Pursuing and distancing is dance for two ~ create intimacy in a romantic relationship by stepping in a new direction.
It’s hard to stop pursuing when your partner withdraws. The urge is to move closer and bridge the gaping gap. Yet doing this only pushes the distancing one further away. This heightens anxiety in the pursuer, who fears the relationship is disintegrating, so they pursue even harder, and a desperate cycle ensues.
If you fall into the pursuing pattern in your romantic relationship, you know how it works. It might start with something insignificant such as your partner paying more attention to his work, hobbies or household projects than to you. This triggers an underlying fear of rejection or abandonment. To allay this you ask him if anything is wrong. He grunts “no” and carries on with what he was doing.
You’re sure something is bothering him so you pursue the conversation further with subtle questions and probing. Because he’s adept at stonewalling, he becomes rigid and shuts down further. Feeling slighted and ignored, you dig into your arsenal of combative relationship tactics and begin criticizing his behaviors. Rather than attack back or express his hurt or anger, he withdraws deeper into his protective shell
The pursuing distancing game is painful in romantic relationships. Like a cat chasing a mouse, the pursuer is drawn to her prey whose only safety is under the couch. Fortunately, there is a way to break this cycle and start creating intimacy; stop pursuing and trust that your partner will step closer or at least not run away.
Here are four strategies to try as a way to soothe relationship tension and prevent your partner from distancing.
1. Awareness. Become conscious of the distancing and pursuing pattern while it’s happening. Notice what fears and emotions are triggered in you. Sooth anxiety, sadness and anger by processing your feelings. Recognize the difference between old childhood issues resurfacing and what is true in the present moment. Remind yourself that withdrawing and distancing doesn’t mean your partner doesn’t love you; it’s just their coping technique. Without blaming, gently tell your partner what you’re witnessing and how it affects you.
2. Self-Care. Rather than resort to the usual pursuing habits of inquiring, fixing or moving closer, do the opposite; give your partner space and enjoy your own activities. Absorb yourself in what you love to do and find ways to honor your needs on your own. If you feel lonely or sad, notice what’s missing and give that to your self. For example, if you long to feel loved, do something loving or nurturing for yourself. Even spending 10 minutes centered within to tune into your own energy of self-love will fill you up and remind you of your wholeness.
3. Compassion. Instead of reacting with frustration or irritation at your partner’s inability to communicate his feelings, discuss relationship concerns or create intimacy, have compassion for his challenges. It’s not easy to be bottled up inside or be caught in an ostrich reaction style. Underneath, many distancers fear confrontation and rejection. The only coping mechanism they’ve mastered is to withdraw and hide until it’s safe to come out again. Forcing them out of hiding only erodes trust. Compassion, forgiveness and a little amusement go a long way to building trust and safety in a romantic relationship.
4. Appreciation. Watch your tendency to blame or criticize your partner as distancers are sensitive to criticism. Focus on what you appreciate about your partner. Notice the little things they do that you normally take for granted and express your gratitude. This will help your partner to feel safe to move closer.
With patience, trust and the four suggestions above, your urge to pursue will diminish and your partner’s tendency to distance will transform into a desire to create intimacy.
Do you have any questions or insights into how to stop pursuing in a romantic relationship? Please share below.