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Thinking About the Pursuer/Distancer Dynamic…

I work with many clients who are in the process of healing from the end of a relationship. As human beings, many of us have the automatic tendency to anxiously pursue someone who is wanting space, and it’s incredibly difficult to move away from this habitual pattern of behavior.

When a relationship ends, many of us can feel devastated. Oftentimes in an effort to connect with the partner who has left the relationship, the “pursuer” will call frequently, cry on the phone, beg the other partner to come home/reconsider the break-up and promise to make any changes that are requested. Pursuers feel that they need to “fight like hell” to win the other partner back…leaving messages/texts/e-mails for the partner and asking close friends to intervene.  The other partner usually reacts coldly and may pull away, further escalating the “pursuer/distancer” dynamic.

When we feel vulnerable and hurt, we need to do whatever we can to calm our emotions and ease our anxiety. But, there’s an issue here. Like an addict, the pursuing partner often feels driven to actions that soothe him/her on a temporary basis (i.e. calling/texting/writing long e-mails with sentiments such as “Take care of me please, I can’t live without you, I’m falling apart”), and this behavior serves to drive the other partner further and further away. The more needy/vulnerable the pursuer becomes, the more distant and negative the distancer becomes.

If you have a broken heart, of course it is normal to feel the need to give voice to your pain, and to get all of the help, love and support needed during such a difficult time. However, if your goal is to somehow give your relationship another chance of success in the future (even in the form of a friendship) it is important to move towards other people and start to focus on taking care of yourself…not chasing down the other person.

I often suggest to my clients to talk with friends/family members who might have gone through a similar tough time. Reach out to those people who can support you. Talk openly with people who can provide you with support and help you calm down a bit. Take time to work on yourself and give your partner the space that he/she has requested. You are going to be okay, even though at this present time it might feel like you won’t.

It takes a great deal of maturity, control and discipline to take a step back from the pursuer role. Take this time to focus on yourself, instead of trying to convince someone to think/feel/behave differently. I often remind my clients that, try as we may, we can’t control the outcome of a situation when another person is involved.

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