We’ve had a lot of storms in the Houston area lately. Seems like every few days we’re getting another round of rain, and another round of flood warnings.
Last week, I used the metaphor of soap bubbles to talk about the pursuer-distancer dynamic in relationships. Today, I want to approach that same topic from another angle
Frequently, the pursuer in a relationship is a strong personality – the classic “Type A.” They’re normally proactive go-getters, and they are skilled at identifying the next steps and knowing what needs to be done in a given situation. This can be extremely intimidating to the distancing partner. All this know-how, confidence, and clarity from their partner can cause the distancer to withdraw even more.
But here’s the thing about pursuers – most of their proactive behavior comes from a place of anxiety about managing their life. They’ve learned that controling life is central to success, and so they try to translate that into their relationships.
Because they come across as in control and in charge of any situation, the strong partner sends a signal that they don’t need help – they’re not vulnerable. The problem is that even the strong person in the relationship has times of sadness, vulnerability, and fear. Even the most “Type A” personality feels insecure and scared from time to time.
When the pursuer feels vulnerable and afraid, however, the distancing partner often withdraws even more. The distancer has an impulse to run in the face of the emotional storm of their pursuing partner, and that’s where problems arises.
When I see this dynamic at work, I usually work with the distancing partner to retrain their mind and body toward interaction, rather than disappearance.
I tell the distancer to think of their partner as a storm. When they become vulnerable and scared, it can feel like a storm is overtaking the home. In those moments, the distancer’s responsibility is to become a “storm chaser.” Rather than running from the emotional chaos and challenge, the distancer must run to it, recognizing that their primary job is to understand the emotional storm and be there to observe and absorb some of the emotional volatility that exists.
This metaphor works well most of the time. It’s typically novel for the distancer to think of him or herself as a storm chaser actively seeking out the eye of the storm, and it’s helpful to the pursuer to be given permission to be the storm for a time, knowing that they won’t chase their partner away.
Overcoming the pursuer-distancer dynamic is about both partners beginning to operate differently than expected in typical situations. Both partners have to break the automatic responses and habits that typically characterize their interactions. When the distancing partner becomes a “storm chaser,” it’s amazing how quickly the storms between the couple begin to die down.