Relationship: Are You a Distancer or Pursuer?

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As we are hot on the heels of Valentine’s Day … I thought a coaching article on relationships makes sense.

I’m a pioneer in a coaching method called ‘Visual Coaching’.  I coach clients on creating authentic work and right livelihood (particularly via creative or unique means), money and abundance issues, and relationships (authentic, congruent soul partnerships that match who you REALLY are).   I literally draw desires out of my clients and help them with the outer and inner work needed to turn those dreams into concrete reality.

As a coach, when “Relationship” shows up as a topic of interest for my clients, it is usually when some sort of dissatisfaction has kicked in. Either my coaching client doesn’t have a primary love relationship (and would like one), or they have one but it has some challenges.

In the case of clients who already have relationships but are dissatisfied with them, they either want to work on the relationship or they don’t. Or, their partner does or doesn’t. Or a flip/flop and combo of these two occurs (with both partners going back and forth on their positions).

The Distancer and Pursuer Dance:
I’m not a therapist, I’m a coach. As such, I tend to focus on the future and what can be created (rather than on the past and what has already happened). However, because people often create from their pasts (or more accurately from their core beliefs formed from past events) I sometimes need to wade into the past to understand and help my client SHIFT-IT — or suggest my client co-engage a therapist to help us do it.

There is a distance-closeness dance that all people do in their relationships but for some couples the degree of it is much stronger due to their histories. One person tends to be the keener in the relationship and the other isn’t. One person turns towards or pursues and the other turns away from and withdraws. These roles can flip/flop throughout the stages of relationship too.

The Pursuer is the person in the relationship who pursues the other. Who often feels left out, below, or less power or value than the other. They want to catch the other person or have the other person pay attention to them because they have unmet needs from their pasts that they are unconsciously trying to get the other person to take care of. Instead of focusing on their own life and stability, they focus on the other person.

This person could be the one who pursued the relationship from the very start … or, they could have been reluctant (love avoidant or wary at first) then switched over to pursuer energy after the other person withdrew their energy. These people often come from childhoods where they experienced loneliness, neglect or even abuse often from a one-down or powerless position. Or witnessed their same sex parent acting in a pursuing way to their opposite sex withdrawing parent.

The Distancer is the other side of the polarity. These people are the ones who avoid intimacy to varying degrees. They keep their partners at arms length often using work, children, hobbies, exercise, etc as exit strategies to keep unavailable. They often came from enmeshed backgrounds where they had a lot of responsibility as a young age or had to care for ineffective parents or siblings. Or, alternatively, from situations where they were overly controlled or hovered over.

To them, closeness is associated with burden or duty. Intimacy makes them uncomfortable but they also desire it as human’s need contact (which often drives them to pursue a partner then abandon them when true intimacy begins to sneak in — i.e. The 90 Day Wonders and beyond who disengage after the romantic stage of a relationship wanes).

Both of these types of people have intimacy issues – just in different ways. And its not uncommon for a person uncomfortable with intimacy to have both energies within themselves too — either ping ponging back and forth between the styles when they connect with different people … or even flip-flipping within the same relationship with the same person. They never learned how to be intimate in a healthy, sustained way (which is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence in our world).

Often these two types of energies find each other and have codependent relationships. However there is an opportunity inherent in these relationships too … to bring both people’s issues into the light of day in order to make them conscious and to heal them. Not only improving their own quality of life but also the quality of life for people around them and for generations that may follow too.

The solution for The Pursuer is to stop chasing The Distancer and to re-engage with your own life. Get involved with activities you enjoy, see your friends, get engaged in your community, focus on your work goals, etc.

In short, get a life and stop expecting the other person to meet all of your needs – they can’t and they shouldn’t. And to do your own Inner Work on the wounds from the past that drive you to inappropriately pursue. All of these help you pull back your energy to a more appropriate intensity level, often allowing The Distancer to get in touch with their desire to come find you!

The solution for The Distancer is to get in touch with your own needs for connection and closeness. To understand through Inner Work what is behind your walls and to take steps of advancement towards your partner. To stop or lessen your various activities that block intimacy and learn how to negotiate space in a close relationship — developing more skillful boundary and communication skills along the way.

As you give your partner more of what they need, you get a partner who feels more secure and is more pleasant to be around, which makes you want to see them more! And the unconscious meaning that you apply to relationships begins to shift to a healthier place.

Obviously this is a deep topic. And as a coach there is only so much I can write about in a short article. Hopefully I’ve managed to give you a little taste of this particular relationship challenge. If you have it (or have had it) you most likely recognize what I am talking about. If you want to learn more, here are a few recommended resources to help you do your inner healing work on the distancer/pursuer dance.  Sometimes it is possible to do that within the relationship and it improves or heals.  Sometimes its not, and you are better off pulling yourself out of the pain in order to work on yourself and heal your wounds, so you can be a different kind of person, who attracts a real beloved who treats you properly!

SI-kitMY SHIFT IT SYSTEM:  Let me help you break that nasty habit of chasing people who aren’t good for you (or being the person who avoids due to fears of closeness).  My SHIFT-IT System, via powerful Visual Coaching methods, literally DRAWS YOUR RIGHT PARTNER OUT OF YOU … by you getting clear about the kind of relationship you truly do desire (and deserve) and internally aligning with it (deep Inner Work to root out those negative thoughts and unhealthy patterns from way back and replace them with a positive, healthy relationship template).  This system is available via Private Coaching with me, via SHIFT-IT Online (online coaching group offered twice a year) and via SHIFT-IT Home Retreat Kit (instantly downloadable for your at home use).

And, here are some highly recommended reads to further educate yourself.  I often assign these books to my relationship clients with the dreaded pursurer/distancer dynamic.  Really helps us hit the ground running with our coaching to get you the relationship you truly deserve!

Facing Love Addiction, by Pia Melody. A classic author in the field of codependence.

Terry Real and Relational Life Institute

Keeping the Love You Find, by Harville Hendrix

For a related post, on Harville Hendrix’s work on the developmental wounds that people bring from their past into their relationships, click here.

The Gottman Relationship Institute via the research of Drs. John and Julie Gottman

While coaching is often very helpful for these kinds of issues, sometimes the help of a good, empathetic therapist is required.  My favorite referral for good relationship therapy, for individuals and/or couples is Lisa Merlo Booth.  Tell her Christina Merkley sent you!

©2012 Christina L. Merkley

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Author’s Bio: Christina Merkley “The SHIFT-IT Coach” and creator of the SHIFT-IT System® is a Visioning and Strategic Planning Expert specializing in Visual Thinking and Law of Attraction techniques. Based in charming Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, she works deeply with individuals, partners and conscious businesses to define and manifest what they truly want. And, trains other helping professionals in her innovative ways of working. For more information visit:


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