Pursuit and Distancing: Intimacy vs. Needing Space

"Walking on Diamonds" Astronaut Eugene Cernan, by Mimi Stuart © displayed at the Smithsonian Institute Aeronautical Museum

“Why can’t we spend more time together? You always need more space!”

Emotional cat and mouse

The ability to have a passionate, fulfilling relationship requires that a couple balance two primary drives — intimacy and independence. If you don’t consciously balance these needs, you may wind up in the frustrating dynamic of the Pursuer and the Distancer. Pursuers pursue intimacy, unaware of their need for autonomy. Distancers seek autonomy, unaware of their need for intimacy.

The Pursuer/Distancer Dynamic

People who seek more connection — or Pursuers — tend to say things like, “Let’s talk,” or “What are you thinking about?” They like sharing thoughts and feelings, and feel personally rejected when their partner needs some space. As a result, they try harder. Eventually they start a fight or withdraw angrily attempting to create connection by provoking the Distancer’s anger or fear.

People who keep physical or emotional distance — or Distancers — enjoy independence and autonomy. They tend to be self-reliant and have difficulty showing vulnerability. They manage their personal relationships by intensifying work, activities outside the relationship, or brooding alone. When a relationship becomes too difficult, they tend to end it abruptly.

Evolution of Pursuer/Distancer Dynamic

We tend to attract into our lives people with characteristics that we have unconsciously disowned. That’s why Distancers and Pursuers frequently get into relationships with one another. They each need to develop a bit of the opposite quality to balance their one-sidedness.

Feeling that the connection received in childhood did not adequately satisfy their need to be seen or loved, pursuers spend their adulthood pursuing connection. They are often attracted to strong independent types. They tend to seek connection with the fear and expectation of being disappointed, which eventually comes across as needy and undesirable. As a result, their craving for connection often backfires. Thus, the cycle of near connection and rejection continues.

Distancers may have been left to themselves in their childhood or may have been hurt deeply at some point. As a way to protect themselves, they become very independent. They are often attracted to those who tend to be pursuers. Otherwise, how would a Distancer get together with anyone?

As the relationship develops, Distancers often feel smothered by the pursuer’s attention and desire for more connection. Based on their history they may feel they have good reason to fear that intimacy is likely to lead to dependence, constraint, or disappointment. Their partner’s apparent intrusiveness leads them to dread exposing their own vulnerabilities. As a result, they seek space and solitude.

How do People become Pursuers or Distancers?

Imagine a boy falling down and crying, “I’m bleeding!” The natural reaction of the parent is either to get upset with his outburst and reprimand, “Stop crying!” or to run over anxiously to help him. A more effective response would be in the middle-ground, remaining calm and saying something like “Yes, blood … Let’s take a look at it and wash it.” This validates the child’s reaction, while moving him or her to a calmer place. Thus, the child learns how to stay calm in moments of high anxiety.

Responding to a child’s needs without becoming too anxious is what Donald Winnicott referred to as “good-enough mothering.” “Good-enough parenting” allows a child to learn to stay calm without developing dread of being smothered, alienated, or infantilized.

Yet how many of us are ideal parents or had ideal parents? If during anxious moments as an infant we were neglected or smothered with attention, subsequent situations of too much separateness or too much togetherness may cause us to experience inappropriately high anxiety.

The perception of too much separateness can trigger feelings of being neglected, abandoned, unloved, and rejected. The perception of too much togetherness can activate feelings of being crowded, trapped, and controlled.

Self-defeating behavior

Later in life, Distancers often avoid saying what they think in order to avoid escalating anxiety. Pursuers may then feel ignored and try to get a reaction to make a connection, which will increase the stress for both of them.

Thus the Pursuer/Distancer dynamic often leads to hostility and argument. The person pushing for a response is seeking connection. Focusing on the other person through argument provides at least some emotional contact, albeit negative. The Distancer, who likes his or her autonomy, will resist and become hostile to protect his or her separateness and independence.

Without realizing it, the Pursuer expresses enough desire for intimacy for both partners. Therefore, the Distancer doesn’t have to recognize his own desire for connection. If one person is doing all the pursuing, the other has the luxury to experience a need for space and independence. In fact, the Distancer may fall out of love, because there is not enough room for him to experience a sense of desire to be with his partner.

Similarly, the Distancer creates enough distance for both partners so that the Pursuer never gets a chance to recognize her own need for autonomy. Consequently, the Pursuer can disown her own desire for autonomy. Without some sense of being a separate, capable individual in her own right with her own interests, she feels an increasing need to be connected to her partner in order to feel worthwhile, furthering the vicious cycle.

Recognizing both needs

Comparable to the concept of Yin-Yang, intimacy and independence require each other to make a whole. Each partner needs to be able to be alone and to connect with others. If we become conscious of the necessity of satisfying both needs, we can seek a balance openly and avoid much pain and frustration. The result is real autonomy, which allows for no-strings-attached intimacy.
Solutions for the Pursuer

The Pursuer needs to draw back and put more energy into her own life and her own separate interests. A couple who came to see me had been caught in a cycle of emotional pursuit and distancing, which had escalated ever since the birth of their children. When John came home from work and retreated to his computer, Eve generally reproached him because she wanted to spend time with him.

One time, however, she attempted to break out of the cycle, by reframing the situation in her own mind. I’ve been wanting him to provide me with something that I realize I need to provide for myself. I recognize that I need to do something about fulfilling my own needs. She then rearranged her schedule so that she could take a classes, get a job, and/or see friends more often.

She soon realized that some independence and space of her own choosing would enrich her life. Dropping her neediness also allowed John to feel enough separation that he started to desire her again.

Solutions for the Distancer

The Distancer has a sense of power in the relationship, because he or she has the choice as to whether or not to submit to the Pursuer’s desire for connection. Yet by holding such power and fostering fear and weakness in his or her partner, the Distancer loses the opportunity to have a more fulfilling relationship.

If the Distancer needs space before talking about a subject, he or she can say “I just need some time to think. Let’s talk tonight after dinner.” The Distancer should then approach the Pursuer rather than waiting for the Pursuer’s inevitable approach so the Pursuer is not left hanging and wondering when and if there will ever be any connection.

The Distancer needs to purposely schedule time for making emotional contact. If the Pursuer knows when there will be time together, it will be easier for him or her to back off pursuit of connection. It may be awkward for the Distancer to seek emotional contact with someone who is always pushing for it. But the plan includes time for separateness. Over time the practice will become habitual and less awkward.

Making the attempt to connect may actually quell the Pursuer’s need to continue pressuring for more attention. This may help to bring about balance in the relationship. If nothing else, it’ll be worth seeing the look of surprise on his or her face!

An Example

A woman felt suffocated by what she viewed as her husband’s neediness. She had been running away from any contact with him.
After some discussion and thought, she decided she would make an effort to connect with him to see if things would improve. She discussed with him the idea of sitting down to dinner together five nights a week without technological devices and spending one afternoon on the weekend doing something together.

Within two days, the oppression she had been feeling lifted. Her husband hadn’t wanted to spend every minute with her. He had only pursued her so unrelentingly, because she gave nothing of herself to him. Once he knew they would be connected every day, even though it was relatively brief, he stopped pestering her. In addition, he felt better about himself and became more attractive to her, because he became more calm and confident and less desperate.

Over time, the necessity to schedule time together diminished, as both partners became aware of their individual needs. Both individuals were able to find their own balance between solitude and connection within themselves.

We can purposely dance the dance of togetherness by desiring the other from a place of fullness rather than need. If you’re the Pursuer, be the flame and not the moth. If you’re the Distancer, try exercising your own wings.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Watch “Pursuing Connection with a Distancer.”

Watch “Seven keys to having a fantastic relationship.”

Read “Loneliness: ‘I’m all alone.’”

Read “Online dating frustrations: ‘Near the beginning I asked him to meet…. We did not meet.'”

Read “Boundaries: ‘Hey, how’s your dinner?’—Jab of the Fork.”

Read “I think I am a pursuer. My girlfriend initiated a breakup. I want to salvage this relationship. What can I do?”

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

Reference: Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. (1986). “The Dance of Anger,” Perennial Library, NY.

216 thoughts on “Pursuit and Distancing: Intimacy vs. Needing Space

  1. CN

    Thank you for your insightful article, could you possibly comment on my situation with my boyfriend of 2 years? His MBTI profile is INTP and it seems INTPs need a lot of space and aren’t keen on expressing emotions and feelings outwardly. And not sure if this is related, but he got diagnosed with depression last September and is still on anti-depressants. He started a lower dosage course and exercising more about 2 months ago, it seems the depression has finally lifted.

    All these factors are clouding my ability to judge if he needs space or if he’s no longer interested in the relationship and is pulling away as a signal to me to initiate a breakup.

    It’s my birthday tomorrow and he’s made plans to take me to dinner which ordinarily would be very nice, if a friend hadn’t told me of her experience with her ex who pulled out all the stops for her birthday only to leave her days after, the birthday celebration being a perfunctory thing.

    On my end, I acknowledge I am probably classified as a strong pursuer, and during the depression period, I got super worried and probably came on too strong in trying to help as much as I could. I personally enjoy time together usually, words of affirmation, physical intimacy etc, the lack of which from my boyfriend has caused many a night of crying alone. He hardly says “I love you”, the last time being New Year’s Day which was a response to me saying those three words first. We don’t hold hands or anything when we go out; any physical touching is usually me reaching out for him but not for long as I feel he doesn’t respond or seem as if he welcomes such a move on my part. I’ve been also given to additional insecurity after he told me a year ago that marriage and kids were not for him, whereas I intended right from the start to have both with him.

    In the past couple of weeks, I’ve stopped texting or initiating dates, I’m emotionally exhausted from texting and not receiving any response. It’s always texts, he’s not the calling sort.

    A week ago I found out he’s told a mutual female friend that he’s still not gotten used to having someone in his life. Should I take this as an indication to break up with him? Or what else should I do to give him space? Before me, he had 3 relationships, ranging from a few months to over a year.

    Breaking up will hurt like crazy, but I’m trying to be rational and open to it if at least one of us can be happy.

    Any advice you can offer will definitely help, many thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      First, regarding your birthday, enjoy the date and celebrate your birthday without focusing on the future. Just because one of your friends experienced a breakup after a birthday date doesn’t indicate anything about you. But your worrying about it will have a negative impact. Life is short. Even if you don’t stay together, enjoy your birthday. If you do breakup, you can do so in a civil way and remember this one date as enjoyable.

      Regarding the whole relationship, your email above is not enough for me to advise you to definitely break up. However, it does seem as though you have room to become less of a Pursuer and less focused on him. It’s very good of you to be concerned about his depression, but it is a tricky thing to not become like a mother when caretaking someone else. Mothering a person is a turn off for a passionate relationship.

      Pusuing him less and focusing on your own passions, friends, and interests might effect his behavior toward you, but it might not. He definitely is a Distancer and isn’t affectionate physically toward you. This may not change over time, and is likely to get more and more frustrating for you. What you can do now is resist pursuing him and focusing on him, while still being friendly rather than resentful and bitter. Don’t be constantly available and second-guessing him.

      If I were you I would have a candid friendly honest conversation and say that while you care very much for him (or love him) you want to be with someone who is excited about being with you, and that you sense that he feels overwhelmed by you living with him, and that’s the last thing you want. And then move out but keep dating him if you like. I would never want to feel as though the person I’m with isn’t excited and grateful to be with me. That’s not to say that there can’t be differences or problems. But to constantly feel like you are in someone’s space and a burden to that person is bound to make you feel increasingly insecure and needy, which is not an aphrodisiac!! Remember that a conversation like that is not intended to manipulate the other person but to let them know what you want in the relationship, and give them the free choice to decide what they’re willing to give. But in any case, your work is to become more balanced and pursue less so that he or the next person you’re attracted to will be more balanced as well. Pursuers tend to attract Distancers because they need to develop the ability to contain their thoughts and emotions a bit more and to become a little less needy.

      Let me know if you have that conversation. Good luck! And happy birthday!

      Alison

      Reply
  2. Helpless

    Hi Alison,

    I’ve read your article and wish I had found it sooner. In my relationship, I am definitely the pursuer and he is the distancer. We have been together for 2 years and have endured a lot together. From the death of a friend to the death of his Father, we have been there for each other through it all. The past few months we have had some arguments, mainly created by me pursuing and wanting more attention and love that I did not feel like I was receiving (which in turn continued to make me act more needy and clingy). The past few months have been very difficult and I feel like some of my actions were because of this.

