Are You a Distancer or Persuer in Your Relationship?
These two personality types (or ways of behaving) are something worth knowing about because you may find that this pattern is one that is affecting your relationship in many, many ways. If I saw seven couples in my Escondido marriage and couples counseling office in one day, six of them would have at least some of this pattern setting the tone in their relationship. Leading researchers Sue Johnson, John Gottman, and Mavis Hetherington have all found this pattern to be highly damaging to our relationships.
On a continuum of personalities there are two sides: on one side there is the distancer…………and on the other…………the pursuer. There is no wrong a right here- we can all be found somewhere on this line. That is the most important lesson. This is part of your partner’s personality: they are not trying to drive you crazy. I repeat your partner is not trying to drive you crazy!
The distancing personality is often the one who needs time to think before sharing. They may need more space in the couple relationship. They will tell you they can’t talk during a fight, they need time to think. Often they are afraid they are going to say the wrong thing or make the fight worse with their spouse. Therefore they need space. In fact this personality type often feels more stressed during an argument. Their body actually shows more reactivity to the conflict than other personality types. So their thought is often “get me out of here” or they shut down or tune out. Sometimes they will appease and say anything to end the fight. Does this sound like you? Or your partner/spouse?
The pursuer personality is very different. They feel much better if they talk and process their feelings during a fight with their partner. They actually need to do this to feel at peace again. Sometimes they are so tortured by not dealing with their feelings in the moment they may not be able to sleep all night after a fight. They are processing, analyzing, and agonizing while their distancing spouse snores away next to them. These pursuer partners will beg, order, chase, and plead with the distancing spouse to finish the fight. Because they need some relief.
Do you see what a tail chaser this is? The poor distancer is looking for relief by trying to get away and the panicked pursuer is seeking relief by trying to deal with it here and now!
So what’s a couple to do?
1. Have some empathy for your spouse: remember the above: this is how they are and they are not trying to drive you crazy. They struggle with you as much as you are struggling with them. So some empathy on both sides will soothe each other and heal some wounds.
2. Use time outs where the pursuer learns to allow the distancer to leave the argument for some breathing room and also where the distancer must come back and then can process the fight within a few hours. This is a compromise for both sides of the couple- thank each other for attempting to soothe the stress each feels.
3. Don’t allow the fight to get so stressful and intense that the distancer feels they can’t come back and the pursuer can’t let go of the fight. That is what sets up most couples to fail. Do the time out early on. Learn positive communication techniques such as taking responsibility for your own feelings and careful editing when you do decide to process the fight. These techniques can be found in self help books, through couples and marriage counseling, couples communication workshops, and other sources that support couples.
This is a typical pattern for many couples and marriages that can be sorted out with understanding, effort, responsibility taking, and sometimes a little help from a couples and marriage therapist.