Withdraw-Withdraw Negative Cycle

Pursuers Want Reassurance

Pursuers often respond to relationship ruptures by attempting to maintain connection with their partners. Conflict in the relationship or feeling disappointment can trigger the Pursuer to seek reassurance and security.

In my couples counseling work, I admire the Pursuer for recognizing that the relationship is in trouble and is motivated to save it. They so desperately want to connect with his/her partner but often do it in a way that ultimately pushes the partner away.

Pursuers Feel Panic

I compare Pursuer’s panic to a seven year old child getting separated from his/her parents in the mall. As the little child begins to realize that he/she is alone and can’t find his/her parents, he/she calls out in terror, “Dad! Mom! Where are you? Mommy! Daddy! Where are you?”

n the same way, the feeling of relational tension can cause a Pursuer to feel alone, lost, panicked, and frightened. In those moments, a Pursuer reaches out to his/her partner for reassurance and connection. “Where are you? Where Are you? I can’t seem to find you!”

Pursuers Seek Connection & Reassurance

The Pursuer is seeking connection and a response, a “ping” back, of acknowledgement that her needs are seen. Some kind of signal that she matters in her partner’s world and that he is there for her. She deeply needs in those moments to be seen, comforted, and to feel soothed. She is pursuing whether she matters to her partner and just like the 7 year old girl lost in the mall, screams the question, “Where are you? Are you there for me?” Her negative emotions were set off by swift feelings of uncertainty and fear.

Produces Negative Relational Cycle

Paradoxically, the pursuing can frequently produce the contrary results of what is intended. The Pursuer’s request for a response from her partner often comes out as criticism, blaming, and even condescending. Rather than connection, the other partner responds with defensiveness and building a wall that gets in the way of being able to reach back and respond.

When the Pursuer’s attempt at emotionally connecting to her partner gets blocked, she tries even harder to get through, often with more intensity and desperation. The partner often will interpret this action as an attack rather than her desperate attempt for connection. He may then defend more, wall up more, and eventually withdraw from her for protection.

Spirals Into More Fear & Panic

Experiencing her partner’s barriers and withdrawing, her emotional internal world spirals further into fear and panic. She is desperate for connection and reassurance that her partner is there for her. Her emotional messages in seeking comfort and contact are hidden underneath her anger, fear, and frustration.

Rather than drawing her partner closer, her actions push him to increase his distance from her anxious distress. The negative cycle between them causes her to feel more fear and to pursue her partner even greater.

Negative Relationship Dance

For example, Susan (not a real couple), wants her husband, John, to put more priority on spending time with her rather than working so much. She often protests that he only values her as the mother of his kids, she cooks and cleans for him and for sex. Outside of that, she believes he doesn’t want to be with her.

The husband desperately wants to show her that he does care. While at work, he call to ask her, “Do we have any plans tonight?” He wants to surprise her with taking her out to a movie and dinner. His wife shocks him with an angry and screaming response, “I told you this morning that we had our daughter’s softball game tonight! You never listen to me! What I tell you goes in one ear and out the other!”

The husband feels hurt and responds, “okay, see you tonight” and hangs up. He thinks to himself, “No matter what I try to do, its never good enough for her.”

“I Am A Failure”

Overtime, John stops trying to “make her happy” and instead, focuses more on work and concludes that his wife should have married someone else. He longs to be “the guy she wants and needs”. He feels sad that he doesn’t know what his wife needs and shame that he has somehow failed her.

Susan continues to feel alone and unwanted in the relationship. She grows more frustrated and angry that her needs are not being met and that John doesn’t seem to care. Both partners are growing unhappy and dissatisfied in the marriage.

“He Doesn’t Care About Me”

Susan’s response to John’s attempt may seem severe from the outside, but from her perspective, it is just one more example that he doesn’t value her enough to listen. She tells herself, “He just doesn’t listen to me when I tell him things because I just don’t matter to him.” She deeply desires for him to show her that she is the most important person in him life.

John works long hours because he does value Susan and the family. He can’t understand her accusations that he doesn’t care or value her. He continues to back away from her anger. As he backs off, Susan’s fears only increase and further concludes that he doesn’t care about her loneliness or her desperate pleas for change.

Pursuer’s World

For Pursuers, Susan’s actions and needs make perfect sense. Her frustrated and angry protests are her frantic attempt to communicate to John how much he means to her. How important he is to her and how much she really needs him to care and be present in her life.

She is screaming, “I need you! I want to know that you care and want me!” Regrettably, her angry and critical protests send confusing messages to John about her need for reassurance and comfort. All he hears are messages of how he continues to fail her and hurt her.

In conclusion, the goal of Pursuers is to get a response from his/her partner that they care and will be there when he/she calls. Pursuers believe that if the they didn’t pursue connection, there may not be a connection at all. Pursuing provides a way to stay connected, whether it is a positive or a negative connection.

Any connection for the Pursuer is better than no connection. The Pursuer prefers and longs for a positive response but a negative response will do. “I am just tired of feeling that I am on my own in this relationship and that he is happy without me in his world.”

Pursuer’s Beliefs Include:

“I don’t really matter to him/her.”

“I feel like I am invisible and my needs mean nothing to him/her.”

“I can’ get him to understand what I am asking for in this relationship. I just can’t get through!”

“Even when we are together, I still feel all alone.”

“I realize that I get angry, poke him, and push him for a response. How else can I get him to respond?”

“If it wasn’t for me, we would live completely separate lives