    However, he recently broke up with me, stating that it was not me but that there was not enough space in our relationship for him to be happy. He also stated that he has not had any time alone in a very long time and needs to be alone right now to “figure his life out” and grieve. I am completely devastated and unsure of what to do. I know I need to allow him the time and space to think about things, but I can’t help but hold on to this hope that we will be together. I have told him that if we were to get back together, I would be more aware of his need for space and independence and would respect his wishes for that. After reflecting the past 2 weeks, all I can do is think of everything I did wrong in the relationship and how I wish I had acted differently so that I would not have lost him in the end.

    Do you have any advice on what to do? We did everything together for so long and it is so hard to imagine not having him in my life anymore. We have spoken a few times and he has stated that he does not want to be in a relationship right now and needs to be on his own for the time being. He stated that I need not to focus so much on the future and he is in no way trying to remove me from his life and he cares deeply for me, but he needs this time to be alone. He also said he is not ready for the finality of our relationship and will not pick up his belongings or exchange things.

    I don’t want to lose him. Please, is there any advice you can offer on how to increase my changes of our relationship reconciling or do I just need to accept that this is over and move on?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,
      Yes, my advice may be difficult for you, but you must not talk about the future, call him, or stay at home pining for him. Show him rather than tell him that you will give him space by giving him space. The only way for it to potentially work out is for you with him in the future is to learn to give him space and to focus on doing your own things with other people, new people, other activities, new activities, and alone without falling into needy despair.

      He will either come back to you, or call or want to see you, when there’s been enough time and space, or he won’t. IF he does call, don’t be overly anxious to be with him. Be fun and kind, lighthearted and not too available. For instance, say he calls in two weeks, or in six months, and wants to get together that evening, don’t be available, but wait until he suggests another time. Don’t stay on the phone too long if he calls. If you go out again, don’t have a heavy discussion, and perhaps end the evening early while you’re still having fun. It takes time and space for desire to increase.

      I have another blog on “Is being hard to get game-playing?” and it isn’t, except that it feels like it to people who are too eager to be with the other person all the time. Learning a new way of being can feel fake, but if you want a reciprocal relationship, you have to learn to not be overly needy, clingy, and available. To flourish as a person and to be desirable, you’ll want to live a more independent life that’s not too attached to one person. That’s not to say that over time you won’t have a deeply intimate loving relationship, but to do so, it needs to develop gradually with that reciprocity nurtured by avoiding overwhelming and suffocating the other person with your expectations and pursuit.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  3. Buffy

    This is the most awesomely strong woman (Maddison) I have read about in this thread! She is how I want to be when I grow up! (Im 50! lol). Good for her and good advice.

    Reply
  4. Anna

    Alison – this is an incredibly helpful article, thank you for putting it out there. I am writing with hopes of getting your take on my situation and a advice on a path forward.
    I am a 36 year old female. 5 years ago my 10 year relationship ended up in a divorce. About a year and a half later I met Jack. He is 39 and has issues with intimate relationships most likely due to childhood physical abuse and being diagnosed with PTSD (recently).
    Over the last 3.5 years we have been on and off. Our issues were at first he reacted too strongly to any disagreement and saw it as a sign that we’d never work out, and would walk away or break up with me all the time. he also did it in a more major way before every milestone that was to bring us together (being exclusive, moving in), only to regret it later. I would take him back because I saw the struggle and knew he wanted to change so I didn’t take everything personally and allowed what felt like a dealbraker (someone repeatedly rejecting you). I was just tired of living in uncertainty because each break up did make me feel like I’m just waiting for another shoe to drop. We started therapy and he stopped breaking up but still struggled with reactivity and continued therapy for this and PTSD on his own.

    A month ago he proposed and I said yes. 4 days later we got into an argument which seemed silly but at the end of it he said he feels like we are both prioritizing being right over being in a relationship and we can’t keep on going like this. I was rally freaked out and felt rejected but said ok – I know I want you and us and will work on prioritizing us. I started pursuing. The more I pursued the more agitated he was and seemed to view me through a very negative lens. Last weekend same thing happened where a question provoked a reaction that was unwarranted because he assumed it meant something it didn’t without confirming; I tried to explain this; He said I just always want to be right. He said he feels its hopeless for us. That he’s done all he could and nothing is changing. That we argue all the time. That he is not tired of trying but doesn’t know what else to do because whatever we’ve been doing is not stopping the fights. (meanwhile I really feel he has been picking fights and then complaining that we are having them). I asked if I should leave and he said that is my decision that he can’t ask me to wait to see if his feeling of hopelessness changes. So I left him 4 days ago.

    Your article makes me feel like I completely played pursuer, while he was distancing. But he wasn’t asking for space he was criticizing so I was defending. If I could go back, I would have eased up and let us both relax a bit, but I was completely triggered – I felt I was going through my divorce again and trying so hard to stop it and get that connection back. He said that he did things out of fear – he calls me on set schedule so he doesn’t have to explain why he didn’t call, he dreads coming home from work out of fear we’ll get into a fight. All this hurt bc it seemed out of the blue.

    I don’t know what to do. I love him and would be willing to stick this out as long as I know he loves me too and is committed to making this work / prioritizing the relationship. Except he is now hopeless. I regret not being more in control of my own fears over the last month . I was focused on feeling like a victim and looking for validation of his love and commitment after he said it is hopeless. I noticed that he changed phone password and was freaking out as to why. I never asked nor acted out but I am sure my unease was coming across. I felt little compassion from him and there was no connection since that first fight after the engagement. But is this momentary? If we try to make up again – can the precedence we set ever be reversed? Will he lose respect for me for coming back to him after I said this is the last time? I know in more normal relationships it would be a no-no to take people back over and over again and technically I was the one that left this time, but in past he begged me many times not to leave after he threatened a breakup so we have both seen some loss of pride.

    I remember the therapist once telling me that he seems like a diamond in the rough – I always saw him as such too and I loved him not for the potential but for what he was doing to achieve it. what do I do? how do I know if I am passing on the love of my life or on a lifetime of misery? Any thoughts or direction would be most welcome. 🙁

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. I’m sorry about your suffering. To answer your last question first, no matter what happens you don’t have to succumb to a life of misery. You should not make any another person responsible for your happiness, or let the absence of that person make you miserable. In fact, a couple can only be happy over the long-term if there isn’t that much dependence on the other person to make you happy. So, in the meantime, try to focus on living your life with as much dignity, compassion, and interest as possible.

      It does sound as though you fell into the pursuer/distancer dynamic, and that you need to work on being okay without his validation. It’s interesting that you say that he never asked for space, but he criticized. Criticism is a way to push someone away. Think of the teenager who always criticizes his or her very nice parents. The teenagers craves independence, yet fears it at the same time. So he or she creates distance by criticizing. The teenager is annoyed by too much closeness from the parents. Similarly, your boyfriend may have been criticizing you to push you away. He may have felt fear that you might control him or engulf him. His desire for you may have diminished because of you’re pursuit of connection with him.

      If I were you, I would take the time to focus on two things: enhancing your own life, and figuring out how you could have handled the situations that caused you to fight in a way where you would have been true to yourself without demeaning him. The reason is not to hash over painful experiences, but to learn and grow in case you do get back together or for your next relationship. Feel free to send me examples of how these conflicts occurred. They may seem trivial, but there may be something underlying them that can be addressed, or you may be able to change what or how you respond to certain situations.

      Nonviolent communication is a great method of handling conflict. There are some good CDs by Dr. MArshall Rosenberg that can really help you in future difficult interactions with him or others.

      Best, Alison

      Reply
      1. Anna

        thank you so much for a prompt response and advice! I started watching some of the youtube videos on nonviolent communication and they are great – thank you!!!!

        ..So here are some examples of how our conflicts occurred in past: 2 weeks ago he suggested we go to pick up a few boxes of my stuff to move to his house. At one point during the move he made a point that I needed to check my attitude (I was stressed during the move) because after all he was doing me a favor by moving me into his house. In past it was an issue when he’d say he’s doing me a favor by doing things with me when he could be doing other things. I asked him why is he saying he is doing me a favor? I was seeking validation – him saying that is not what he meant of course he wants this, it is not him vs me, etc. Instead he attacked me for assuming the worst (without asking what was I assuming) and said it is a favor as he he is helping me while he could be doing anything else and that if I am to behave like this he wanted my car keys so he can leave. I tried over and over to get him to understand my point of view but could not get through to him.

        What started a fight that led to us breaking up 4 days ago was that we were both straightening the house on Saturday. I asked him if I can clean out a drawer that was next to my side of the bed where he had some of his stuff. In it he had a lot of random “junk” ( workout bands, empty envelopes, pens) mingled with some valuable from his grandfather. He overreacted and started saying how those valuables were the only things that are irreplaceable in the house, even teared up speaking about this, and was saying how that is the only drawer that still had his stuff as he had cleared the closet for my clothes. I had no idea where this reaction was coming from, as I had no intention of mishandling the valuables nor asking him to move them, I thought I was doing a good thing. I tried to explain that all these implications he ascribed to my question are not true. He still stayed mad because he didn’t know what I was doing and I could not figure out why he didn’t just ask me instead of attacking me.

        After about an hour or so I realized that I was the only one cleaning the house still. I walked by his office and asked if he was done cleaning. He got angry saying that I knew he had to do work, why does he have to tell me all he does in his own house, etc. I calmly said it was a yes or no question, that we made joint plans for the weekend, if he wanted to work I have no issues just would want to know for how long so I can plan my own schedule with that in mind. He then said I can’t do anything on my own, he has to check in with me for everything, etc. When I asked where is all this anger coming from, that I didn’t do anything wrong here he kept saying it is hopeless, he tried and work hard on this relationship but we are always fighting.

        thanks again for all your help!

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I’m glad you liked the videos.

          From reviewing your examples, I think you both could become a little less defensive. It’s hard to tell. Let’s look at one at a time:

          1. “we go to pick up a few boxes of my stuff to move to his house. At one point during the move he made a point that I needed to check my attitude (I was stressed during the move) because after all he was doing me a favor by moving me into his house. In past it was an issue when he’d say he’s doing me a favor by doing things with me when he could be doing other things. I asked him why is he saying he is doing me a favor? I was seeking validation – him saying that is not what he meant of course he wants this, it is not him vs me, etc. Instead he attacked me for assuming the worst (without asking what was I assuming) and said it is a favor as he he is helping me while he could be doing anything else and that if I am to behave like this he wanted my car keys so he can leave. I tried over and over to get him to understand my point of view but could not get through to him.”

          Ideally, he wouldn’t say that you should check your attitude, which could come across as a little aggressive. But people rarely use ideal communication, especially under stressful circumstances like moving, and moving in together. Ideally, you would have said, “You’re right. Thanks for taking the time to help me instead of doing your other stuff. I really appreciate it. Sorry I was short with you/grumpy.”

          I would not have asked him why he thought he was doing you a favor, because he clearly was doing you a favor. Maybe it’s normal for a boyfriend to help his girlfriend move it, but it’s still important to appreciate the effort. In the future, avoid “trying over and over again” to have him see your point of view. Focus instead on rebuilding the positive connection between the two of you and getting out of battle of words. There can be no understanding when each person is feeling defensive and unappreciated. Find a way to understand his side.

          2. “we were both straightening the house on Saturday. I asked him if I can clean out a drawer that was next to my side of the bed where he had some of his stuff. In it he had a lot of random “junk” ( workout bands, empty envelopes, pens) mingled with some valuable from his grandfather. He overreacted and started saying how those valuables were the only things that are irreplaceable in the house, even teared up speaking about this, and was saying how that is the only drawer that still had his stuff as he had cleared the closet for my clothes. I had no idea where this reaction was coming from, as I had no intention of mishandling the valuables nor asking him to move them, I thought I was doing a good thing. I tried to explain that all these implications he ascribed to my question are not true. He still stayed mad because he didn’t know what I was doing and I could not figure out why he didn’t just ask me instead of attacking me. “

          It’s hard to know why there was such over-reaction. Either you sounded entitled or controlling, or mentioned the word “junk,” which caused him to get defensive. Or he really is attached to these items. Or possibly, he felt some fear of being invaded or engulfed in his home, and thus, eventually losing his control and freedom over his life. Or a combination. I suspect the third has something to do with it. And this would be a normal feeling, which shouldn’t cause you to become defensive. It might have been appropriate to say something like, “even though it’s exciting to move in together, it must be a little overwhelming for you to have me and my stuff in your space. Let’s be open with each other and try to balance our freedom and separateness with living together. Let me know when you need more space.”

