Relationships: the pursuer and distancer

Learn about the push-pull effect of the pursuer and distancer and some instruction on how to change for the better.

Video Transcription

Hi, it’s Sevin Philips. I’m here to talk about a relationship dynamic between the distancer and pursuer. Most people fall somewhere in between where you want to see your partner sometimes and you want to pursue, and the other times you’re perhaps wanting to pull back a little bit, have some rest and just take a break and be alone, which is completely healthy and normal.

However, there are a lot of people out there that go from one extreme to the other. When they’re partnered up together, they do this dance going back and forth.

For the pursuer, it’s typically instead of just wanting to be with their partner, they feel like they need to. Let’s say they get a text or an email, and in this email, the partner is maybe a little flat where normally they have more energy and they read into that as being like, “Uh-oh. Something is going on.” It triggers this desperation to find out.

You might call, you might show up, you might cancel a date with a friend in order to see your partner because it feels like you really need to.

For the distancer, oftentimes they feel engulfed by the pursuer, so they run in the other direction. This dance is when the pursuer is chasing and the distancer is running away. Eventually, the pursuer gets sick and tired, and feels resentful and angry having pursued for so long and the distancer doesn’t hear footsteps anymore, looks back and the person’s gone.


What the distancer usually does is they turn right around and run back to their partner. Maybe there’s this great reunion and things are fine in the relationship for a while or there’s not and there’s some fighting. Nonetheless, there’s this place where they start over again and then do the dance.

At the core, for every pursuer, is really the fear of abandonment. That’s what elicits these really stronger reactions than other people. At the core for the distancer is fear of intimacy, which is why they run away.

One of the interesting things about this, though, is when the distancer gets to a certain place and the pursuer is gone, they actually turn around and run in the other direction because inside every distancer is actually the fear of abandonment at some level.

It’s actually true for the pursuer as well in reverse, which is that in every pursuer, they chase after unavailable people typically – people who aren’t available for intimacy, which is one of the main signs that they’re actually not comfortable with intimacy or they would be choosing partners who could give them that.

Some steps to work on this – one of them would be, for the pursuer, stop when you feel desperation or the neediness perhaps. Oftentimes, you’re going to pick up the phone and call or you might drop by your boyfriend or girlfriend’s house. You just want to do it.

But if there’s this desperate quality to it, you need to pay attention and be really honest and stop, because the real practice here is to not actually go to your partner to get your needs met, which is very scary for the pursuer. The reason being is that you have to learn really how to take care of yourself and not abandon yourself, and really learn the ultimate lesson which is that the other person isn’t the answer to your abandonment issue.

You could do a lot of things. You can call a friend, you could go workout, you could go to yoga, you could do anything that’s healthy for you in lieu of and wait for the feeling to pass.  When the feeling passes, call the person you’re dating or your partner and that would be what you would do.

For the distancer, their practice is a little different. When they’re feeling engulfed or there’s not enough room in the relationship, they feel like they need a break, instead of running and you actually face your partner and set a boundary, which could be, “I’m looking forward to seeing you this weekend. I just need a break for the next couple of days. I want to get some things done.” Whatever it is you say, it’s basically making a boundary and not leaving the relationship.

What the distancer really learns in this is they learn how to stay in the relationship and be intimate with their partner instead of running away, which is really the healing piece for the distancer.

Both of these practices could be very difficult. I ask that you be gentle and patient. But if you notice some of these qualities in your life, or maybe you notice some of these qualities in some of your friends’ lives, you can suggest this video to them and try some of these practices.