Are You a Pursuer or Withdrawer?
What happens when you get into an emotional conversation with your mate? Do you pursue the other person to try to get him or her to understand the depths of the pain you are feeling? Or do you find yourself being overwhelmed by your partner’s emotion and feel like the best thing to do is to not show your feelings?
One of the most researched marriage satisfaction issues is the pursue/withdraw cycle.
In nearly every couple one person takes the position of pursuing connection by expressing emotion and trying to get to the bottom of the conflict. The other person takes the position of trying to not make the connection worse by holding back his emotional expression. Most of the time women are pursuers and men are withdrawers, however these roles can be reversed and can change in different relationships.
The pursue/withdraw pattern exists in nearly all healthy and unhealthy relationships. It can spiral out-of-control when there is too much distance in the relationship due to parallel lives, or there have been un-repaired attachment injuries. When these conditions cause either person to feel hurt or alone, even the smallest disagreement can spark what Emotionally Focused Therapists call a reactive cycle argument. In this argument the more the pursuer expresses emotion, the more the withdrawer emotionally shuts down. The more the withdrawer withdraws, the more the pursuer feels abandoned and that her partner no longer loves her enough to care about what she feels.
This cycle becomes toxic when either person becomes overly critical by using attacks prefaced by words like “never” or “always”; when contempt is used to mock, ridicule or assault the other person’s character; when either person is overly defensive; or when the listener stonewalls by completely refusing to acknowledge hearing the other person. Marriage researcher John Gottman has found that these are symptoms of an unhealthy marriage and are often predictors of divorce.
Couples who are in a toxic reactive cycle of pursue/withdraw conflict nearly always need the help of a skilled marriage therapist to help them repair their damaged emotions.
We help couples understand their cycles and learn how to stay out of their reactive cycles of arguing. Call us for a free consult.