          “After about an hour or so I realized that I was the only one cleaning the house still. I walked by his office and asked if he was done cleaning. He got angry saying that I knew he had to do work, why does he have to tell me all he does in his own house, etc. I calmly said it was a yes or no question, that we made joint plans for the weekend, if he wanted to work I have no issues just would want to know for how long so I can plan my own schedule with that in mind. He then said I can’t do anything on my own, he has to check in with me for everything, etc. When I asked where is all this anger coming from, that I didn’t do anything wrong here he kept saying it is hopeless, he tried and work hard on this relationship but we are always fighting. “

          I do agree with him on this last one. It seems to me that your question “Are you done cleaning?” may have been putting a guilt trip on him. A relationship only works in the long-term if you give and do stuff for the other without keeping tabs. If things get unequal after some period of time, have a friendly neutral discussion about it, or stop doing more than your fair share without invoking a guilt trip. While he should not have said he owns the house, again, he is indicating that he feels controlled when you make comments like that.

          Where is the anger coming from? When people feel like somebody is criticizing them or wanting to control them or limiting their freedom, they tend to get angry unless they are very good at expressing their feelings and setting boundaries. It is a way of setting boundaries, though not the best way. Instead of arguing, I would listen to the underlying message and give him more space–in a loving, not vengeful, way.

          If you want the relationship to work, I would try to be more emotionally separate, and focus on your goals.

          Good luck!!

          Reply
  5. Christopher

    Alison,
    Great article. This very much describes the situation between me and my wife. In the beginning, I was the distancer. She moved 2 states away to be with me, even though I said I was too busy for a serious relationship when we first started dating. Somehow she won me over in her pursuit and we got married. 2 weeks later I got deployed and spent our first year married on different continents. When I came back we had a great second year together, bought a house, had our first child, good jobs, the charmed life. We have been married almost 9 years now and have two kids. After the first child, I decided to refocus my life inwards towards my family, rather than to continue my career pursuits and be a father/husband who was home every couple of weeks and on the holidays. At about the same time, she started progressing in her career, climbing the corporate ladder and being very successful. I found our roles had reversed and now I was the pursuer, pining for her attention and time. About 8 months ago, she threw on me that she was completely unhappy, emotionally detached, and had felt that way for years. She claims she had covered it up for a long time in an attempt to essentially keep me at bay and keep our family unit together. My initial reaction wasn’t smother her with affection and win her back. That did not work. I tried giving her distance the best way I know how, which would result in a repetitious 2-3 week ebb and flow cycle me faking having no interest in her, then we would have a couple great days where we were both on the same page, then she would say I tried to take things too far and resort to completely closing herself off from me.

    She has resorted to moving into the guest bedroom. We both care deeply for the children, but our relationship is more of roommates than spouses. I am convinced that if it wasn’t for the children she probably would have left me at this point. My number one priority is the kids stability, but if there was any way I haven’t tried that could rekindle our relationship, I would try, though I’m afraid the effort may be futile now.

    If it weren’t for the kids, I would say our best bet would be to try to spend some significant time apart to see if space would help her realize I want to be her friend and partner, not just someone who helps raise the kids and shares in the chores. But that’s not really an option when considering the children. Yet I know this type of relationship is not sustainable and on the flip side the alternative would be divorce. At the moment, I’m at a loss. Any suggestions?!

    P.S. Tried marriage counseling. This is where I first learned of the distancer/pursuer relationship. I found it to be helpful, she only attended one session and of course found it to be a waste of her time.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear C,

      I am so sorry to hear this, though I admire your attempt to salvage the marriage and to objectively look at how you participated in the dynamic between the two of you. It is not a good sign that she is not willing to continue counseling. It’s important that you both like the counselor. So if she simply didn’t like the session, but would be willing to go to another counselor, then I would go, whether or not you stay together. I would also encourage that you go to a counselor–if you can find one, who not only helps you understand things better but helps you become more self-empowered in a positive way in your relationship with your wife. I really like John Gottman, who bases everything he says on hard scientific research (he’s an MIT math graduate.) It would be fabulous if the two of you could go to a weekend seminar of his. But at least look at his website and books.

      As someone whose parents divorced when I was ten, I believe from experience that it can be better to see your parents divorce and then flourish individually or with a new partner eventually, than to witness two parents living together without mutual passion and joy. I don’t advocate divorce easily, and am not doing so in your case. I’m just saying that it isn’t necessarily great for the kids to see two parents living together without mutual respect and love. And believe me, they see what’s going on in your relationship.

      It’s important though that you handle the situation, whatever you end up doing, say separation, with as much dignity as possible. You could say to your wife that although you love and respect her, you do not want to live your life in a loveless marriage. It’s not fair for anyone in the family.

      I’m coming out with a book on the pursuer/distancer dynamic in another month or two and there’s a whole chapter on breaking up. In the meantime, you might search my site with the words “pursuer” and “breaking up.” Here’s a very short article on separation: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2015/08/16/ten-guidelines-for-how-to-proceed-with-a-relationship-after-a-separation-what-steps-are-required-as-we-work-towards-repair/

      I do think there is a chance that if you separated, were working and pursuing other activities, took care of the children part or half the time, but did not seek her attention or time, although continued to be polite, that over time, she might become attracted to you again. That’s the best chance anyway. And it is perhaps the best way to move forward if she does not become interested in salvaging the marriage. In the meantime, while living together, try to be respectful but not at all needy, and try to go out and do things without her, so that you are not simply at home all the time waiting for her.

      Let me know what happens or if there are any other specific details to consider in answering your question.

      Alison

      Reply
  6. bree

    My boyfriend used to be a pursuer and I was the distancer for probably a year. He told me he loved me first, wanted a commitment sooner, expressed many insecurities and was asking me to do things like change my relationship status on Facebook, post photos with him, spend more time with him, spend holidays with him instead of with my family etc. He would get extremely jealous and express a lot of rigidity in his boundaries, like not allowing me to take pole-dancing classes purely for exercise and hobby because he doesn’t want to date a “girl like that”, telling me I couldn’t rideshare with men from Craigslist even though I had done it safely many times before the relationship, asking me to cut contact with friends who hit on me. I felt like he was being controlling but he felt that I wasn’t willing to make compromises. When I was away for a month or more he wanted to be in contact every day and would express disappointment if I forgot to contact him for a day. He was extremely loving, constantly telling me how amazing and beautiful I was and how much he loved me, and at first I was put off by it but eventually warmed up to him and fell in love with him and although in the beginning, I didn’t reciprocate his affectionate gestures, I eventually began to although I didn’t meet a lot of his other needs.
    After a while, and after a few incidents where I hurt him and broke his trust or boundaries (never cheated on him or anything close to it) probably around the one year mark, he began to withdraw. I believe he had a lot of resentment, and he has expressed to me that this is how he deals with disappointment and vulnerability sometimes without realizing it. He became very cold, didn’t want to sleep together sometimes, our sex became very dull and unpassionate, he rejected my advances for sex many times, he sometimes didn’t want to cuddle while watching tv like we always used to even though in the past I was always the one who would reject cuddling sometimes, he wanted to spend time with friends without me in situations that in the past he almost certainly would have always invited me to, and would generally be cold to me. I became very reactive and emotional and would complain, pick fights, cry and panic a lot because I was confused and feeling very rejected and hurt. I also became very jealous of a girl friend he had who he used to be very attracted to who he began spending more time with and communicating more with at the same time he was pushing me away.
    We worked through some of these problems and it was very painful, but we made some progress and slowly were able to show more affection and have affectionate sex, spend better time together, etc. He was still hurt from the first period of our relationship and I was still hurt from the second when our roles reversed, and he was dealing with pent up frustration from my increased emotionality, persistance with trying to get hime to be more affectionate and caring, fighting with him, and I was dealing with frustration with him not meeting a lot of my expectations. He was still complaining that I wasn’t seeing him enough because I am very busy with school and other commitments and friendships, and he was going through a hard time emotionally and financially. After a while, I began to lean in and become more supportive, even supporting him financially, and made a much bigger effort to see him more often. I didn’t feel that he appreciated or matched my efforts because I would make a concerted effort to come over when I had responsibilities or could be more comfortable at my home, and he would have his house a complete mess, sometimes have friends over, be playing video games or watching tv and kind of just expected me to go with the flow and be there. if I complained that I wanted to have more intentional, quality time together, he said I was being needy or that nothing is good enough for me and the best part of a relationship is just relaxing together. In the beggining of our relationship we did so many spontaneous fun things together and had a lot of special time together, and I began to tell him admittedly in naggy ways that I was unhappy with the way we spent time together and wanted to go on more dates and such. He was not receptive and told me that relationships just get like this after a while and dates are for puppy love, or that we go out to eat all the time even though that is really just out of necessity because he would never have groceries so we would run somewhere for a quick meal, or name whatever random outings we went to in the last few months even if a handful of his friends were also there. he would then ask how many times dates had to happen for me to be satisfied and I would get upset because he would only want to meet my desires out of a resenting obligation. I was going through a really hard, busy time with school and got really sick at one point, and was still dealing with sadness from my dad’s death and didn’t feel supported by him, and when I would express disappointment, albeit in naggy ways, he would get even colder. I recently went away for month and whereas we would talk every day when I was away usually, it took him 6 days to call and when I brought up that I was disappointed by it, he snapped and told me I’m ridiculous and impossible to please and have unmanageable expectations. He would ignore a lot of my texts or take until the next day to reply (he hates being on the phone because he takes calls for work constantly but he used to call a lot), even though I knew he’s always free after work and always has to check his phone constantly for work so there’s no question about him seeing the messages or not. He’s gotten very angry every time I’ve complained about the whole phone thing, if i said i wanted to talk twice a week to catch up he would get defensive and say that even if he were to do that i would still call him a few times a week so it would add up to way more. He’s been calling me needy and insecure a lot and a lot of my behavior has been that way, but i feel as a logical reaction to how drastically his treatment of me has changed in the last year. he calls me emotional and crazy and overreactive and gets frustrated when I want to talk and i find him cold and calculating and an almost unrecognizable person from when i met him.
    since I’ve been back I’ve been frustrated because out of the handful of days we spent together (a few of those really just a few hours at night) we spent together, his friends were almost always there. we had a night and half a day we spent together and besides that, we’ve been in group settings because he’s been having two friends who I’m not entirely fond of staying at his house. one of the nights we went out with a bunch of friends and afterwards i assumed i would be coming over and he said he was tired and we should hang out the next day. the next day i called to get something i left from his house and he was short but friendly on the phone, and i asked if he wanted to hang out and he said he was with friends but if i wanted to i could come over. I got upset because he acted like he forgot he said we would hang out and didn’t seem enthusiastic about it and he got upset that i was overreacting. he promised me we would have a full day together before i started school but i had to remind him to make it happen and even then, we ended up being with his friends and being alone for just a few hours. i told him clearly i wanted this to be alone time, and he inited his friend and his girlfriend on a double date without asking and when i got upset, he got upset that i couldn’t just be chill and go with the flow. we fought but ended up having fun on our date. after that i started school and have been busy. i’ve been asking him to help me with some stuff around my house that requires heavy lifting and woodwork for over a month and hes agreed for a long time, and he finally said he was coming but then bailed and didn’t say anything about it until way later that night and started being really sweet to me after i ignored a few of his texts because i usually am very good about replying quickly and saying he wanted to talk on the phone to hear my voice, saying he loves me, which is very uncharacteristic of him. he said he would help me the next day. i didn’t complain and told him okay, i was short to him on the phone and he asked me what’s wrong, saying he loved and missed me and i told him i’m going to start respecting his wishes to have more space but that i didn’t want to nag or go into details about my feelings because every time i have tried that he has pulled away even farther and been hostile.he assured me he wants to know how i’m feeling about the relationship and wouldn’t be asking if he didn’t care, and that he loves me very much, and told me space would be good but that the last thing he wanted was to stop talking to or seeing me. he began asking how im doing, about my symptoms from being sick (even though i had been sick all week and he hadn’t asked about it yet and even ignored me after i told him i felt weak and dizzy and like i had to faint for a while a few days ago), the things that i’ve wanted for the last six months that hes made me feel bad about asking for. he suggested we exchange letters to tell each other how we’re feeling. the next day he flaked again on coming over to help me and i tried to avoid calling him about it but called him in the evening and he said he forgot about it pretty much and that his stomach hurt but if he felt better he would come help later and if not in a few days, and it was his day off so i know he probably just stayed home with friends all day. i told him it was unacceptable to waste my time that way and to flake on a commitment two days in a row and to tell me now if he planned on coming or not because i could just find someone else to help, he said k sorry, you should find someone else. i felt bad and like i could be seen as naggy for making this comment, even though this is normally how i confront people when they disrespect me and my time. I don’t think its healthy to have to feel guilty about these kinds of things. i told him i had the letter and he was very short and said cool, i said to let me know when to drop it off and he said he would very curtly with no indication that he wanted to hang out or felt urgency about reading it. he didnt contact me at all the next day and i called to ask about somethign i left at his place and asked what he was doing and he was out with a friend at an event that happens a few times a year that we always used to go to together with no invitation to hang out even though we typically hang out on weekends and havent seen each other for a handful of days. i’m feeling very anxious but am trying to focus on myself and have been hanging out with friends who make me happy and working on responsibilities i have, but i can’t help but obsess over the situation. i’m going to keep my distance but i don’t know how to do it without coming off cold and resenting and everytime i do contact him i freak out that its going to seem needy even if its a simple call like hey do you have my charger. i dont feel that this is healthy for me but i love him and know that we have been great together in the past and that he was the sweetest most abundantly loving and patient guy i’d ever met for over a year. my letter expresses regret for my neglect in the past, understanding for the way he reacted, hurt for the way i feel now, accountability for my pushy and needy behavior that has caused him a lot of pressure, but also a strong message that i refuse to pour emotional and mental energy and my time into someone who doesn’t want it or reciprocate and that i will begin focusing that energy on myself and my friends who do value it. i said im willing to compromise, manage my expectations, stop trying to control him and give it another shot, but that i know my worth and what i want out of a relationship and that some things i don’t find unreasonable expectations like checking in regularly, hanging out alone more often than with his friends. what should i do?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      This is long!! but very well written. It’s great for you to see and understand the history between the two of you. I will just go through your letter and make some comments.

