Relationships are hard, we’re all aware of that. When two people commit to each other, they’re known to experience a deep connection right away, However, as time goes by, they’re destined to struggle with creating a sense of balance between that connection and freedom. Pursuer-distancer relationship, anyone?
Relationships, partnerships, and marriages oftentimes struggle with the amount of connection and freedom that’s “normal” for two people to share.
When one partner seeks connection, the other partner pulls away, for example. When the other partner pulls away, the first partner might seek connection even more aggressively and, without even knowing, create a vicious cycle with each partner’s behavior triggering and perpetuating the other’s.
Whether you’ve heard of pursuer-distancer relationships beforehand or you’re trying to figure out whether you and your partner showcase signs of a pursuer-distancer relationship, we’ve got your back.
A cycle of pursuit and distance can become self-reinforcing with time and difficult to break free from, but with our tips and tricks, there’s no reason why you and your partner can’t have a happily ever after – after you break free from your pursuer-distancer relationship.
What’s a pursuer-distancer relationship?
By definition, a pursuer-distancer relationship refers to a relationship dynamic where one partner seeks connection but the other partner pulls away right away – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Before you deem your relationship free from the pursuer-distancer pattern, know that pursuing and distancing behaviors can be literal but can also take many other forms that might be a little more difficult to spot.
More often than not, though, the pursuer in the relationship is the partner who seeks more affection and validation and the distancer is the partner who seeks more personal space. Quite often, although not always, the pursuer comes with an anxious attachment style, and the distancer comes with the avoidant.
Pursuers are known to want to resolve conflicts immediately, repeatedly ask “what’s wrong” when they’re ignored or avoided, and want to talk about feelings even when there’s nothing more to be said.
Distancers, on the other hand, prefer to take some time to analyze the situation, think the problem through, and come up with a solution. Moreover, distancers “distance themselves,” spend time with friends, resort to silent treatment, and focus on themselves when they’re overwhelmed.
A pursuer-distancer relationship can change when both partners agree to work on their differences, recognize the patterns in their relationship styles, and walk in each other’s shoes. After all, it’s completely okay to be a natural pursuer or a natural distancer – learn to communicate better and you’re good to go.
How to spot the pursuer-distancer pattern?
Spotting the pursuer-distancer pattern from the get-go can make a world of difference. Stereotypical gender roles might make you believe that the man is always the distancer in the relationships, and the woman is always the pursuer – women are more sensitive and that’s why they’re more likely to pursue.
Contemporary gender roles, or contemporary relationships, are much more complex. Any partner of any gender can be a pursuer or a distancer because these roles aren’t gender-, time-, or even situation-specific. Actually, the pursuer can become the distancer, too, depending on the circumstances.
As you can see below, the pursuer seeks connection and the distancer seeks autonomy.
When you’re trying to spot the pursuer-distancer pattern, you need to observe both your and your partner’s behavior. We mentioned beforehand that the pursuer in the relationship is the partner who gravitates toward resolving conflicts immediately and avoids going to bed angry.
What more, though? When dealing with relationship stress, for example, pursuers gravitate toward talking things through, spending more time with their partner, and focusing on things like discussion, togetherness, communication, and expression.
Pursuers tend to fix their own problems and their partner’s problems at the same time because they’re scared of silence, bad mood, and bad behavior that might come from their partner if they don’t.
Pursuers are anxious about their romantic relationship ending abruptly, their partner getting angry with them, or even their partner abandoning them.
Distancers need more time to process what’s going on. Whether they’re going through something at work, fighting with their partner at home, or thinking about something that affects them in one way or the other, distancers are known to “distance themselves.”
When they’re dealing with relationship stress, for example, distancers keep away from their partner by hanging out with their friends, focusing on their hobbies, or getting buried in work. Distancers struggle to talk about their feelings because they’re self-reliant and self-sufficient.
Depending on the circumstances, distancers seek autonomy, personal space, and distance more often than they seek affection, appreciation, and validation.
