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Pursuit & Distance
Questions, Comments and Answers

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

My strategy is to be nice to her and try to make myself indispensable.
You are not her maid. You can continue to do the chores which you have always done, but let her do her own chores. Do nothing additional or extra for her. MLC is dis-ease not a disease, she can do things for herself. By making yourself indispensable you are enabling her to become a cake-eater.

Pursuers feel that helping through action and presence is essential. Consequently you initiate conversations, ask questions as well as seek and offer advice. Stop. You are not his maid, physician, counselor or savior and right now I am sorry to tell you, but you are not his best friend--at least not regarding active friendship. You enable your MLCer to avoid facing his fears and feelings when you provide these services.

Why can't I accept that it's not about me or my marriage?
Because as a pursuer you want to share your feelings and want others to share their feelings in reciprocation. You believe in a direct approach to your relationship problems and are impatient to achieve it. Pursuers are thus motivated to initiate change and it may seem to you (and to others) that you are the only person making an effort to work on your marriage--or other relationships. Distancers are avoiders and are motivated toward change only when the pursuer changes the dynamics--they can become or seem like Cake-eaters. As a Pursuer you feel responsible and thus you make it all about you, or it's all yours to solve. Pursuers may seem controlling and manipulative to Distancers.

Pursuers initiate action to realize change, whereas Distancers are either content or complacent and lack the motivation to change. It is not that a Distancer would not like change, but as avoiders they would rather live with present difficult conditions than risk the difficulty of the process of change even when there is a high probability for positive improvement. They want the rewards without doing the work. And why not? As the Pursuer, you are already doing the work, so the Distancer doesn't need to do anything. If you are pursuing your MLCer, you are not providing a motivation for her to change. This is a relationship dynamic that may not be present outside of the marital relationship.

To experienced Standers it may seem as though you do not believe their insight and advice regarding MLC in general or which of your actions will be most detrimental versus most beneficial. But if your natural tendency is pursuit, the problem is not one of disbelief or doubt. Pursuit is your habit, your comfort zone and an addiction. You don't know how to not pursue. You have to relearn the fundamentals of the dance. Distancing is something you will learn through awareness of your behaviors and practice.

When trapped in the pursuit and distance dance you will proceed in the opposite direction from that which you desire. This will seem to you as though you are failing in your actions and your natural tendency may have been to do the same things, but with greater effort--pursue more. As you give more and more your MLCer feels as though you are pestering him and thus he gives less and less in return effort which makes you feel even more responsible for saving your relationship. Your pursuit reinforces his belief that you and the marriage are the problem and he is not. While you pursue, he will thus lack motivation to look internally for causes and resolutions to his unhappiness and problems; your pursuit enables him to remain in denial.

Men are fixers too, but women are relationship fixers, whereas men see a problem and link it to an individual rather than relational dynamics. Ex. I'm an introvert and described what it is like to Sweetheart. He told me I could fix that problem with medication. It sounds funny now, but he meant it and I don't recall laughing at the time.

Now you may want to bring up the argument that your MLCer is initiating the changes since he has left you. Good point, but he is doing that as an avoidance tactic; he is regressing rather than progressing. Consider how a Distancer sees a Pursuer. They don't call Pursuers by that label; they call them Nags.

  • She won't leave me alone.
  • She keeps asking me what's wrong or how I feel
  • I can't get any peace and quiet.

He is unaware of the dance and that if the Pursuer stops her pursuit, he will move towards her as she backs away.

So if I work on me and learn how to stop my reactions and my MLCer still tries to bait me back into the old stuff isn't that pursuing? My husband goes back and forth; sometimes he is distancing and other times he pursues.
Yes, it is pursuing; that is my point. Pursuit and distance is a dance in which each person acts and reacts in equal and opposite manners toward each other. When he backs away, you move forward and vice versa. MLCers cycle; many do not know what they want and thus are constantly changing their minds. They may cycle more if you are attached and cycling with them because though it is subconscious you are a willing participant in the dance because you zig when he zags.

Beware of reactive distancing which is the common form of distancing used by a frustrated, fed-up and angry Pursuer. It is an attempt to prove to your partner that they need you and to show them the error of their ways. Distance for your Self--for Self focus; reactive distancing continues to maintain focus on your MLCer.

I'm Kenda-Ruth and I believe in marriage.
Are you tired of hearing...
  • Once a cheater always a cheater?
  • You're better off without him?
  • She doesn't deserve you?
  • I guess it just wasn't meant to last?
  • Divorce is no big deal?
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