Pursuer Withdrawer Patterns in Relationships: Breaking the Cycle

After conducting a study of 1,400 divorced persons for a period of over thirty years, E. Mavis Hetherington came to the realization that couples stuck in the pursuer-withdrawer scenario were headed for divorce. Dr. John Gottman, a researcher, also observed in couples counselling, that the aforementioned injurious trend was a common recipe for divorce among couples. Dr. Gottman asserts that if the pursuer- withdrawer pattern is left unsettled, it carries on into the next marriage and/ or other ensuing romantic relationships. However, the above statements should not discourage you if at all your relationship is at that stage. There is a lot that the two of you could do, so as to salvage your relationship as will be discussed below. Take heart, all is not lost.

What is the meaning of pursuer-withdrawer pattern?

Dr. Harriet Lerner, a renowned therapist sums up the said pattern as follows:
Partners who have a pursuing habit more often than not deal with relationship distress by drawing closer to their partners. They desire oneness, dialogue and a chance to air out their feelings. They tend to take the rift created by their partners personally, to the extent that it leaves them feeling quite distressed.

They condemn their significant others for their lack of emotional availability. In addition, they see themselves as having outstanding principles, and if they end up disconnecting with their partner, they become cold and distant. Often, they are branded as needful, clingy and unrelenting. On the other hand, partners who have a distancing conduct often react to relationship distress by drifting away from their partner. In other words, they desire to be granted some physical and emotional space. They struggle with fragility. In addition, withdrawers deal with their nervousness by escaping into other projects in the bid to take their minds away from whatever is going on in their relationship. Often, they view themselves as discreet and independent persons.

These kinds of people are only communicative whenever they do not feel hunted or pressured. They are often dubbed as distant and unattainable. In this regard, Dr. Lerner emphasizes on the significance of acknowledging that none of the patterns is erroneous in an ordinary relationship. In fact, sometimes couples switch up positions in the said pattern once in a while. Strong relationships are able to deal with such distress with unrelenting respect and discernment. This is because, both parties are aware of their undesirable conduct, hence are left no choice but to amend it for the sake of salvaging their relationship.

Most marriages crumble because, partners sometimes become engrossed in their pursuer-withdrawer roles. And in the event that the situation does not change for the best, both of them begin to feel condemned and feelings of disdain for each other begin to crop up. These two signs, according to Dr.Gottman, indicate that their marriage is bound to flop.

How does the scenario look like?

Let’s take an example of a wife who is quite disturbed due to the absence of communication from her spouse. She would like that he communicates with her often. She also desires that he is less guarded so that they get to connect with each other, as this will help them cope. In response to the wife’s whims, the man responds, that he has no idea of what the wife is talking about.  He keeps on drawing further every time his spouse makes demands. In return she begins to feel defeated and it begins showing as she now starts condemning him. In return, he combats this by being protective, and he ends up building walls around him. This ends up infuriating the wife, and she results in being snobbish.

She does not comprehend why he does not acknowledge that he is at fault and how headstrong he is. The man on the other hand, does not understand why she is not aware of how prejudiced her claims make him feel. He feels like he is no longer ideal for her. It is worth noting that, pursuing is not a woman’s preserve, men can be pretty good pursuers too. However, if this finesse exhibited in pursuing were to be used in mending the relationship, instead of self -seeking, then lots of relationships would flourish.

Why is this research by Gottman and Hetherington paramount?

It is meant to prevent individuals from experiencing a series of bad relationships in the course of their lives. The research also brings to our knowledge daily occurrences of ordinary relationships and words, traits and emotions that result in relationships coming to a halt.  For your relationship to flourish, you need to be guided by the insight given in this research. It will assist you make a choice on how to respond to the pursuer-withdrawer scenario, in the event that it happens in your union.

What to do?

Pursuers ought to cease pursuing
From the couples counselling conducted by Dr. Lerner, he points out that pursuers tend to be in more stress about the drift and are more inclined to amend the pattern. He advices the pursuers to call off the aggressive pursuit by incorporating other methods of connecting with their spouse.

The withdrawer’s plight

Dr. Lerner goes further to warn distancers against this trait as it tends to exhaust their partners over time. As a result, some end up walking out of their relationships or marriages. Whenever distancer’s learn that their partners are intending to leave the union, they now turn into pursurers. Yet, there is nothing left of their relationship that can be salvaged.

What needs to be done

The first step to healing is, both partners need to acknowledge that things are not right in their relationship. They should also be able to pinpoint the causes. The detacher must be aware of why they are being distant. They should also get to understand that their partner is pursuing them because they are afraid of losing them or are afraid of being deserted by them. It is not good for the relationship whenever the pursuer starts feeling disinterested. However, this changes when they are reassured that things will be fine. This is regarded to as the dependency paradox, and it works vice versa.

Relationship counselling Vancouver, advocates for both partners working on themselves individually, but at simultaneous times in the bid to get rid of the pursurer-withdrawer pattern. Partners should also acknowledge that the only time change is bound to happen is when each of them decides to be a better partner to the other.
The moment one of the partners decides to adjust their outlook and their reactions, from then onwards, their relationship will begin to transform. In a short span of time, your relationship will start to flourish and all the pain and bitterness will go away. All the best in your healing journey.