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.     

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