The Dynamic of Pursuer-Distancer

Embrace the positive powers of polarity

Issue #52

By Vivienne Arkell

New love is so magnetic. Infatuation allows sweethearts to revel in every detail and even embrace their partner’s many quirks and differences. In its early stages, the dynamic between partners is intriguing to watch. Most often, the masculine force initiates the dance: leads, courts and pursues the feminine.

As time goes on, true selves are exposed and the revealing of emotional vulnerability gets messy.  As couples attempt to balance independence and intimacy, scales can get tipped. Nature still grants half of the couple the urge to lead or pursue. Yet as the spell wanes, the other partner often searches for space or distance.

In Wanting Sex Again, author Laurie J. Watson clarifies this tendency and the pursuer-distancer roles that are assumed. “Sexually, pursuers are initiators – even if they are the distancer outside of the bedroom… Sex is the way they feel love and best express love.” On the other side of the duo, there is the distancer. Watson says the sexual distancer likes sex and finds it an emotional experience. Yet “letting go and being out of control feels intimidating… Reliability and feeling safe is far more important to the sexual distancer than having an adventure.”

So, what has happened here? Opposites really do attract.

In relationships, one person usually requires more emotional closeness than the other. When looking at attachment theory – the dynamics from childhood that shape our views for future relationships – we see different patterns of forming and feeling connections. A person who felt separation anxiety while young is likely to search for a mate who’s extremely secure, where a partner who developed tendencies of avoidance could understandably favor an overly nurturing spouse.

Dr. Alison Poulsen PhD, on her site asserts that “We tend to attract into our lives people with characteristics that we have unconsciously disowned. That’s why Distancers and Pursuers frequently get into relationships with one another. They each need to develop a bit of the opposite quality to balance their one-sidedness.”

Tug of war: getting the right closeness and distance

Those outside of this emotional game of cat and mouse can see that avoiding blame, better communication and more acts of affection can help greatly. Yet Esther Perel, in her amazing bestseller Mating in Captivity, goes a step further. “In order to bring lust home, we need to re-create the distance that we worked so hard to bridge. Erotic intelligence is about creating distance then bringing that space to life.”

It’s a challenge, yet each partner needs to turn their attention outward again. After re-connecting with one’s autonomy and sense of self, the couple dynamic can return to a state of curiosity rather than possession. Poulsen confirms: “Comparable to the concept of Yin-Yang, intimacy and independence require each other to make a whole. Each partner needs to be able to be alone and to connect with others. If we become conscious of the necessity of satisfying both needs, we can seek a balance openly and avoid much pain and frustration.”

Embrace the positivity of polarities and sexual differences in your relationship. Acknowledge push and pull, along with distance and mystery, as healthy parts of the dance. Summarizing beautifully, Paulsen writes: “We can purposely dance the dance of togetherness by desiring the other from a place of fullness rather than need. If you’re the Pursuer, be the flame and not the moth. If you’re the Distancer, try exercising your own wings.”

Image by Vivienne


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