      First of all, there are many people who at first are pursuers and then become distancers, once the relationship becomes stable or predictable. One of the reasons it’s better to get married after knowing someone a year or two is that the relationship dynamics can really change after a year or two. Those changes are not necessarily for the worse, although in your case they were.

      Everything you say in the first several sentences shows that he is fairly undifferentiated, shown by his insecurity, emotional fusion, jealousy, controlling behavior, and his neediness at the beginning. When someone is undifferentiated, they may be very loving and romantic at first. In fact, often undifferentiated people are the most “loving” and really pursue their partner at the beginning, and the partner overlooks controlling behavior because it occurs in the guise of love, romance, and desire. But later undifferentiated people become defensive and resentful, and they start to feel controlled or anxious around the other person. So as a response, they may start to withdraw, though still claiming to want to be together. “Can’t live with her and can’t live without her.” Emotional fusion makes a person very uncomfortable with true intimacy, and therefore, the passion can dwindle.

      Your reactivity, crying, complaining, and panicking made things worse for both of you. Becoming more emotionally separate is key to allow you to become less reactive and still care about someone and be honest. By the way, withdrawing coldly is a type of reactivity. Sometimes one has to withdraw from an highly anxious situation, but it’s best to say, “I’ve got to take a break, I feel overwhelmed,” rather than simply to withdraw coldly.

      “even supporting him financially, and made a much bigger effort to see him more often. I didn’t feel that he appreciated or matched my efforts because I would make a concerted effort to come over when I had responsibilities or could be more comfortable at my home, and he would have his house a complete mess, sometimes have friends over, be playing video games or watching tv and kind of just expected me to go with the flow and be there. if I complained that I wanted to have more intentional, quality time together, he said I was being needy or that nothing is good enough for me and the best part of a relationship is just relaxing together.”

      This is not good. If you are asking for my advice, I would not support him financially, I would not go to his messy house where he’s with his friends playing video games, and I would not go out with him unless he shows desire and excitement about doing so–for now that means, going on a date is his idea. I would not complain to him or criticize him, but when he asks you to come over, just say that you’d rather not because the mess is not that appealing to you.

      He’s wrong about relationships; they do not have to become boring or careless. I know people who have been married for 30 years and go out on dates, and when they stay home, they still treat each other love, respect, and appreciation. But it does take two people to have this attitude. You can change yourself, and someone might respond positively, but there’s no guarantee. I suspect in this case, he will not improve.

      “the things that i’ve wanted for the last six months that hes made me feel bad about asking for. he suggested we exchange letters to tell each other how we’re feeling. the next day he flaked again on coming over to help me and i tried to avoid calling him about it but called him in the evening and he said he forgot about it pretty much and that his stomach hurt but if he felt better he would come help later and if not in a few days, and it was his day off so i know he probably just stayed home with friends all day.”

      Time to focus on other people and aspects of your life. This relationship is going nowhere. Sorry.

      “i told him i had the letter and he was very short and said cool, i said to let me know when to drop it off and he said he would very curtly with no indication that he wanted to hang out or felt urgency about reading it. he didnt contact me at all the next day and i called to ask about somethign i left at his place and asked what he was doing and he was out with a friend at an event that happens a few times a year that we always used to go to together with no invitation to hang out even though we typically hang out on weekends and havent seen each other for a handful of days.”

      It sounds as though he is seeing someone else, and even if he isn’t, the relationship is over or should be. He may redouble his efforts at some point, especially once you truly move on, but his renewed efforts will be short-lived, and this same cycle will repeat itself but more brutally.

      It is very hard to move on from a relationship that is not working, where there is insufficient respect and desire on both sides. That pain will diminish. While you can appreciate the time you had together and the way it was during the first year, wanting it to be the way it was that first year won’t make it happen, because from the beginning there were seeds of undifferentiation–insecurity, control, and an attempt to limit you as a person rather than to honor you.

      Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  7. Confused

    Hi Alison! Thank you so much for your explanation and insight into the pursuer-distancer patterns, it really helps me understand my own relationship better. I have a question though.. My long distance boyfriend of 1 year is a really great guy, and I know how lucky I am to have met him. I noticed recently that we have left the honeymoon stage and he is starting to distance himself from the relationship, saying he wants to do more things on his own. At first I felt personally rejected by this, but after some thinking I realised it is probably healthier for the relationship, as we both get the time to become a bit more independent again. I have been giving him much space: we only text once a day and I always let him initiate the conversation. We havent seen each other in person past 1,5 week. However, I cant help but feel anxious because I am scared that I will lose my loving feeling towards him when I give him ‘too much space’. I also notice some resentment on my part, because I feel I am the only one in our relationship that cares enough to notice the problematic patterns, look critically at my own behavior and try to change it so that our relationship can become healthy again. I dont see my boyfriend doing any of this, and he seems to just enjoy his time with his friends. It feels as though our relationship would fail if I wouldnt do anything about it. Its like he doesnt notice the emotional impact this ‘distance-withdrawel dance’ is having on me. What should I do?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Confused,

      Did you write me before? It seems like it but I can’t find a previous comment.

      Anyway, from what you’ve written here, I do not feel super optimistic. If after only one year, your boyfriend prefers being with his friends a lot over being with you and says he prefers doing more things on his own, the last thing you want to do is pressure him to do more with you, or to discuss things and lay any emotional guilt on him. That will totally deaden his desire to be with you.

      You say that if you don’t do anything to change things, nothing will be changed, because he’s happy with the status quo, which is basically him calling all the shots. The problem is any push to be together with him more will backfire.

      What you need to do is be busy the next two times he wants to get together with him, and I would find things to seriously be busy doing–new friends, new hobbies, new sports or classes. When he calls to get together, be friendly, say you’re busy, and don’t stay on the line very long. He can’t continue to have it all at his convenience or he will lose desire and respect for you. Make sure he has to plan ahead to see you because you have other things going on. Don’t just be waiting for his call/text.

      If he asks if you’re still interested in him, then you can say that while you really like him, you want to be with someone who’s more excited to be with you.

      You say he doesn’t notice the emotional impact this distance-withdrawal dance is having on you. I would caution you against making sure he notices it. It will just make you less attractive. You do not want to coerce someone into spending more time with you through guilt: “Look how sad I feel when you spend all your time with friends.” That is very unappealing.

      It’s a lot more appealing to have other plans and to be unavailable for a couple of weeks and then finally say, “Sure, I’d love to see you.” Enjoy yourself when you see him, but don’t be available very often, and see how it goes. If he still doesn’t become more interested, then he may have another love interest or he may not be the type that stays interested after the honeymoon phase is over. In either case, as hurtful as it is now, you’d want to know now rather than in a couple more years.

      Let me know how it goes. Don’t be weak! You’ll pay for it.

      Best, Alison

      Reply
  8. Maddison

    Hi Alison,

    Please provide me with guidance. I have been in a five year relationship with our ups and downs, but overall great. As the pursuer, I should have recognized my boyfriends need for more space, which I think I’m general pushed him to his limits. When approaching the end of our year 5 together, I explained to my boyfriend that I needed to know his intentions with me long term. I’m 35, he’s 41, and we both want to be married and have children. I set a deadline (I know never a good idea) that if he had not figured things out by the end of our 5th year, I would need to move on. I also made it clear to him that I was in love with him, and thought he’d be an amazing husband and father. Close to the end of the 5th year, he began to withdraw from me completely. I asked him if we could talk and he explained that he felt “pressured” by this deadline I set to figure things out and needed space. As much as this devestated me, I agreed to gove him space. It’s been 8 days now and I have not initiated contact once to give him plenty of space. On day 6, he texted me asking how I was doing, I didn’t respond. On day 7 (out official 5 year date of meeting) he sent a sweet text about how we met, how the “last 5 years have been great” and thanking me for coming to Kells that night (the bar we met at-classy I know). I didn’t respond. That night I recieved a delivery of beautiful flowers from him with a note “Here’s to our first 5 years. I love you”. Trying to maintain no contact, I sent a text only thanking him for the flowers. I haven’t heard from him since that text, although it’s only been two days. I don’t know how to handle this. I’m heartbroken and guess only time will tell but I also don’t want to get my hopes up looking into his messages and delivery of flowers as more than they are. Please advise.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I am impressed with how you are handling the situation, which must be quite frustrating and disappointing for you so far. I am not against deadlines at all. I do think you can do the same thing–move out, or stop seeing someone, without a deadline, but a deadline works well, if you stick to it steadfastly. I think it works best when you really emphasize that you are not putting pressure on the other person, in fact you wouldn’t want to be with someone who feels pressured to be with you, rather than lucky and delighted to be with you. The deadline and ending of the relationship is so that you don’t waste your own time any more with someone who wants different things than you do and who doesn’t fully appreciate the good fortune of being with you.

      I think you handled the texts well, and that it was decent of you to thank him for the flowers. I do think the next time he pushes to talk to you or to see you, you might email him or talk to him on the phone briefly; be kind but clear, and say something like, “While I really care for you, I don’t want to spend anymore time with someone who is not sure about what he wants in the future, and isn’t happy and certain that he wants to spend his life with me. So I won’t be continuing to date you.” If he says “let’s be friends,” say that you will be spending time meeting new people.

      I think it’s quite possible he would soon decide that he is losing something of great value, and then make a commitment. But he may not.

      I think that if you were to get talked into going on dates and continuing your “friendship” etc, that he will be less likely to figure things out. So I would not see him, even to talk things over. He’s had enough time.

      It is very good that you have the strength and determination to decide that you would rather suffer some sadness now rather than continue on in an endless, non-committed relationship with someone who wants to have it both ways (that is, you and his potential freedom.) He will never fully appreciate and respect you if you allowed that to go on. Just the fact that you won’t continue will heighten his respect and desire for you.

      In the meantime, I would try to meet other people.

      Let me know what happens, and stay strong.

      Alison

      Reply
  9. Smith

    I’ve read this over and over again… I’m going through such a difficult time right now and I have two opposing sides of advice, I’m losing my mind knowing what to listen to!

    My boyfriend and I have had an amazing relationship so far, just under a year. He was so romantic, involved, loving and kind. Any tiffs we had, he was very quick to want to resolve the matter at hand in a constructive way. I love him so much, and we have had some of the greatest memories.

    Well, we’re both finishing college in our mid-twenties at an esteemed university that specializes in the field of study we’re both majoring in… and I’m taking a year off to work, and he’s just started school up again.

    I don’t even think there was anything really wrong, it was just a bunch of little times, little things that built up to it and 4 days ago I just had enough. He had been distancing himself to work, and anytime I showed interest in spending time with him, it caused him stress, anxiety and I do believe I became less attractive to him… which is another huge blow to my confidence.

    I feel like for the past few weeks I’ve been reaching out to an empty space.
    So I said I was going to leave, move out. He took it as a break up… I said I didn’t want that but I don’t want to feel rejected either. All I wanted was a simple schedule to allot time together. He promised me we’d spend time that night 4 days ago, just me and him, when we got home and instead, he zoned out for 2 hours playing games. I was trying to be as understanding as possible but couldn’t help but feel stood up.