When they’re pursued, pressured, and pushed, distancers come off as cold, unavailable, shut down, and withholding. They’re far from these things, but that’s what they’re like when they’re overwhelmed.
How to break the pattern of a pursuer-distancer relationship?
Now that you understand why pursuer-distancer relationships struggle to keep afloat, we can move on and figure out how to break the pattern of a pursuer-distancer relationship to ensure your relationships survives the tough times.
We do need to underline that there’s nothing wrong with being a natural pursuer or a natural distancer – the goal is to come to a compromise where both partners feel heard, validated, and taken care of. We suggest you come up with a safe word, practice being direct, and work on your relationship.
1. Come up with a safe word
What do we mean by that? More often than not, pursuers and distancers struggle with figuring out when to resolve a conflict. Pursuers want to resolve conflict right away, but distancers need time to figure out what to do about the conflict.
When such situations keep on happening no matter what you do, you can come up with a time frame that works for both of you. Whether that means you come together and talk thirty minutes or two hours after the fight, or even the following day.
With a safe word, you can also make sure that you use the type of language that doesn’t hurt, embarrass, or provoke your partner. One good example of a safe word is something like “ouch,” as it can remind your partner that they need to pay attention to how they’re talking to you even when they’re angry.
2. Practice being direct
When you’re the pursuer, you want nothing more than to get into the nitty gritty of your relationship every time you have a fight with your partner.
While that might work for you, your partner might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information they’re expected to take in. So, practice being direct and getting to the point sooner rather than later to ensure you keep your partner’s attention for longer.
Connect your own perspective to whatever happened that caused a fight between the two of you and spend the rest of the time resolving the conflict rather than dancing around it. When you’re trying to make peace with your partner, you need to give your partner time to process and respond.
3. Work on other aspects of your relationship
We know that sounds silly, but make other aspects of your relationship a priority, too.
When you’re struggling to navigate your pursuer-distancer relationship, you might spend most of your time trying to figure out how to compromise or how to break the pattern. While that’s a great thing to do, we urge you to work on your emotional and physical intimacy, too.
Whether that means the two of you spend some time holding hands and hugging after a fight or reassuring each other that you’re there even when you’re frustrated, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take time to be present, to understand your partner’s needs, and to validate your partner’s concerns.
4. Consider couples therapy
We’re aware that most people try to avoid couples therapy because they’re taken aback by the stereotypical notion that “there must be something wrong with you if you’re attending couples therapy.” But that’s not the case, right?
Before you turn a blind eye to the thought of couple’s therapy, know that a professional might be able to help you open up, understand each other, communicate with each other, and work through your pursuer-distancer differences.
How to avoid the pattern of a pursuer-distancer relationship?
Maybe the two of you are on the brim of a pursuer-distancer relationship. Maybe you’re suddenly seeing signs and patterns that terrify you because you’re pretty sure you’re not ready to break free from a pursuer-distancer relationship.
What’s the best way to avoid the pattern of a pursuer-distancer relationship?
1. Identify your attachment style
We mentioned beforehand that one partner can be both the pursuer and the distancer, depending on the circumstances. When you observe your patterns of behavior, you might be able to pinpoint different situations in which you’re likely to pursue your partner or distance yourself from your partner.
With that out of the way, work on identifying your attachment style and you’ll be one step closer to understanding yourself, your relationship, and what you need to do to avoid the pattern of a pursuer-distancer relationship.
2. Look out for signs of unhealthy attachment in your partner
We understand that there are times when the two of you are not on the same page. Maybe your partner doesn’t understand the concept of a pursuer-distancer relationship or maybe your partner doesn’t want to bother with attachment styles.
Moreover, your partner might not want to admit that there’s anything wrong with them (or with you, for that matter). Whatever the case might be, you can always look out for signs of unhealthy attachment in your partner and consult with a couples therapist. Good luck!