the hidden reasons that may create distance between you and your husband

February 09 , 2019
Rasha Salib
Educational background:  Rasha received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she specialized in Psycho...More

As what I have mentioned in my previous article from this series that the Pursuer Distancer pattern is very common among couples, and in this article I will talk more about how this type of relationships arises between couples and what are its consequences on the relationship. 

Why do Distancers and Pursuers frequently get into relationships with one another?

It is in our nature as humans to attract into our lives partners with characteristics that we have unconsciously disowned. To balance the one-sidedness, each member of the couple need to develop a bit of the opposite quality. For example, in adulthood, pursuers seek connection with the fear and expectation of being disappointed because the connection they received in childhood did not sufficiently satisfy their need to be seen or loved.

Therefore, they come across as needy and undesirable to the partners that they are attracted to, who are most often strong and independent. The craving for connection that pursuers yearn for often backfires and the cycle of wanting connection and receiving rejection reoccurs.

Similarly, Distancers are often attracted to pursuers because in their childhood, they may have been left to themselves or may have been deeply hurt. As a way to protect themselves, they have developed defense mechanisms and learned to become very independent.

So as the relationship progresses, Distancers often feel suffocated and overwhelmed by the Pursuer’s attention and desire for more connection. Because of their childhood experiences, Distancers worry that intimacy is likely to lead to dependence, control, limitation, or disappointment. The Pursuers’ seeming pushiness leads Distancers to fear exposing their own vulnerabilities, so they seek space, distance and solitude.


How do People become Pursuers or Distancers?

When a child falls down and starts to cry, “I’m bleeding!” some parents may react by either getting upset and ordering the child to “Stop crying!” while others may anxiously rush to help the child and start crying from excessive worry. However, a middle-ground response is more effective, where the parent stays calm and responds in a low tone of voice by saying something like, “Yes, there is blood… does it hurt? Let’s take a look at it and wash it.” This validating and soothing reaction. 

where the child’s pain is acknowledged and the parent is offering to help the child teaches the child to remain calm when faced with stress or high anxiety.

The British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the term “good-enough mothering/parenting,” which refers to when a parent responds to a child’s needs without becoming too anxious, therefore teaching the child to remain calm. The consequence of a child being smothered with attention, alienated, neglected or infantilized is that in the future, he/she will dread either too much separateness or too much togetherness.

In other words, the perception of too much separateness can generate feelings of being neglected, abandoned, unloved, and rejected, while the perception of too much togetherness can trigger feelings of being crowded, trapped, and controlled.

So how does this lead to self-defeating behavior later in life?

In their attempt to prevent the anxiety from increasing, Distancers often avoid saying what they think and Pursuers may feel ignored. In order to seek connection, Pursuers try to get a reaction and push for a response, which elevates the stress for both partners.

This Pursuer/Distancer dynamic often leads to hostility and argument because The Distancer, who likes his or her autonomy, will resist and become hostile to protect his or her separateness and independence, while the Pursuer will gain emotional contact, even if its negative from the argument.

Without realizing or intending it, the Pursuer communicates enough desire for intimacy for both partners in a couple, preventing the Distancer from feeling his/her own yearning for connection or the desire to be with his/her partner. So, if one partner is doing all the pursuing, the Distancer has the luxury to experience a need for space and independence and may fall out of love.

Likewise, the Distancer creates enough distance for both partners so that the Pursuer has no room to experience his/her own need or desire for autonomy and independence. The vicious cycle develops and is maintained because the Pursuer does not know what he/she likes or dislikes, and cannot discover his/her own values, interests and opinions without relying on the Distancing partner for self-worth and validation.