they have lost their partner because they have withdrawn so much.

But if we can find that healthy medium, we can find ways of getting reconnected through pursuit of our partners, getting reconnected that way. Also, with a temporary amount of time, I think I wouldn’t call it withdrawing, I would call it reflection, a little time to reflect. So, that is kinda the thing with pursuers and distancers.

The really cool thing about it is there are a lot of resources out there. Gottman resources has a blog about the pursuer/distancer. There is also in couples therapy that is called the Emotion Focused Therapy by Sue Johnson. She is kind of a pioneer in the field, she has written a few books on. I think one of the titles is Hold me Tight, that she is really well known for, talks about this pattern.

Risk and Vulnerability

The thing I notice about this pattern a lot with my clients is that there is risk with this pattern, a lot of vulnerability. If you are someone who is a bit more concerned with this, you might be someone who is like, “I need to pull away before this person can hurt me.” Or” I am gonna pull away before the other person pulls away first.” Or “I need to control this situation”, or “I need to force them to talk to me about this.” “I am gonna text them nonstop, call them 15 times, send them “x” amount of emails, I am gonna show up at work.”

Again, knowing that each one of those things is a part of risk and vulnerability in that we want to connect with our partners. We, in times of conflict, especially in unhealthy conflict, we can feel such a sense of disconnect. We can feel a lot of doubt and a lot of concern about the relationship. We can express this in some really unhealthy ways.

So, here is what we do, we lean in towards solutions of turning towards our partners, especially in case of a distancer, such as myself. I really had to learn to say, “hey, for whatever reason, I am feeling really heated about this topic and I want to make sure that we talk about this in a healthy and productive way. I think I just need a couple of hours and then I will be able to talk about it. Can we resume this evening?” Or “I am just going to go into this other room for a few minutes and I will definitely come out and talk with you about this. I am not going to leave this unresolved.” We need to let our pursuer partners know what is going on, otherwise it can lead to stonewalling.

So, for our pursuers, we need that vulnerability. We need that trust. We need the availability to give our partners the space for them to take whatever time they need so that they can reconnect with us. Ideally, this is going to be much less than 24 hours, probably more like 20 minutes. 20-30 minutes is about the time we need physiologically to kind of calm down from the intense emotions that we are feeling. So, we need to soften a little bit and give our distancer partners a chance to do that. We also want to come from a place of generosity and give our partners the benefit of the doubt, trusting that whatever the conflict is, that our partners are wanting to connect with us.

Distancers are concerned with if they are pushed too much, they will say something they regret. The pursuer is concerned that if they don’t pursue and drop everything, they will be so disconnected from the distancer. So, giving the benefit of the doubt that we are all on the same page, on the same team we want to get back to a point of connecting.

In order to do that, it is important that we learn to talk about our emotions. We need to have the language of, “I am really feeling flooded right now. I am feeling overwhelmed, I am feeling confused. I am feeling really intense emotions and I am not quite sure how to articulate and I just need a few minutes to do that. I am feeling really intense emotions and I am not sure how to articulate that, but I am concerned that we are going to get disconnected and I wanna make sure that doesn’t happen.” 

Language of Emotion and Connection

So, I think some of the things we can do is take a slight break - again, it's going to be about 20-30 minutes, usually. In an ideal world we don’t really want it to be more than 24 hours.

And here is the key, especially for us distancers; we need to go back and revisit that conflict.  We can’t just brush it under the rug and just say after distancing ourselves, “Oh, things are better!” We need to revisit that conflict and return to it and process it with our partners. Whenever we have the language of emotion to do that or we have the language of connection to do that it is often much easier for us and our partner to go revisit these things that are causing conflict; and as we know, a lot of perpetual conflict in most if not all of our relationships. So, these things are going to come up.

Well, I hope you guys have taken a little nugget of wisdom from this conversation of the pursuer and distancer pattern. There are lots of really good resources out there and I always refer you guys to the Gottman Institute. Also, there is Sue Johnson with the Hold me Tight book and the emotion focused therapy.


As always, we are at www.harmonytherapygroup.com/betterwifebetterlife and you can find us on Facebook or Instagram @HarmonyTherapyGroup and on Twitter @HTGTherapist. Thanks so much for listening and we look forward to you guys next week.



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