    When I withdrew, he begrudgingly tried to follow me. That’s when it all started and now, I’ve told him I don’t want this to end, I want to figure this out together. I apologized, and told him I love him so much. He doesn’t hesitate to tell me he loves me too… but he did say he’s seriously considering breaking this relationship up because he doesn’t believe he has the time/energy for our relationship and school at the same time.

    He seems to be struggling with this all… but he’s distancing himself for sure. I’ve stayed for the past 4 days in our apartment, but half of my things have been packed up since the argument because he told me he’s still deciding whether or not to continue a relationship with me or not.

    He says he loves me so much, cares about me deeply and doesn’t want me to be sad but also doesn’t believe I can give him the time and space he needs for his studies. He doesn’t believe me when I say I can, when I say I don’t need to spend all our time together (I truly, honestly don’t know where he gets this from because 16 hours in the day I do my own thing, exercise, read etc and I’ve never asked for more than a moment of his time)… he feels like I want all his time, because when he did give me all his time in the beginning, I was happy… he won’t give me a chance to show him he doesn’t have to give me all his time and I can still be happy. He doesn’t seem to understand what I was upset about – which was the apathy, the disgruntled manner in which he behaves during arguments.

    Outside an argument, he’s loving and kind. Stressed, but still available here and there. I feel like this is my fault for not being more understanding, and I feel like I’m scared to lose him.

    I told my boyfriend yesterday I was going to continue moving out back to my dad’s place, to give him the space and time to think things through without me there all the time. In an INSTANT he switched his tune and told me “don’t go… just stay for a few more days… I just need a few more days to think about it.”

    Half of those I talk to say leave now, tell him it’s not a breakup and he’ll miss you.
    Half of those I talk to say stay, leave later.

    And then there’s our mutual friend who’s been through the same thing… He said that if my boyfriend truly wanted me to go or intends for me to go, that he would’ve already allowed me to when I said I would.

    Our friend tells me to stay. Stay and wait, act normally and be my positive self, fill my day up and in that way I will show my boyfriend that I’m not hanging on his every whim. Friend says that if I leave, my boyfriend will just imagine me waiting at home by the phone and won’t see how independent I can be. So that’s why he says to stay.

    But I fear staying because of my boyfriend’s mixed messages. If I’m here and available, he’s ambivalent. When I wasn’t home yesterday when he returned from classes, he was suddenly so interested in where I was, what I did. So in those ways, I feel like leaving might jumpstart this back on track.

    Please help me… I love him, I know he loves me. How do I show him this can work, or rather, what is the best thing I can do?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      It looks as though you are giving your boyfriend too much power over the relationship. He is bound to take you for granted. Look at the following:

      “He had been distancing himself to work, and anytime I showed interest in spending time with him, it caused him stress, anxiety and I do believe I became less attractive to him… which is another huge blow to my confidence.”

      You are allowing his anxiety and stress to affect your confidence. A better way at looking at it would be to think, “He’s under a lot of stress, I’ll give him space, because I care for him and I’m not willing to hang around someone who treats me poorly. I’ll give him some slack, but if this continues, I’m not spending time/living with someone who loses appreciation for me when he’s under stress.” Notice there’s no hostility, just an “if, then.”

      “He promised me we’d spend time that night 4 days ago, just me and him, when we got home and instead, he zoned out for 2 hours playing games. I was trying to be as understanding as possible but couldn’t help but feel stood up.”

      Next time, if you are not into games (video, right?), simply leave to a movie or go meet friends or see your dad. Don’t wait around for two hours and try to be understanding. You don’t want to be controlling and resentful or snarly, but you don’t want to be a doormat and hang around while he plays video games. Say, “have a good time, see you later.” No bitterness but you need to go do something you enjoy.

      He will either straighten up very quickly, not wanting to lose you, or he won’t care, in which case, you should find that out early in the relationship.

      “He doesn’t hesitate to tell me he loves me too… but he did say he’s seriously considering breaking this relationship up because he doesn’t believe he has the time/energy for our relationship and school at the same time.”

      He has told you pretty clearly that he doesn’t have the energy/time for this relationship. Why stay for mediocrity? While it might work in the future, it won’t work if you stay in a mediocre situation. He either doesn’t have the energy, or he is not motivated to have the energy. Either way, it’s best not to desperately cling to the crumbs he’s willing to give you–when he’s not playing video games, that is.

      “He doesn’t believe me when I say I can, when I say I don’t need to spend all our time together.”

      Here you are clearly giving away your power. You are the one wanting to convince him you can be “good,” that is, you can be with him without being too needy. Use actions, not words. At this point, trying to persuade him that you don’t need to spend so much time with him is counter-productive. It looks like begging. You want him to desire you, not to give you another chance at waiting for him to bless you with his presence.

      He’ll only desire you if he’s intrigued by you, misses you, admires you, and most of all, doesn’t feel like he possesses you and that you’ll come running any time he wants.

      “he feels like I want all his time, because when he did give me all his time in the beginning, I was happy.”

      It’s best not to start a relationship by spending all your time together. If he had felt more limits from you at the beginning, in other words, that you were never willing to spend all your time together, he probably wouldn’t have started taking you for granted. Even if he wanted to spend all his time with you, the fact that you allowed that to happen gave him the opportunity to lose desire for you. Desire occurs when you can’t have what you want all the time. We’re not talking about game-playing, but the self-respect and well-rounded life that enables you to avoid merging into another person too much. Such merging will eventually cause revulsion.


      “I feel like this is my fault for not being more understanding, and I feel like I’m scared to lose him.”

      I don’t get the feeling that you need to be more understanding, but that you need to value your separate time more. People who love one another do get scared to lose each other. It is hard. But long-term happiness requires that you act in a way that is best for the long-term despite your fears.


      “In an INSTANT he switched his tune and told me “don’t go… just stay for a few more days… I just need a few more days to think about it.”

      Yes, it makes sense that he changes his tune when you are willing to leave. Take note of that. If you stayed, you would clearly be handing over all your power to allow him to decide what he wants. Do you want to be in a relationship like that? I recommend moving out but being kind about it. Perhaps you can say, “When we both have time, maybe we can still go out on dates.” Then if he really loves you and isn’t too insecure, he will make a much greater effort when he spends time with you, that is, when you are available, which hopefully won’t be every single time he calls, because you will have other things going on in your life, and won’t simply be waiting by the phone. Right?

      There’s no need to be hostile or to blame him or to blame yourself. I would simply say that the time isn’t right to live together. He needs to study and you need to work. Also you want to be in a relationship where each person cherishes the other. You love him and enjoy spending time together but also want to do some other things.

      When he asks you to stay, say that you think it’s best to live apart for now. Leave it at that. If he asks you out, don’t always be available, and then go home early while you’re still having a good time.

      Let me know what happens. Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      PS My sense is that he is young and a bit immature, which is normal when you are young. I would suggest letting him grow up and make sure you can maintain a balance where there’s mutual appreciation before you ever move back in with him. Too much pressure for a young person to be a partner in a living together situation may breed resentment, which kills desire.

      Reply
  10. Raffa

    Hi Alison,
    I am reading this article again after a while from the first time I found it. I found it very useful in time of great distress. I was diagnosed with cancer and my relationship got into this dynamic, as I needed more an more support, care, demonstration of love while he grew colder. I started to rely on myself only in order to survive to that terrible period. Feeling rejected in this kind of moments is one of the worst thing I’ve experienced. My relationship ended shortly afterwards, as I was unable to deal with the fact he distanced me in time of greatest need. At the end of my relationship, I started getting involved romantically with a friend I have been knowing for a couple of years, and this contributed to take the decision to end my relationship.
    Again with this another person, I find myself in the position of pursuer. He is not very communicative (apart from the very beginning in which he expressed explicitly the feelings he had for me, and I had the illusion I could build an open and loving relationship with him). After 8 months of being together, I avoid expressing my feelings and needs with him as the few times I did that he replied with the greatest indifference. It’s evident he holds the power in this relationship.
    I think my illness has greatly affected my ability to be emotionally independent. I am wishing for a relationship in which I can love and be loved and that includes as well support in the difficult times, but according to my experience and this article, it seems like being in need is something that can really ruin it all.
    Does it make sense?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      I’m sorry about your diagnosis of cancer, and hope that you feel better and get better soon.

      Without knowing you, it is hard to assess the situation with these two men who have distanced themselves from you in a time of need. What I can say is that people are often drawn to someone who balances out their own tendencies. For example, if you tend to desire support and connection, you may be drawn to someone who more naturally does not desire support and connection, but is more independent and self-sufficient emotionally. An unconscious need for you to become more self-sufficient emotionally may cause you to be attracted to such men. And vice versa.

      However, such people do not become independent and emotionally self-sufficient (or cold) by accident. It is often promoted in their family of origin, or it could be a protective mechanism to avoid being disappointed, hurt, or criticized. So as a result, this tendency is deeply and emotionally ingrained such that it may become uncomfortable or even repugnant for someone like that to sense that someone else really needs their support.

      Therefore, I can recommend that you try to obtain emotional support from people eager to give it, whether those are supportive friends, nurses, counselors, or support groups, while learning to contain your need for support from those uncomfortable in giving it. I’m sure it’s difficult when you are sick and perhaps fearful, but ironically, when you learn to contain your need for support from a potential partner, you will probably draw more giving people into your life. Also, a distancer won’t feel as fearful of being supportive when there is less need of support. He will unconsciously sense a limit to your need. Distancers fear a devouring need where there is never an end.

      Also, even in a case of severe illness, it is important to avoid falling into a parent/child relationship, where one person is care-taking another too much. Even if the two people stay together, the passion and mutuality of the relationship will diminish.

      Good luck and all the best. Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Jon

        Hi Alison

        I appreciate coming across this website Dr. Alison. I have received so much advice the last month and a half since my girlfriend broke up with me. I was emotionally unavailable for most of the relationship due to a lot of childhood emotional/physical trauma. My way of showing love was by showering her with gifts, especially when I felt myself getting into a deeper emotional tunnel, also I figured since our sex life was passionate it would fulfill the need she required for intimacy. We have known each other for 2 years, the first year she was the pursuer and I felt myself fill that role in the last year of our relationship.

        In the last 3 months of the relationship we fought almost every second day about trivial matters. I felt unappreciated, as I’m sure she did. Eventually, I noticed her depression come back as a result of her father triggering certain feelings of inadequacy in her, thereafter, the final fight we had, while dealing with her father led her to end the relationship. For about a week after the fight I could tell she was hoping I’d make an effort to “fix it” but I was honestly so exhausted by the fighting by then, when she asked for the break up, I agreed. On my part, 50% was agreement, while 50% was uncertain and more the co-dependency I had formed with her. I realized that during the course of our relationship I depended on her to deal with the emotional aspect of things, while I tried to perform the caretaker and provider role. We both got comfortable in these roles. Although, in the last month I begun having fits of anger and I would lash out on terribly during arguments. Unrelated to her but due to childhood memories resurfacing, memories of not having a voice as a child and being emotional trampled on. Understanding that my feelings did not count, or matter.

        For a month after the break up we still spoke daily. We video chatted and she’d just cry about how much she loved and missed me. We saw each other 2 weeks after when she came to stay for the weekend at my apartment. She also said she did not want to move all her stuff that was at the apartment out, because it was still our home. It was as though we hadn’t broken up, I catered to her needs, listened more intently because I honestly realized how emotionally unavailable I had been. She told me this is the change she needed to see 3 months prior and now she just felt too emotionally broken to get back into the relationship even though everything in her wanted to. She said she is trying to formulate new boundaries where she doesn’t have to need me, but rather want to need me. After me reaching out and asking if she’d like to come for another weekend, she replied and said “it’s too much”, the way she needed and depended on me to be okay has become unhealthy, she said she hoped I’d understand. But after a month of following her rules of when we’d see each other, the setting, the time, I was extremely hurt because it felt like she was now trying to dominate everything with no regard of how it left me feeling. When she needed to see me, I made myself available, and the week I really needed her around she refused.

        I know we love each other. For me it is something that is unquestionable. However, after she didn’t respond to my last text so I stopped pursuing. It was keeping my emotions in the balance as some days she’d be hot and others she’d be extremely cold. Right now I think it is important to get my emotions under control so I stop appearing so needy. After all, she is 21 and I am 27 so I feel I need to hold myself to a higher standard especially because she is also now in the midst of depression with no medication. Additionally, she is only a 2nd year in varsity while I am fully independent. We have two very diverse ideas of responsibility in life and the challenges that she is yet to face.

