Monday, July 30, 2012

The Distancer

Last Monday I talked about the pursuer in the pursuer/distancer dyad.  This week, I will talk about the distancer.  Of course. this is a two step. This is a dance that two people dance together and sometimes roles change - the distancer becomes the pursuer and so on.

Some of these interpersonal formulas are a bit simplistic but essentially true. I hope you will hang in there with me and that this is helpful in your relationship.  Keep in mind again, that this is a two step - both partners participate.  It is my experience that the distancer is sensitive to what might be perceived as efforts by the other partner to control.  Let's say the pursuer says to the distancer, You never say you love me. It is unlikely, unless the distancer is very mature, that he or she will turn around and say You're right, honey. I'll work on that.

A more typical response from a distancer would be to not respond at the moment.  The request may register but be experienced as an effort to control.  The distancer is more likely to respond on his or her own timetable. The dynamic is just a titch oppositional.  If the request is perceived as a demand, on an unconscious level, the distancer sometimes will dig his or her heals in. If the request is perceived as a demand, wisdom is not too escalate the requests at that moment in time.

The other sensitivity of the distancer is to real or perceived criticism. If the distancer, who is likely working hard to do things right, feels accused or attacked, he or she will no doubt pull into their shell and withdraw a bit.  A gentle request coupled with a little appreciation goes a long way. Honey, it means so much to me when you say I love you.  I would be thrilled if you would say it more often will go a long way.  Trust the translator in so many marriages, what is happening is that the pursuers attempt to reach out is perceived as a criticism and the cycle takes on a life of its own.

And, I always remind my clients that John Gottman, marital guru, says that a harsh start-up is doomed.  Don't even bother going there.     

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Patterns of Pursuit in Marriage

There are predictable patterns of interactions that take place in relationships- especially intimate ones. One  pattern that everyone recognizes is the pursuer/distancer.  In short - one person pursues, initiates and reaches out for connection and love in whatever shape or form is meaningful to them.  This is not necessarily a conscious plan, more of an instinctive reaching out.

  What happens in the pursuer/distancer  dyad is that when the pursuer reaches out, the distancer may pull away or at the very least not respond on the timetable of the pursuer. And the chase is on...creating what I learned to call at the Family Institute, an intimacy feedback loop.  That is a technical term to describe the dance of intimacy that takes place in normal every day relationships. When the chase takes huge swings - say between intimacy and violence- it is on the more dysfunctional end of the continuum.  Most relationships have a dance of intimacy - that is what makes them both fun and frustrating.

This is where most marriage manuals would step in with a clinical example. I generally hate clinical examples and skip over them if at all possible.One of the best descriptions of this dance is in and article by Joseph Barnett called Narcissism in the Obsessional Hysteric Marriage. I will do my best to track it down for you - there were no such things as links when this article was published, but it is timeless.

Essentially what happens, to simplify the dance greatly, is that the pursuer reaches out and is sensitive to real or perceived abandonment - a late phone call or no phone call at all, a glance that is not returned or a rebuffed advance are hurtful to anyone but some people are particularly vulnerable to this type of wound. Early childhood losses magnify the sensitivity to here and now losses.   The pursuer intensifies the chase in an attempt to repair the wound and to re-connect.  Each time the distancer pulls back and does not respond  in what the pursuer experiences as a reconciling or healing gesture, the pursuer is wounded.  Finally the pursuer gives up the pursuit and chills - most likely hurt and annoyed. When the pursuer stop pursuing, giving the distancer a chance to experience the loss of connection and intimacy, most likely the distancer will turn around and finally seek the pursuer becoming - the pursuer himself or herself.  Maybe I should have stuck with a clinical example after all.

The moral of this story - if you are a pursuer and find your self in a pursuer/distancer chase - is to chill. Chill meaning don't continue the pursuit for now.  Let your  partner or spouse know what you needs are. It hurts my feelings when you come home late. I would appreciate it if you would make every effort to get home when you see you would or to call and let me know you will be late. When they do respond to your request, be sure and let them know that you appreciate it.  Excellent self care and focusing on yourself, again, for the time being, will help when you are in the middle of a relentless pursuit.  In fact paradoxically, ending the pursuit will turn the whole thing around.   

I'll give you a little time to digest this and talk about the distancer in my next post.  In the meantime, I welcome dialogue and questions from readers.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Two More Resources on Sex

I got several inquiries about other resources about sex - here are several resources you might want to check out. David Schnarch is a highly regarded marriage therapist.  In an age when you had to pick either a sex therapist or a marriage therapist, he integrates both.
So, I'm bringing this book to your attention Secrets of a Passionate Marriage.  I've read the book at several different times in my life, listened to the book on tape and heard Schnarch speak, back in the day, at the Family Institute. I remember thinking his book was a bit steamy and graphic. I double checked the review on Goodreads to see what other people thought of this book. People tended to love it - although several people thought the author's ego got in the way. So, if you're looking for an interesting resource on sex in marriage, you might want to check this out.  Schnarch maintains that people have their best sex in their fifties and sixties.  That's good news for some of us and gives the rest of you something to look forward to.

The other book that I kind of liked is called Sheet Music:Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage. I discovered this book by Kevin Leman randomly on my Kindle and was pleasantly surprised.  BTW, this book is written from and references a Christian worldview. If you are not comfortable with that, stop reading now. If that is your worldview or at least you are open, I found this book to be rather delightful. No puritanical principles in this book - but a picture-  another steamy one of the gifts in store for married couples. This author does not tip toe around.

If you have resources that  you would recommend, don't hesitate to send them in on comments.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Promised Book Review: A Marriage Memoir

No Cheating No Dying. I Had A Good Marriage. Then I Tried to Make it Better by Elizabeth Weil is a marriage memoir, the story of one couples sojourn into the land of marriage enrichment programs and therapies.   Like a therapy travelogue, this is a great book for couples who are thinking about heading down the path towards marriage improvement and are unsure where to start.  Elizabeth and her husband Dan try a smorgasbord of options and their dialogue and observations as they tip-toe into each new experiences are nothing less than hilarious and refreshing. 

Take their highly regarded, psychoanalytically oriented marriage therapist who does therapy in a reclining lawn chair due to her bad back and reminds Dan of Stephen Hawking.  Her initial comment that they need to find a problem and not just focus on their strengths leaves me scratching my head and thinking that’s a titch arrogant but overall the therapist makes interventions that I  think are pretty good,. As the couple leaves their first session, I find myself thinking they’re going to dump her for sure.  
Liz and Dan’s reactions to the marriage gurus who they encounter on their journey, “What the f--  kind of name is Harville?”are heartwarmingly authentic in a field where everyone takes themselves terribly seriously and assumes they have found the one true way.  By the way that would be Harville Hendricks, of course.  You could safely refer to him as a marriage guru.

A glimpse inside the heads of Liz and Dan as they leave their sessions provides a little humility for seasoned professionals like me who can’t actually read people’s minds as they are leaving our offices.  Other pilgrims on the road to marital betterment will surely be able to relate to Liz and Dan’s reactions to the therapists, educational groups and self help efforts along the way.

The glimpse into their marriage while be comforting to couples who are wondering if they are the only ones with issues.  Liz shares the heartbreak that reverberates through their marriage with the loss of their baby, as well as their joys, struggles and eccentricities.    Most importantly, you see transformation begin to take place in their marriage as they begin to experience the other person’s perspective, to give-up their hard fought realities and put themselves in the other person’s moccasins, so to speak. They stayed in marriage therapy after all.