Relationship Resource Center
RELATIONSHIP REFLECTIONS

Relationship Tip: Turn Towards Your Partner

You begin the journey to a better relationship by learning to TURN TOWARDS ONE ANOTHER.

This is not as easy as it sounds. You have learned to protect yourself in times of strife with a variety of healthy psychological defenses. These are your basic survival mechanisms. In the animal kingdom, this is often referred to as “fight or flight.”

In the relationship world, it is called “the distancer-pursuer dance.”

Turning towards your partner involves the creation of different behavioral steps depending on whether you are a pursuer (i.e. emotional, excitable, easily hurt, moving into your partner’s personal space to pursue an argument, etc.) or a distancer (i.e. pulling back, saying very little, shutting down, feeling overwhelmed, etc.)

To understand the differences, look at the following diagrams:
(Two diagrams: Pursuer/Distancer on left and Two Healthy Adults on the right)

relationship tip 2 Turn Towards Your Partner

This drawing indicates that there is an imaginary line or boundary between you and your partner. Honoring this boundary is a very important thing to learn to do. As a pursuer, you have a pattern of barging across this line when you are upset as if to say, “I am angry, and we are going to talk about this right now.”

Withdrawers tend to respond to that behavior as creating a feeling of danger; therefore, as a withdrawer, you pull back a great distance and say, “We can talk about this when you have calmed down, and we can both be civil.” Unfortunately, both of these behaviors are misinterpreted by the partners, and your behavior elicits the exact opposite of what you really want. The distancing inflames the pursuer into more forward action, and the forward action scares the distancer deeper into his/her personal space.

Understanding this dynamic with hopefully allow you to meet in the middle. That meeting constitutes the first step. The pursuer must move up to, but not over, the boundary line and must modulate his/her voice, tone and posture. The distancer must move forward, up to the boundary line, and show his/her partner through eye contact, voice and posture that you are available for a discussion and not going to run away.

The reason this works to calm the situation down is that your new behavior is speaking to the underlying fear of your partner. The modulated pursuer is saying, “I do not want to overwhelm you with my emotions and energy.” At the same time, the emotionally available distancer is communicating, “I do not want you to feel abandoned by me.”

This is the beginning of the joint creation of SAFETY in the relationship. When you change your behavior while your partner is changing his/her behavior, a deeper sense of comfort and connection will begin to grow. Both of you will benefit from the renewed intimacy that follows.

Click to read Relationship Tip: Presume Sanity

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