Are You a Pursuer or a Distancer?
Updated: Feb 23
A common dynamic that arises in most love relationships is the disagreement between partners in how much time is spent together versus time apart. The disconnect occurs when two people have different needs for feeling close versus feeling autonomous in their relationship. A pursuer is the partner who regularly asks for more time spent together, wanting deeper intimacy and connection, while the distancer asks for less time together, wanting more freedom and independence.
I usually explain this concept in terms of a simple Venn Diagram with two (or more) overlapping circles. Each circle represents an individual in a relationship, and the size of the intersections represent how much of themselves are invested in the relationship. The area of each person's circle that is not overlapping with the other reflects an individual's own life pursuits with education, career, personal friends, and meaningful hobbies/ activities.
While the circles tend to significantly overlap in the beginning phase of your relationship of new relationship energy (NRE), life regains a rhythm that requires you to participate in the other areas of life. Depending on what's happening in life, there should be some flexibility and movement back and forth with your circles; if what you need is dramatically different from your partner, you may be playing a high stakes 'cat and mouse' game.
It's helpful to identify the ways in which the pursuer and distancer are each showing up and making unrealistic demands on the other. Unchecked, the pursuer increasingly may feel isolated and unwanted, whereas the distancer may feel suffocated and controlled, causing resentment on both sides of the equation. The solution comes in learning a new way of relating and finding common ground.
Is the pursuer able to stop the chase, and give the distancer some needed space and time? Is the distancer interested at some point, in turning around and re-engaging in the relationship to rebuild intimacy with their partner? Relationship therapy can help couples figure out how to change this pattern where they both know how to be independent and close at the same time in a state of healthy interdependence.