        Dr. Alison, am I employing the correct strategy, or am I only pushing her further away by not still messaging or calling to check in on her. I have heard that depressed people push the people they love further away but require them present nonetheless. She was first saying she never ever wanted to get back together, a week later she said she hoped we reunited one day. She says she needs to get over the emotional trauma that happened between us without me present. She has also said she didn’t want to get back together immediately because I would resent her for breaking up and taking me back almost instantaneously, it would have been to serve no purpose. I think its important to note she comes from an extremely emotionally unbalanced home, where her father has emotionally and verbally abused her mother in her presence her entire life.

        The truth is, I’m grateful she broke up with me when she did. I would not have done it for fear of making her feel abandoned or unworthy. And the fighting would have got progressively worse and completely eradicated the love that remained.

        I’m sorry this is so long 🙁

        Any perspective of how to move forward. We haven’t spoke in almost 2 weeks and even though I want to reach out, I don’t feel as though she is as invested as me at this point.

        Many Thanks.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi,

          Let me respond to a few of your comments and questions.

          You said that during the last few months you fought constantly over trivial matters. That usually indicates that there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed and attended to. Unless it is successfully addressed, the fighting will only get worse. Usually there’s some psychological taboo to addressing the underlying need or desire. I would guess from what you’ve written that you need to learn to ask for appreciation, and perhaps do a little less in terms of “providing for” your partner or in gift giving. I’m not sure about this latter part, but you should know whether that fits or not. The other thing you probably need to learn is what you mention here below:

          “Unrelated to her but due to childhood memories resurfacing, memories of not having a voice as a child and being emotional trampled on. Understanding that my feelings did not count, or matter.”

          Growing up in such an environment, it could be difficult for you to learn to have a voice and to really feel that your feelings count. Being aware of it is a good start. Reading “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg, or listing to some of his CDs, or going to some good short term counseling could be helpful. Basically it’s important to learn to express your feelings and desires in a positive way, without feeling resentful or needy. You don’t have to express everything single need, but rather the more important ones.

          “But after a month of following her rules of when we’d see each other, the setting, the time, I was extremely hurt because it felt like she was now trying to dominate everything with no regard of how it left me feeling. When she needed to see me, I made myself available, and the week I really needed her around she refused.”

          If you learn to express your needs and desires more easily and in a positive way, then this above situation can be dealt with. You could talk to her about how you feel without attacking her. I also think that you shouldn’t be available every time she wants to see you. If you are broken up, find some other things to do, see her on occasion if you like, check in with her on the phone if you like or when she calls, but don’t be available at her whim. You can be friendly and kind, but not totally available.

          “…after she didn’t respond to my last text so I stopped pursuing. It was keeping my emotions in the balance as some days she’d be hot and others she’d be extremely cold. Right now I think it is important to get my emotions under control so I stop appearing so needy.”

          I think it’s good that you backed off. But it’s also healthy to be able to voice your feelings. For example, “I understand you need space and that we were arguing too much. Even though we’re broken up and we don’t know if we’ll get back together, my hope is that we can be more candid and kind to each other when we talk to each other. When you are warm one day and then cold the next day, it is hurtful. Let’s try to be more honest with each other without attacking each other.”

          So as to your last question, where you want to reach out but fear that she isn’t as invested in you at this point, why don’t you try reaching out as a friend, where you are just checking in. Call and just ask how she’s doing and tell her what you’ve been up to, but avoid staying on the phone for too long. Start from scratch without any specific expectations. Don’t shower her with gifts or caretake her or call too much. See if you can be reciprocal. Talk about yourself a bit, ask about her. Avoid making plans for a while.

          Most importantly, practice in all areas of your life, voicing your desires, opinions, thoughts, and needs in a positive way, in a way that you feel good about. Study how people who do it in a way that you admire do it and emulate. Start noticing whenever you feel a bit irritated, and see if there’s something you can say right away without making a big deal of it.

          Good luck and let me know how it goes!

          Reply
          1. Jon

            Hi Alison

            I finally worked up the nerve to re-establish contact after backing away for two weeks. It appears as though she felt attacked by my text message to see her. She felt like I was being my old angry self when I told her I was disappointed she was not making an effort to see me. She told me that as much as she wants to spend time with me, she still does not feel emotionally safe with me because of all of my outbursts while we dated and how I conducted myself during these fights. She also asserted that her current mental state (depression) is making everything feel that much more difficult.

            I told her that the way she was interpreting my texts, was not the manner in which I meant them to come across. In fact, it was quite the opposite, I thought I was showing some vulnerability and letting my guard down which is something she always asked for. Her feelings vary from moment to moment. One moment she will be telling me I’ve hurt her beyond measure, the very next she will tell me that my love for her is more than she deserves and without it she doesn’t think she would have survived 2016 (when she was diagnosed with depression). Before I dropped her off she asked me why I haven’t given up on her. I didn’t want to give an expected and obvious answer like because I love you, because we’ve both ascertained that the love between us is not in question. So I asked her, well would you like me to give up on you? She said no and I just nodded.

            My pain is no longer geared toward the relationship ending, my pain now stems from how “out of it” she seems. Her eyes are glassy, there is a deep loneliness that I can sense and when she is with me I notice her relax and become physically more at ease with my presence. I am at a loss of thought of what to do. I see she needs and wants me around. I’ve done enough research to understand that what she is going through is something chronic and beyond my expertise.

            I wanted to propose counseling for us both because she is clinging to the hurt and anger from what happened between us. I felt like telling her that it seems to be taking so much more energy to remain angry at me, rather than be with me like I can sense she rather be. However, I am doing my best not to sound like a therapist to her because it sometimes comes across that way with my analytical character.

            One part of me is saying run for the hills, this can only lead to pain! The more optimistic and loving side is telling me to stick it through and be available to her emotionally like she once was to me, when I went through a dark phase.

            Your thoughts and insight on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

          2. Alison Post author

            Hi,

            In essence, from what you’ve described, it appears she needs help for depression, although there could be additional reasons she seems out of it, lonely and glassy-eyed. For instance, she’s not interested in a relationship with you but can’t bear to cut it off completely, or drugs, or something else. Depression seems more likely since she has been diagnosed with depression. Thus, as a friend, I would encourage her to get help.

            I would not try to become a therapist to her, even if you were a therapist, and I would not try to become her boyfriend again while she is in this mental state. If you do, she will resent you for her dependency on you while she is down and out. Instead, be a friend and encourage her to get help. “I”m worried about you. Please get help. I can drive you, call for you, etc. You can always talk to me. Please talk to your parents (if her parents could be helpful). Let’s go on a walk…”

            Regarding your relationship issues: She seems quite defensive, which may be a result of your previous interactions. Texts are often risky because a person projects tone and intent into the text. It’s better to leave a voice mail. Or instead of writing “I am disappointed you haven’t made an effort to see me,” which could be seen as judgmental, flip it to a positive: “I would love to see you. I hope you are doing well. How are you?”

            It is tricky being with someone who is overly-defensive. Nevertheless, it’s good to learn to flip your complaints or disappointments into positive desires, which is what they are. You’ll be more effective if you express desire for someone rather than disappointment in them.

            “One moment she will be telling me I’ve hurt her beyond measure, the very next she will tell me that my love for her is more than she deserves and without it she doesn’t think she would have survived 2016.”

            I’m sure she feels both feelings. Given her depression and personality, she probably doesn’t know how to avoid getting hurt again by you–that is, to stand up in a positive self-empowered way with you. So she wants to avoid getting in a relationship with you. Yet she also appreciates your love for her. I think it could be good for you both to go to counseling together, not to determine who is right and who is wrong, but to learn to communicate more effectively and to really listen to each other. Even if you don’t get back together, it would be such an important skill to learn, and it could go a long way in alleviating her depression if she became more self-empowered in a positive way within a relationship, albeit a friendship.

            Often depression has a component of unexpressed, impotent anger in it, in addition to genetic, chemical, and other influences. If someone can learn to own and express their desires and needs before they become internalized as unexpressed frustrations and hurts, then often the depression lifts. Thus, therapy and couples counseling can be helpful, if the person learns to feel better about having needs and desires and can learn to express them in a positive way, without shame and anger.

            The fact the she thinks she doesn’t deserve love is significant. There is a feeling of worthlessness that is preventing her from receiving love and from returning that love. She needs to develop that feeling of self-worth, which she can do through good therapy, and even through good mutual friendships. Although it’s good to encourage her and show her that you find her worthy, you want to avoid becoming the person whom she depends on to prop her up. That kind of dependency will lead to emotional fusion, resentment, and eventually misery.

            I would not pursue a long-term relationship too avidly. I would just be her friend, and help her find counseling as well as couples counseling for the healing and growth and then see what happens.

            Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

            Alison

  11. Simone

    Thanks Alison,

    Your response was really helpful in particular on the topic of Projection, it’s fascinating and I want to learn more. Also thank you for bringing to my attention that his gallantry was extreme. Recently I was approached in a similar way by someone else for about a month however luckily I saw through it before it went any further. How can I find/attract more realistic relationships? I need to improve my self-esteem?

    The answer to your question is ‘yes’, he does see in black and white and he’s not even prepared to consider the grey area….’compromise’ to him means ‘lacking in perfection’.

    I realise that utmost caution must be used in self-diagnosing and even mental healthcare professionals need a lot of diagnostic time to come to such a conclusion but I am almost 90% certain that he displays BPD and NPD symptoms. I knew for a while that he ‘wasn’t right’ in some ways but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Over 2 years of study and I have a very good understanding of these disorders now. I have learned about coping strategies for families and how to communicate with those suffering these symptoms which has alleviated the tension at work (no longer in a relationship with him but still work together mostly remotely). I have also learned how practitioners can be apprehensive about treating these patients because they can be quite manipulative and deny that there is anything wrong with them. The only way that he can address his issues is by knowing that they exist yet there doesn’t seem to be an advisable approach to this? Is there anything I can do to help? Ps. does this make me a BPD Co-Dependent? I have read about this label and worried that there might be something in my personality that I need to address too?

    Thank you sooo much

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,

      When someone calls a million times a day and send lots of flowers, etc, it often indicates that they are not firmly grounded within themselves but are hoping and expecting (projecting) that the other person will make them whole and happy. This feeling of euphoria is bound to crash into a feeling of emptiness, disappointment or hostility, because the hopeful fantasy is too overwhelming, and a person can never succeed in being responsible for the wellbeing and happiness of another person. This is something one has to do for oneself.

      Whenever people fall in love, there is some projection. But if a person cannot contain the intense emotion, but has to continuously communicate and act on the emotion, watch out. Everyone involved is heading for a let down. SO it’s not that you should watch out when someone has big emotions. But watch out when they impulsively act on them, and when they cannot manage their emotions. That’s another reason it’s good to move forward slowly, because when you start talking to someone many times a day at the beginning of the relationship, you become too emotionally connected to be able to look at the other person objectively before you really know the person.

      There is not much you can do to help someone with NPD or BPD. The best thing you can do in this situation and in general is to work on your own reactions and avoid being sucked into codependent behavior. I don’t know whether you are a BPD co-dependent. But whether or not you are, you can become aware of ways in which you get triggered, over reactive, or find yourself trying too hard to help him change. Spending more time with healthier, positive people helps. ALso imagining negative scenes and more positive ways of reacting is very helpful.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      When someone is overly gallant or calls all the time, they are often overly hopeful and expecting too much from the relationship (projection) and end up feeling empty, disappointed or hostile toward the other person for not fulfilling those high expectations. No one can be made to be responsible for someone else’s stability and happiness. Thus, there is bound to be a crushing disappointment.

      Falling in love generally comes with a lot of projection and feelings of euphoria. The important thing is that a person can contain and manage those emotions, and not have to act on every impulse to call and connect. Watch out for people who can’t manage those emotions, because it will be so for the negative emotions as well.

      This is another good reason to go slowly when developing a new relationship. If you connect too much and too intensely at the beginning, you lose your ability to view the other person and the relationship with objectivity.

