If your partner is avoiding intimacy... what should you do?

February 14 , 2019
Rasha Salib
Educational background:  Rasha received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she specialized in Psycho...More

In the previous article, I discussed the Evolution of the Pursuer Distancer Pattern. When couples are stuck in the vicious cycle of the distancer/pursuer dynamic, there is often a lack of equality between them. By preserving their affection, avoiding intimacy, or controlling how much closeness they’ll allow with their partner, Distancers often have more power. This makes Pursuers frustrated, and they may become more desperate, absorbed, clingy, or needy.

Both the Distancers and pursuers start to engage in behaviors that aggravates and worsens the other’s reactions. The distancer may act rejecting, cold, aloof or uninterested, making the purser more anxious and distressed. The pursuer may act in an intrusive, pushy, punishing, demanding or insecure way, making the distancer more rejecting. These isolating behavior patterns create a dysfunctional cycle in which neither person can get closer to the other.

So, what are some solutions for the pursuer?

Pursuers must stop pursuing! It sounds simple, yet it is very difficult.

The pursuer usually takes on the biggest share of responsibility in a relationship and is more motivated to change the pattern given that they are experiencing more suffering about the detachment and coldness from the distancer. That’s because the pursuer’s foundational need is  

to have a safe and secure emotional attachment and connection. Therefore, it is best for the pursuer to learn ways to reconnect with a distancing partner without using the same aggressive, relentless and ineffective pursuing tactics. It is more likely for a distancer to uphold the status quo than to move toward a pursuer, even if they are unsatisfied with the relationship.

So how can pursuers stop pursuing?

The pursuers need to soften themselves, take a step back and stop trying to plan things and take the lead in solving relationship problems. They need to demand less and expect less. For example, pursuers are encouraged to refrain from scheduling dates, handling toxic issues by talking them over and over, forcing communication, seeking reassurance, asking for the other person’s love, voicing their complaints explicitly or constantly checking-in and calling/texting their partner.

Pursuers need to reach out less, try to match their partner’s communication frequency and resist the urge to leave repetitive messages to get reassurance from their partners. This will make the distancer feel more comfortable, at ease, and drawn in, and he/she will want to seek and desire the pursuer more.

Breaking out of this cycle is not easy. As the pursuers pull back, they also have to make self-care a priority and they need to re-direct the energy that they spent on pursuing their distancing partners into their own life and own separate interests or hobbies.

By reframing the situation in their minds, pursuers need to realize that instead of waiting for and expecting the distancer to provide them with their needs, they need to fulfill and meet their own needs first.

They can do so by taking classes, investing in a hobby, cultivating outside interests, finding a job, seeing friends more often, going for a spa day, and so forth. They can learn to satisfy their relationship time by bringing others in to fill in the gap (friends, family, co-workers, spiritual leaders), and reaching out to other people who make them feel refreshed and energized. Pursuers will soon realize their life will be enriched when they stop their neediness and allow themselves to get some independence and space of their own choosing.

Another tactic for the pursuer is to ask for what they want directly using polite and reasonable requests rather than demands that are full of criticisms, put-downs, negativity, vague hints and nagging. They also need to back off when talking things over and choosing the appropriate time and place for doing so. Sensitive discussions may need to be arranged and scheduled in advance for a time that is suitable for both partners.

Recognizing both needs

Similar to the concept of Yin-Yang, intimacy and independence require each other to make a whole. Each partner in a couple needs to be able to be alone and to connect with others.

If we become conscious and aware of the importance of nourishing both needs, we can seek a balance flexibly and evade much pain and frustration. The outcome is authentic autonomy, which allows for a deep sense of intimacy.