How to Avoid the Pursuer-Distancer Pattern in Your Relationship

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It is absolutely true that some relationship styles are more likely to end in divorce than others. The pursuer/distancer relationship is one of the most likely types of relationships to end in divorce. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take two people to identify the problems in the relationship and take action to resolve and avoid these patterns. When one person is pursuing conversations, and the other is actively avoiding them, tensions can rise. When left unresolved, this type of relationship style can also affect other relationships as well.

A partner who has pursuing tendencies within a relationship tends to try and continuously move towards the other person and seek communication and discussion. The urgency they sometimes have when trying to fix something that they think is wrong can create anxiety and resentment about the distance their partner seems to have from them. While seeking togetherness and expression, and possibly pushing too hard for it at times, they can sometimes take things personally. When this moves into blaming or criticizing the other person as being unavailable emotionally, they can cause resentment and the other person as well.

Sometimes people with pursuing tendencies can come off as feeling they have superior values, and in many cases, they believe that they do. After failing to connect, the pursuer sometimes collapses into a detached state themselves. This can all add up to being labeled as demanding or nagging.

Partners who have distancing behaviors often respond to relationship stress by moving away from the other person. Wanting emotional and physical distance, they sometimes have difficulties with vulnerability. By retreating into their own activities and distancing themselves from the source of anxiety, they come off as private, self-reliant, and not wanting to communicate. People in the category of distancer tend to do best when they are not feeling pressured by other people. If they are feeling pushed or pursued, they may be labeled as unavailable or withholding, causing them to shut down.

Unfortunately, when people fall in love and date while in opposite categories, with one being the pursuer and the other being the distancer, it can lead to recurring issues. When people become entrenched in the roles that they are used to and are not open to change, resentment and contempt can develop. These are a few of the reasons that distancer/pursuer relationships do not work. Fortunately, by taking appropriate steps, people in these patterns can learn to move out of the patterns successfully.

Step 1: Realizing You Are In This Relationship Type

The first step to getting out of this type of relationship pattern is to realize that you’re in the pattern to begin with. Sometimes one person realizes it before the other, and sometimes one person refuses to accept it. If someone is anxious about the lack of communication from their partner and wants them to open up more, they can often pick times that are not the best for approaching the subject. These partners often want the other person to be more vulnerable and to connect in different ways. By doing so, they feel the relationship will improve.

When this person makes demands; they may feel like the other person is moving away. As frustration increases, they may begin to criticize or blame. This can cause defensiveness. As the pursuing person continues to become angry and resentful, more defenses go up on the distancer. The pursuer may think the distancer is wrong and stubborn. If this sounds like something you’re going through, you might be in a pursuer/distance or relationship. Unfortunately, it can seem like there is never a good time to approach things.

Step 2: Take Small Steps

There are numerous smaller steps that can be taken to help keep things in these types of relationships not only manageable, but workable. It might not seem to be the case at first, but it is often the pursuer who is more in distress and anxious about the situation. This person is more motivated to change the pattern, making their knowledge of when to call off the pursuit much more important. Fortunately, there are ways to connect with people that do not fall in the category of aggressively pursuing. Realizing that a person who is a distancer may feel that it is easier to keep going in a relationship the way that it is rather than try and fix something with someone who is pursuing things aggressively is an important step.

As a distancer, sometimes the first small step is to realize that they can approach the conversation when they feel most comfortable talking about it and on their own terms. Both people in a relationship should maintain an understanding and relaxed attitude when having conversations and try to communicate using “I” instead of “you.” It is okay to let some of the pressure off of yourself when building trust or reconnecting. When both people feel that they are respected and accepted, and are able to approach the conversation with relaxation, good things happen. Distancers sometimes need to judge less and empathize with the needs of pursuers as well. It can be hard for them to do this when being pursued, however.

Another realization that distancers can make is that partners are sometimes exhausted by years of feeling as if they are unheard. After years of pursuing, they may decide that it is finally time to walk out on the relationship. To avoid this happening, both people need to be aware of each other’s needs and work to find ways to communicate.

Step 3: Find Ways To Communicate

Finding ways to communicate is important, and each person can start by making changes to the way that they approach the other person. Both partners do not need to improve themselves to escape the pattern at the same time. If one person is driven to be a better partner and more understanding of the needs of the other person, it can pay dividends.

In addition to changing and escaping some of the behaviors above, some people find that adopting unique ways to communicate can be helpful. Sometimes writing a letter that is understanding and accepting, while also being loving and asking questions can be a good choice. Other times, setting up a specific time to have life conversations and making sure that mostly non-stressful topics or minor things are brought up early on can work well. Sometimes, however, one person needs to be driven by a commitment to change their approach and responses to break the pattern to kick things off.

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