The pursuer-distancer pattern is one of the most common causes of divorce and separation. Most often it happens with the wife seeking a closer connection from a withdrawing husband but not always, it can happen the other way too.
In my practice, it is common for me to see couples that have found themselves in an ongoing cycle where one of the partners is pursuing or demanding attention and affection while the other is seeking their space and distance.
If the couple does not address the issue and work to understand each other’s needs, they are likely to break up, even worse, it is very common for each to move on and repeat the pattern in later relationships.
Why does the distancer pull away?
Contrary to what most people think, the one who withdraws is not usually seeking disconnection and independence from their partner. In many cases people who withdraw want closeness but do not feel or believe it is possible. Past experiences can lead withdrawers to believe once they allow themselves to become vulnerable and close, the other person leaves.
This perception is often developed during childhood when parents are rejecting of a child displaying intense emotions or need for attention. Children raised by parents who cannot consistently support their child’s need for emotional support often develop an avoidant attachment style. The avoidant attachment style is a coping strategy as the child learns to suppress emotions and self-soothe rather than reach out to those around him or her for comfort.
As a result, most people who distance themselves in relationships need closeness and connection in the same way as their partner does, they simply have a different strategy. Maintaining distance is a way to stay in the relationship.
Change the pattern and heal the relationship
In therapy, issues that are keeping you apart can be understood and addressed. In my practice, I help couples learn how to connect again and find a way to understand their own and their partner’s needs.
It is essential to heal the pursuer-distancer pattern and what underlies it. When we understand what is driving our own and our partner’s behavior, it is easier to communicate our feelings and find a way back to each other.
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