      I’m not sure if you are BPD co-dependent, but whether or not you are, I recommend working on your own self-awareness and reactions. Work on yourself not him. That’s where the power is, and that’s where you’ll find results. Avoid “helping” him too much, though you can give insight sometimes and be considerate if appropriate. Ironically, you can help him best by working on your own reactions to triggers, and by improving your own life.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  12. Simone

    Hi Alison, thanks for your reply although I feel that you may have misinterpreted some of the points that I raised so I would like to clarify them in case your views on my question may differ. I was a very independent person before I met him and I was very independent for a long while into our relationship. But he increasingly took on my responsibilities onto his own shoulders without me having asked him for it or wanting it, in fact I wanted to retain my independence however I didn’t want to be selfish either and was conscious of the comcept of give and take in relationships. Despite this we had many conflicts over this. Truth was that he felt more given to when I gave him my responsibilities and I wanted gim to be happy so I gave it up. Having given up my responsibilities I gradually started losing my independence and started becoming dependent. I did get used to it and enjoyed being a kept woman – I didn’t need to lift a finger because I had a man at my beck and call with or without a request. The same went with his many phone calls…it scared me at the start and I even avoided his calls some of the times. Later it became the norm and I learnt to recognise his love in his insatiable appetite to keep me close when we lived over 100 miles apart in different towns. His undivided attention lasted three years, it wasn’t a short lived thing. It wasn’t just the honeymoon stage and I didn’t have my blinkers on, I was fully aware but I compromised and I learnt to recognise his expressions of love even though they may have been different to mine. He was patient with me and loved me so deeply until our relationship developed and I was able to trust him and lower my barriers. I have often heard people say that you can’t fully love until you let down all your barriers. My barriers were as tall and strong as the Berlin Wall but it came down just as the Berlin Wall eventually came down. Should I have kept my barriers up? All my life I’ve felt that if only I could learn to bring down my own barriers that I could lead a normal life free from the distrust and fear that I carry around with me that people whom I grow close to will disappoint me and leave me…and now I feel confused by your advice.
    Also please would you explain what you mean by ‘projection’. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi again. After re-reading both of your comments, I wonder if your boyfriend tends to see or feel things in black and white. I’m always a little cautious when I hear of extreme gallantry–calling a million times a day, flowers, gifts, and so forth. Of course it’s nice to be thoughtful, but when someone’s admiration and love is expressed so ardently, especially when you don’t live together, then I suspect that there will be some massive disappointment in the future, when that person’s projections are bound to be disappointed.

      Positive projection is when one casts onto another person extremely positive characteristics that may be disowned in oneself. Although the person may have some of that quality, the person exaggerates the awesomeness of the person as in a fantasy. All falling in love has a bit of projection. But when it’s extreme, real life seems to lead to more extreme disappointment, and sometimes breakup.

      Here is an article I wrote on positive projection. Positive Projection.

      I’m not suggesting that anyone leave their barriers up or let them down. I think it’s good to protect oneself and not to open oneself up totally to anyone too quickly. I also think it’s appropriate to moderate how much you open yourself up from day to day with any particular person. If someone is aggressive or in a bad mood, it’s important to be more discerning about sharing your vulnerabilities.

      I think it’s always important to remain capable of being emotionally, financially, and socially independent. We may become interdependent with a particular partner or loved one, but still able to move forward without that person, in case of death or disaster, and simply to keep everyone on their best behavior and feeling mutual respect. It’s more difficult to respect someone who totally dependent.

      I don’t think it’s great to live in fear and distrust. On the other hand, it’s wise to keep your eyes open.

      Good luck. All the best.

      Alison

      Reply
  13. Simone

    Thank you for such an insightful article Alison, it describes me perfectly!

    I grew up in a loving hiome but my mum would go away a lot when I was about 10. The durations gradually increased and became 6 months at a time or longer. Disappointment and loneliness became the norm and I withdrew from everyone. I became my dad’s shoulder to cry on and his assistant in life and I became a mother to my younger brother. In my teens I was very shy and anxious. As I got older I grew in confidence and became very independent.

    In my 20’s I was pursued by a guy I wasn’t keen on but we got close and when I fell for him, he withdrew. I pushed for us to get together but after just over a year he left me. I was broken and it took me 3 years to get back up.

    I was out of work sitting at home, not socialising when I met someone else…online. We got to know eachother and developed mutual feelings for eachother which developed into a romantic relationship. I was ready for love. He phoned me a million times a day and I was literally freaked out. He sent me flowers, drove out of town to buy me surprise presents, took me on surprise holidays. I learnt to appreciate that this was true love and not the previous relationship. I began to open up to him, bring down my barriers. He took all my responsibilities onto his own shoulders and wanted me to depend on him…something I wasn’t used to but I accepted out of the love and trust that I had confided in him. He wanted to be with me all the time, we did everything together and nothing alone with our own friends. I accepted that.

    Three years later he became depressed, stopped communicating with me, withdrew, needed space. Despite that he proposed to me and for 2 years I looked after him, I did everything I could for him including giving him space but it caused us to grow apart and then he left me.

    I was devastated.

    He had grown up with an abusive father who left them. I guess he too had a pursuer/distancer dynamic but one that worked out of sync with mine. I started off as a distancer and him as a pursuer then the tables turned and he became the distancer….I pursued for a while but then I got scared. I went back into my shell, distanced myself again and it all fell apart.

    What can I learn from this?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I think you can learn from this experience. I would learn to stay more independent while a relationship develops. Retain friends and a few individual pursuits. I wouldn’t call and talk to someone on the phone many times a day. Of course, partners become interdependent emotionally to some degree, and it may be seductive to be courted with flowers and hot pursuit at the beginning of a relationship. But I often find such hot pursuit to be a red flag, that there may be too much projection going on, which is bound to lead to disappointment or a need for increasingly more togetherness. When people fall in love there is always some projection going on (fantasy not based on reality.) But the crushing disappointment can be avoided when the relationship takes more time to develop, and you retain some objectivity by continuing to have relationships with other friends, family, and interests.

      Take your time developing relationships, be kind, but also retain independence.

      Good luck.

      Reply
  14. mediumcool

    Hi, thanks for writing this article. Both my partner and I have been to individual therapy before but this really helped me see how she might feel as the “Distancer”. In the past I definitely would get hurt or feel ignored when she needed space. I took it as this rejection, but failed to understand we have different emotional needs. Needless to say our relationship has been rocky in the past but it’s leveling out now. With help of my therapist I’ve worked on a lot of my emotional issues and tone down a lot of my “Pursuer” tendencies just like you described! She told me that she believed that I’ve changed and knows our relationship can grow and change but asked for some more time. She said she was still feeling hurt and anxious from some of our past interactions. For example in the past when I felt ignored I would often lash out and was very cruel. We are in contact but very limitedly and she recently told me she would feel ready to talk about our relationship at a certain date (in a few weeks from now). My question is am I crazy for even wanting to work it out with her in a few weeks? Because a part of me doesn’t understand why we can’t talk now and why she still needs more time to process the hurt feelings etc. She has admitted to me having intimacy issues before and so it has always been a struggle with us so I’m afraid she will never let me fully in. I don’t want to waste either of our time but I also want to make it work. What should I do?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      The reason she needs some time is that she doesn’t trust that you are safe to be around. If you’ve been cruel to her and lashed out in the past, she doesn’t have reason to feel comfortable discussing difficult issues with you, despite your telling her that you’ve changed. Over time, if you are able to avoid lashing out, but really listen to her and empathize with her, and then also explain your point of view without attacking her, she may begin to trust you again.

      Is it worth it? I don’t know. If your relationship was extremely negative, it may not be able to recover. But practicing being kind, supportive, and non-combative while listening and while expressing your own needs won’t harm you no matter what occurs with the relationship. If you both can remember that there are always two valid viewpoints, not one right one and one wrong one, then it will be easier to accept her viewpoint and then express yours as simply a different one that you’d like her to understand.

      If you don’t stay together, it would still help you in the next relationship, and it would allow this relationship to heal a bit before ending. So I think it’s worth trying for a bit longer.

      Good luck. Alison

      Reply
      1. J

        Thanks for this great article.

        I have found that although I’m typically the pursuer, my role changes. I’ve recently been seeing a pursuer. He got to “I love you” quickly and I wasn’t ready to express that yet. He eventually felt rejected and distanced himself from me. I realized I had waited too long to be vulnerable and tried to express myself. He says that the rejection made him angry, and that his feelings have changed. I love him, but my efforts to pursue him now seem to be pushing him away. I see a dynamic that I think can be changed…but I think he sees the end. I don’t know that there’s anything I can do now and I’m very sad.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I would worry about someone who loves you, yet is angry about a lack of instant reciprocation. If he loves you and has some inner strength, he would nourish the relationship, and it would be worth it for him to wait a bit. Or he would talk to you about his desire for reciprocation, rather than simply becoming angry and distancing himself. A long-term relationship is difficult to sustain when people are overly reactive when they feel rejected.

          I’m sorry you feel sad. If you have more details about the situation, I could respond more precisely.
          Take care, Alison

          Reply
        2. Alison Post author

          If you want, rather than pursuing him, you could have an honest conversation explaining why you weren’t ready to express love early on, and also about your concern that he responded to your hesitancy with anger rather with open communication.

          Reply
          1. J

            I tried to have the honest conversation. At first he wouldn’t talk to me, then I finally got him on the phone. But he was cold and distracted, and it was hard to talk about things over the phone. He won’t see me. He says he just needs a break, time to think things over, but he said his feelings have changed, that he just can’t keep putting his feelings out there, getting rejected.
            I didn’t reject him. We saw each other a lot, spent a lot of time together, but I didn’t say “I love you”. I was scared. Now he’s cataloging a list of my faults. Now I’m the pursuer and that scares him and is pushing him away. I feel like we’re trapped in a cycle of different attachment styles. He’s ready to end it, but was scared to do it when I talked to him. He’s either going to break up with me or just stop talking to me. He has all the power, and I can’t do anything about it. I feel like we just got trapped in a bad cycle, but there’s nothing I can do now to fix it.

          2. Alison Post author

            Hi. Sorry for the delay in responding.

            I think the fact that you feel he has all the power shows that you are waiting to see what he will do. Yet he has already responded with quite a lot of hostility for someone who says he loves you and is angry because you didn’t say you love him quickly enough. It is very tough to have a relationship with someone who in those circumstances stops talking to you other than to list your faults.

            I suggest taking back your power by either deciding not to be with him, or deciding to talk to him and say what’s on your mind in a compassionate and resolute way, something like, “I care a lot for you, but am concerned that you would retreat from me and say hostile things. If you want to be honest and kind to me, I will try again. If not, I can’t wait for you.” Of course you have to use your own words.

            I also wonder whether something else is going on. It seems a bit suspicious to me.

            The main thing is that you take back your power and stop waiting and hoping for a rude person to come back to you.

            Good luck.

      2. mediumcool

        Thank you. That was a helpful point for me because I struggle with thinking that not talking is automatically bad. I think I’m afraid that she will ultimately decide we are not compatible because we are polar opposites in a lot of ways. She is very cautious and pragmatic and is motivated by self-preservation. Do you have any tips on having better communication with a person with that mindset? I’m much more prone to try a risk and regardless and have very little self-preservation. I don’t want to invest too much though if she is going to need space whenever she upset. She tends to act/say things are fine until months later when she suddenly is upset and needs space. My efforts to get her to be more emotionally open have just pushed her away. How do we improve upon that without me being overbearing about it. I do want her to feel safe coming to me and telling me her feelings.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Sorry about the long delay in responding. I’ve been traveling.

          It’s hard to advise you without an example. But I think it’s important not to push her, yet to explain to her that when she retreats, it’s frustrating and hurtful to you. You’re worried that she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about problems and when you’re experiencing any sort of conflict. You wish she could talk to you without fearing your reactions. And if she does fear that you are over-reactive, to tell you so.

          The most important thing for long-term relationships is being able to deal with conflict in a fairly positive candid manner, not to avoid it. I would tell her this in a compassionate way. There are nonviolent communication courses that give people an opportunity to learn and practice being honest without attacking the other person. Perhaps you could take one together or get a couple of Dr. Rosenberg’s CDs on nonviolent communication so both of you could listen to them. Even if you don’t stay together, they are great for all relationships, including work.

          I just read John Gottman’s “The Science of Trust.” It’s quite long and detailed, but outstanding for learning about what scientific research shows has to occur for happy long-term relationships to be sustainable. It also shows that it is counter-productive to talk when someone is too stressed, because their physiology is making it impossible for them to have a productive conversation. But it is important to discuss things in a positive manner as soon as possible. It takes two people however to make such efforts work!

          Good luck.

          Reply
        2. Alison Post author

          Sorry about the long delay in responding. I’ve been traveling.

          It’s hard to advise you without an example. But I think it’s important not to push her, yet to explain to her that when she retreats, it’s frustrating and hurtful to you. You’re worried that she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about problems and when you’re experiencing any sort of conflict. You wish she could talk to you without fearing your reactions. And if she does fear that you are over-reactive, to tell you so.

