Couples' Distance Pursuer Dance

When we feel under threat or vulnerable the natural response is to reach out for connection ( often through protest ) or withdraw or numb out to self-protect. This is sometimes called the  fight, flight, freeze response. When there is a good connection, partners feel nourished and close. Often couples get stuck in a negative cycle making it hard to reconnect due to a history of hurt and entrenched positions.


In arguments the reaching out for connection when mixed with hurt can be experienced as by a partner as criticism/ attack. This leads to withdrawal for self protection.

When our reaching out for connection fails, we protest, criticise, demand, blame which causes more withdrawal. Also withdrawing triggers  a partner to protest about  the lack of connection.

Couples get stuck arguing over 'content' issues such as 'cleaning disputes , the dishwasher not being emptied ,or one partner staying out late, or  working long hours", when what's most important is what it means in terms of the couple seeking closeness or distance and what it means to each partner in terms of 'feeling connected' .  In a relationship at different times there are variations on the basic default distance/ pursuer theme.

There's attack/attack or mutual withdrawal or a change of positions as the pursuer gives up momentarily.


Withdrawers say...

"You never come near me, it's always up to me to initiate sex"

"I can never get it right"

"I don't know what I feel. I don't feeling anything. I'm lost"

"I just want us to have a nice time and not argue"

" You are always picking on something"

"Can't you just relax and put your to do list down?"

"She gives me that look and I'm paralysed"

" I can never get it right for her, there is always something"

"I can't clean to her standards"

"She gets upset over the smallest things"

Pursuers say...

" It's up to me to do everything, he never takes the initiative"

" He's spends all his time at work or at the computer"

"When I ask him what's wrong, he snaps at me"

" I can't stand it when he just walks away"

"I feel I am way down on his list"

"Any hope of romance or passion is futile, he's just not interested"

"He never listens to me. He just gives advice"

" I've got so used to doing things on my own"


Relationship counselling gives couples the support to slow things down, to  recognise and descalate the distance/pursuer dance. It helps  through naming and normalising how couples get stuck. Through the process you learn how to  replace the negative pattern with a postive one leading to you feeling closer and able to talk things through.