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Contact & Communication

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

Pursuit & Distance

Girls Chase Boys was a playground game when I was in elementary school. The goal was to catch a boy and kiss him. The boys were unwilling participants in the game. That pattern repeats itself in many marriages during MLC. The abandoned partner chases the fleeing MLCer. Some MLCers expect and secretly hope you will chase them either because they like the game or they need reassurance, but many others want you to leave them alone. To confuse you even more, many MLCers will cycle between game playing, distancing and needing reassurance.

Distance and connection are about the intensity of attachment as well as the degree of participation. Pursuit and distance are about separation anxiety and integration anxiety respectively. Pursuers trigger a Distancer's integration anxiety which triggers the Pursuer's separation anxiety. The Distancer fears losing his Self in another, whereas the Pursuer fears abandonment, which for her represents a loss of Self. The goal of their reactive behaviors is the same; each seeks to preserve Self, but through opposite processes; the Distancer seeks Self through solitude and autonomy and the Pursuer seeks Self through relationships and intimacy. Pursuit and distance is an unspoken agreement to dance; each needs the other since without someone to chase and someone to run there is no dance.

In general, men and women both pursue and distance, but they do so in opposite manners.

Men Women
Pursue Sexually Emotionally
Distance Emotionally Sexually

In MLC you are mainly dealing with emotional pursuing. When your MLCer reacts with a pursuit he may do so emotionally or sexually. Most emotional Pursuers are female and emotional Distancers are male, but in MLC there may be a reversal of the roles as an MLC woman who has been a Pursuer steps from her role and distances herself. If you were originally the Distancer, it is important that you learn what changes you need to make within yourself to prevent a return of dysfunctional distancing behaviors either when you reconcile with your MLCer or move on to new relationships.

Pursuer
Pursuers are relationship-oriented, seeking closeness and finding their identity within relationships. They are caregivers; they need to be needed and give themselves in service to others who they put before themselves. They need teams for their best functioning. Pursuers have a high level of empathy which makes them highly sensitive and emotional as they feel and sense not only their own feelings and emotions, but also those of others and they may have a tendency to be like a sponge. Without detachment they may confuse their emotions and feelings with others they have soaked into their sponge. As a nurturer, a Pursuer's job is to take care of others, she extends this responsibility to rescuing them and believes she can fix their problems which she may believe are her fault and thus her responsibility. Because of this she may seem controlling or manipulative to those in her care.

Outside of relationships Pursuers become panicky. Without relationships they are at a loss for what to do and they worry obsessively about the now distant people who are not receiving their care. This obsession causes her to continue to pursue with increasing intensity. She will continue to move toward and will become more insistent when pushed away.

Distancer
As the counterpart to the Pursuer, the Distancer prefers solitude and individuality to relationships; he prefers to work alone rather than in teams. Solo he can choose how to function; there is no compromise or negotiation. Pursuers direct action from within the team, the Distancer directs action from above or as the lone center of a spoked wheel--where he can be the center of attention. He feels suffocated or stifled when surrounded by too many people in close proximity. There is too much stimulus and he is unable to grasp his thoughts or feelings with the buzz of so many others distracting him like static in his head.

He trusts himself and few if any others--counselors are especially suspect when experiencing personal and emotional problems. In MLC when he feels confused and mixed up inside he recognizes privately that the problem is within--while outwardly projecting blame. He may cycle between denial and private acknowledgement that the problems are his own and you are not at fault. Distancers keep their thoughts and feelings private and may not have the words to express them verbally--so when you ask him to talk and he becomes annoyed, it may be because he doesn't have the words. He wouldn't know what to do with a counselor since he doesn't understand what is happening and can't use words to explain. There is also a mistrust of psychological professionals because there is often an unspoken belief and fear that they have a psychic skill to read his mind--his private thoughts and feelings.

This fear of mind-reading is also why he fears you during MLC. As his spouse you know him better than anyone else--maybe better than he knows himself. That is not acceptable, it's not fair! You know his weaknesses and given his present mistreatment of you, maybe you will use them as ammunition against him. This fear causes him to lash out at you more and run further away.

Your relationship history may not have had issues with pursuit and distance. But in MLC such dynamics surface as one of you moves away from the other who then reacts by pursuing with fearful panic. It's important to have an understanding of the mechanism of pursuit and distance so that you can avoid the negative consequences while using the dance to your advantage. A faithful understanding of pursuit and distance can give you confident assurance to step back and allow your MLCer space and to eventually pursue you--which is what a Distancer does when not being pursued.

I'm Kenda-Ruth and I believe in marriage.
Are you tired of hearing...
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