As we wrote in a previous blog, it’s common for couples to get stuck in dangerous patterns. One, in particular, is where they draw conclusions about each other’s words and actions — simply because they see it every day. They think they know what each other “really means,” but in reality, they don’t. The result is poor communication, which leads to hurt feelings and fights. But this is just one of many patterns or cycles that couples get stuck in. Another is the distancer and pursuer relationship.
As we dive into another new year, it’s important to recognize the many damaging patterns in our relationships that keep us from communicating and understanding each other better. They are dangerous cocktails that keep us from having a safe and connected marriage, and most couples don’t even know they are in them most of the time.
So let’s continue this conversation, shall we?
“If you pursue a distancer, he or she will distance more.
Consider it a fundamental law of physics.” — Harriet Lerner
Generally speaking, a distancer and pursuer relationship is when one person feels a longing for a need or desire they aren’t receiving. This can include time, attention, and even extra affection. So, they pursue their spouse, hoping that the need will be met. But through a series of unfortunate events, their spouse ultimately doesn’t understand and “distances” themselves.
Perhaps the spouse whose needs aren’t being met talked about this need before and thought that their partner clearly heard and understood how they want them to meet their need. But there’s a communication breakdown, and that need still isn’t met.
In my experience, this is because one of three things is happening at that moment:
- The spouse whose needs and desires aren’t being met expresses themselves in the midst of an argument or conflict. As a result, the real need or desire gets lost in the middle of the chaos. Clearly, the timing isn’t right for them or their spouse. Patience is thin. Empathy is lacking, and both of them are emotionally and mentally tired. Therefore, one pursues, and the other distances.
- The desire being expressed comes across as criticism or judgment. This can be because of the pursuer’s attitude and tone. So, while one spouse continues to pursue, the other feels attacked and begins to distance themselves further.
- Or perhaps the first time the need is expressed, it just isn’t understood in terms of how important it really is. As a result, their spouse doesn’t understand how to meet that need. Or worse, the need falls on deaf ears.
If one or several of these scenarios play out, we normally feel and believe our partner just doesn’t care.
And the pattern of the distancer and pursuer relationship continues to play out again and again.
A woman has felt lonely and wants more time and attention from her husband. She makes a comment about him working too much or being too involved in other things like the kids or doing chores around the house. But what he hears and feels is all the pressure of work, home, kids, and chores. On top of that, he thought she liked it when he did all of those things. So, he keeps doing them, even though he’s still missing the point of her real need and desire.
Eventually, her desire becomes more assertive. She wants him to plan a date. He hears it as nagging or that he’s not doing enough. He distances himself from the “nagging.” She feels his distancing and becomes angry. She pursues with angry words, and he withdraws even more into his work and chores.
All of this started with a basic misunderstanding over a need. Now it’s a gigantic problem that continues to escalate. And the more she pursues, the more he distances. And the more he distances, the more she pursues.
Calm, clear expression of needs at the right time and in a positive manner is key!
The good news is that we can choose how we act in relationships.
Choose Your Actions Distancer/Pursuer
- Stay stuck, or will you determine to work through the problem areas?
- Hold onto your resentment, or will you choose to find freedom from it?
- Hurt the other person when they hurt you, or will you look to the deeper problem?
- Run when a relationship gets sticky, or will you choose to face the problem?
- Look at yourself through a distorted lens, or will you choose to see yourself as God sees you?
All we are saying here is that couples need to be aware of where and how their communication of needs and desires goes astray. Rather than have a distancer and pursuer relationship, they need to make intentional decisions to communicate fully and with clarity — together. From there, they should make a plan of how they are going to meet each other’s needs.
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Did we leave anything out? How are you trying to communicate better? How do you recognize each other’s feelings, needs, and desires without falling into the trap of a distancer and pursuer relationship? Please send us a quick email and help us keep this conversation going at Mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.