Pursuers and Distancers
Relationships are like a dance, moving and flowing, each with a different rhythm. As in other dances, one person often leads for a while and the other follows. The music changes, the arrangement is renegotiated, and the roles change. This is true in all sorts of relationships: employer-employee and parent-child, as well as partner-partner romantic connections.
Some of us are naturally comfortable in the role of leader, and take the initiative more often than not. Others of us prefer to step back and survey the territory before making our move, considering our options, and prefer the other person make the first move regarding suggesting a movie, initiating sex or starting a conversation.
Vibrant, lively relationships require an ability to move beyond what we have grown accustomed to in the past. If we stay stuck in old patterns, many of us will become bored and find our relationships unfulfilling and we will come to feel stifled or unhappy.
One pattern often found in relationships is the “pursuer-distancer” dynamic. Pursuers often look like romantics. They not only take the lead, they often appear very giving and generous. They may also be manipulative, constantly seeking reassurance and control in the relationship. Distancers may look passive on the outside. Inside, they fear they will be engulfed by their partners and lose their sense of self. There may be a good reason for this, if the partner is controlling and manipulative.
What develops between the partners involved is a power struggle to establish who is in charge. The pursuer seeks out his beloved; just when he’s about to get what he seems to want, his partner bolts and runs away, literally or figuratively. Tom asks Bill out to a movie on Friday night, then dinner on Sunday, then dancing on Wednesday. It looks to Tom as if something is cooking! Then he asks Bill to make plans for the following weekend, and all of a sudden Bill has made other plans. Tom gets anxious and calls several times over the weekend. Bill is noncommittal; maybe they’ll get together, maybe they won’t.
A subtle struggle for control may be happening here. Tom might consider backing off a bit. He might find that Bill has less need to keep his distance if Tom doesn’t come on so strongly. Taking a more leisurely approach may better suit Bill’s style. Of course, another possibility is that Tom backing off makes him more attractive to Bill — and that they reverse their pursuer-distancer roles. Suddenly it’s Bill who is making the phone calls and practically camping out on Tom’s door step.
Do you find yourself in predictable patterns in your romantic relationships? Perhaps you find that if you allow yourself to get close to a boyfriend or partner you start feeling like you are being smothered or losing yourself.
Or you find yourself seeking out men who are ultimately not available to you in the way you would like. If you find that old patterns are not fulfilling for you, or that it has become destructive, and that you aren’t getting the intimacy you truly want, understand that change is possible, though it may not be easy. Change means letting go of some of the patterns we’ve used in the past. Those patterns have helped us feel safe or comfortable. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable, even risky, to change.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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