          The most important thing for long-term relationships is being able to deal with conflict in a fairly positive candid manner, not to avoid it. I would tell her this in a compassionate way. There are nonviolent communication courses that give people an opportunity to learn and practice being honest without attacking the other person. Perhaps you could take one together or get a couple of Dr. Rosenberg’s CDs on nonviolent communication so both of you could listen to them. Even if you don’t stay together, they are great for all relationships, including work.

          I just read John Gottman’s “The Science of Trust.” It’s quite long and detailed, but outstanding for learning about what scientific research shows has to occur for happy long-term relationships to be sustainable. Also, it shows that it is counter-productive to talk when one person’s physiology is in high-stress, but it is important to discuss the issue in a positive manner as soon as possible.

          Good luck.

          Reply
        3. Alison Post author

          Sorry about the long delay in responding. I’ve been traveling.

          It’s hard to advise you without an example. But I think it’s important not to push her, yet to explain to her that when she retreats, it’s frustrating and hurtful to you. You’re worried that she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about problems and when you’re experiencing any sort of conflict. You wish she could talk to you without fearing your reactions. And if she does fear that you are over-reactive, to tell you so.

          The most important thing for long-term relationships is being able to deal with conflict in a fairly positive candid manner, not to avoid it. I would tell her this in a compassionate way. There are nonviolent communication courses that give people an opportunity to learn and practice being honest without attacking the other person. Perhaps you could take one together or get a couple of Dr. Rosenberg’s CDs on nonviolent communication so both of you could listen to them. Even if you don’t stay together, they are great for all relationships, including work.

          I just read John Gottman’s “The Science of Trust.” It’s quite long and detailed, but outstanding for learning about what scientific research shows has to occur for happy long-term relationships.

          Good luck.

          Reply
  15. Ann

    Well thank you for that. I wasn’t sure if I was crazy and clingy for not being able to deal with his need for space-he kept saying I needed to be respectful of his wish for time to himself.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      You’re welcome and good luck. You might watch a couple of my videos on pursuing and distancing that show the negative and the positive ways to handle the desire to pursue. Tone of voice is so critical. So sometimes examples in videos are the best.
      1. Pursuing Connection with a Distancer
      2. Seven Keys to a Fantastic RelationshipYou’re
      3. How to ask for more affection, intimacy and sex…and…how not to
      4. How to Deal with Rude People

      Reply
  16. Ann

    Help! This sounds a lot like my relationship of 2 years. But thing is, we don’t live together and he works mainly nights and travels to other cities. We only get to see each other a few times a week at best. Yet he still wants his space. I never know what sets it off but it’s like every 8 weeks. Am I being to clingy wanting to see him those few nights?

    Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        Sorry to be so abrupt, but forget him. “Enraged”? He is inconsiderate and controlling. Drop him. You don’t want a relationship with someone like that. It will not work. It will only hurt you.

        You have to funnel all energy of loneliness and yearning for him to something more productive in your life. It is a dream to imagine a future with someone who needs his space even though he only sees you once every eight weeks and gets enraged when you text back. I predict he is in other relationships, and even if he isn’t, you are committing emotional suicide by continuing on with this man.

        Focus your energy on positive endeavors and new acquaintances and friends. Put some effort into learning what mutually respectful and positive relationships are like. When someone becomes rude or enraged, resist the impulse to go after more intimacy with that person.

        Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. I think you are letting your standards and expectations fall too low. I would stop seeing someone who only sees me once every eight weeks and still needs his space. Sorry to say but you need to have higher expectations. I would no longer be interested in seeing someone who shows so little interest in you, no matter what promises he makes. Of course, you are participating in his lack of desire for you because you are available to see him whenever it is convenient for him.

      I would read “Why Men love Bitches,” despite the unfortunate title. You might also search my site for tags such as “needy,” “desire” and “passion.”

      I also recommend what Matthew Hussey teaches on http://www.gettheguy.co.uk/, but much of his site is geared toward selling his products and seminars. So it can take a lot of time to find nuggets of information unless you pay for it.

      Take care and good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Ann

        Hi Alison: I see him much more than that-it’s like a few nights a week. Until BAM! He needs space. These episodes last often a week to a month and often during this time, he refuses to talk to me. I get scared and sometimes blow up his phone, which I know is bad, but it isn’t the reason he initially needs his space.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I misunderstood you, but unfortunately the same holds true. It is extremely difficult to maintain any self-respect and mutually-satisfying love when someone can cut you off like that for a week. People generally need 20-30 minutes to calm their physiological responses down and have an objective conversation. If they are unwilling to discuss a situation within a couple of hours and willing to merely cut you off, their ability to deal with the normal healthy anxiety in relationship (and life) is too limited to sustain a healthy relationship. It sounds as though he is so stressed out emotionally (or something else is going on) that he doesn’t have the empathy to think about how he is hurting you, or the strength of self in the face of anxiety to be able discuss what’s going on in a productive or compassionate way. There may be good reasons for this emotional reactivity. In other words, you might have empathy for him. But it is not looking good for a relationship. Sorry.

          Reply
  17. Shinny

    im experiencing this exact situation.. where the other person is the distancer and im not much of a pursuer. when he withdraws I keep quiet for a month or so and then reconnect. and during this time he doesnt initiate contact because of his fear of vulernability.
    What im not sure about is if im doing the right thing initiating everytime I abondon him after he withdraws…

    Reply
  18. Karen

    Thank you for your quick response. Your articles helped a lot. I realized that I handled my emotional storm poorly and placed it in his lap and he ended up drowning too. Then I got upset when he couldn’t throw me a line because he himself was too far under. I knew he reacts with distance when he feels emotionally overwhelmed, yet I was more worried about my own emotional state than what it was doing to him. I sent him an apology for how poorly I handled the situation and he responded, but still needs time to process, so I will wait and hopefully will get the opportunity to have a compassionate conversation. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      You’re welcome.

      Everybody overreacts in their own way (anger or withdrawal) from time to time. With awareness, we tend to catch ourselves sooner and prevent situations from spiraling out of control.

      I hope he comes around. In the meantime, keep yourself focused on healthy and interesting pursuits.

      Let me know how it goes, if you like.

      Alison

      Reply
  19. Karen

    Dear Alison,

    Thank you for the wonderful article. It really did help and I think it is awesome that you have taken the time to answer so many people that have reached out for help. I guess I am a pursuer. I never really thought about it, but my boyfriend is definitely a distancer, so it makes sense. I do believe I have autonomy, I have four children, a career, and don’t feel my expectations are too demanding when it comes to this relationship. I have been dating Jim for 9 years. We live 30 minutes apart and do not see each other more than twice a week. We do not seem to fight often, but there are instances where I have expressed negative emotion (hurt, anger) and he immediately withdraws and won’t talk to me. It is difficult to understand that when I open up my heart and make myself vulnerable, he seemingly ignores my pain. I understand my emotion overwhelms him, but running away from it seems so wrong. I initially wait it out, but then I have pursued because I am hurt by the silence and feel like he will never reach out. Eventually, we talk and it quells whatever flares up his need to distance. Most of my hurt is based on feeling disconnected. He doesn’t express emotion often and seems to want a relationship on his terms. I have made it very clear that I want to be married in a committed, loving relationship. Last year I told him that if he wasn’t wanting the same thing, he needed to let me go find someone who does. He cried and said all the right things, but now a year later nothing has changed. I let him know I was conflicted because I love him, but I can’t keep investing in a relationship that isn’t growing in the direction of marriage. I feel I am betraying myself and what is important to me by staying. Well, he has retreated as you can imagine and at first I was angry, but after reading your article I see it differently. My question is how is it possible for a distancer to truly establish intimacy, when it creates such an apparent threat to his independence?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Before I get to your question, I just want to give you a link to an article of mine regarding your boyfriend’s strong response of withdrawal when you express hurt or anger: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2014/09/02/when-she-gets-angry-i-feel-overwhelmed-and-have-to-withdraw/. It helps to learn to express yourself neutrally and without attacking him at all, as Dr. Marshall Rosenberg teaches in “nonviolent communication.” However, it’s difficult to be in a relationship with someone who is super sensitive and can withdraw from you for days. While it’s normal in relationship to get hurt from your partner’s angry tone of voice, I think it’s very important in a relationship to apologize or reach out for connection within a couple of hours. Those who withdraw for days are often quite undifferentiated, which makes long-term committed relationships very difficult and frustrating. There is usually a good reason they fear the anxiety and discomfort of intimacy. Understanding that reason would help, but still cause you to walk on eggshells. You might also read my article on emotional intimacy: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/articles/intimacy/emotional-intimacy/

      As to your question about intimacy, you are right: a distancer cannot truly establish intimacy because it creates an apparent threat to his or her independence. I think that excessive distancing precludes intimacy. But I also think that excessive pursuit precludes intimacy. Someone who distances from another person because the other person is in pain, angry, needy, or has a differing opinion, does so because he or she is not able to maintain a strong sense of self in the face of someone else’s different strong emotions, opinions, or desires. It feels dangerous to maintain a strong sense of self. So the distancer reacts by withdrawing instead because he or she cannot handle the discomfort.

      Similarly, but in an opposing fashion, the pursuer cannot stand the discomfort felt when not being validated by or connected to his or her partner. Someone who is an extreme pursuer will do or say anything to get a reaction, even a hostile reaction, from the distancer, in order to feel some kind of connection, even one based on anger. Ironically, the pursuer is often attracted to the distancer, because he or she is unconsciously afraid of what would happen if there were too much togetherness.

      Both the pursuer and the distancer avoid intimacy by not being able to maintain a sense of self while in proximity to disagreeable emotions or lack of connection.

      In order to have the intimacy you crave, you need to be able to withstand some discomfort, but you also need to find a partner who is willing to do the same. Usually you can tell within a year or sooner if someone is willing and capable of withstanding the ups and downs of relationship to the degree that you desire.

      Part of differentiation is having the strength and self-discipline to be able to resist continuing a comfortable but not long-term-worthy relationship. If you have explained with compassion and without coercion that you want to get married and that’s why you are going to back away from the distancer who fears intimacy, then he will either gain the courage to face more intimacy or not when he realizes that he will truly lose you. As you know you can’t and wouldn’t want to force that decision, but the best you can do is, as you say, to stop betraying yourself, while being compassionate to him in your withdrawal from him.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Alison

      Reply
  20. Marissa

    My ex boyfriend and I were together for almost 4 years. He was certainly more of the pursuer at first and I was the distancer and with time that dramatically shifted about halfway through the relationship and intensified towards the end (I became the pursuer and he the distancer). Our first 3 years were long distance and then I moved up to LA to be with him and pursue more opportunity in the arts. I only planned to live with him for 2-3 months until I got on my feet and that turned into 9 months and then he asked that I leave and told me he no longer wanted to be in the relationship anymore. I was devastated feeling abandoned in a city where I had no friends or family around but I pushed through– found my own place and have been independent of him since December. Recently he has been contacting me and we have rekindled something but again, I still feel like the pursuer as far as sharing my feelings with him and emotionally connecting. We both agree that we’re not ready to get back together (and don’t know if we ever will) and he has told me in the past he doesn’t know if I’m the one for him but when I ask him how he feels about me he looks me in the eyes and says you know how I feel about you. I partially do because I know he loves me very much and our unsaid connection is very strong but I’m very confused because I’m still hurt from our relationship. I’m beginning to see how I became almost obsessive with him and our love. I really need to learn how to pursue my own interests more wholeheartedly but I’m scared of leaving him behind completely. I think we are both afraid of moving on because we both still have a strong love for each other but me living with him was too much for his need for autonomy (plus the place was a tiny studio apt which did NOT help at all) and too much strain because I was so new here in Los Angeles and he didn’t know how to help me assimilate better. Anyways if you have any advice or insight into my situation I would really appreciate it. I loved this article and if you have any other suggested readings I would also appreciate!

    Thank you,

    Marissa

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Marissa,

      Your intuition that you need to learn how to pursue your own interests more wholeheartedly is exactly right. That doesn’t mean that you have to drop him. Especially given the circumstances that he asked you to move out, I would be careful not to pursue him. When he invites you out, don’t always say yes. But when you do go out, have an enjoyable time, without lingering until he’s tired of you.

      It would be tough for any two people to live in a small studio together, particularly if one person is somewhat dependent on the other for friends and the lay of the land. So try to avoid situations with him or other people where you are always in close proximity. Desire requires space and time apart in order to imagine and crave being with the other person. Long-term passion also requires respecting and admiring the other person, which means that the other person has separate interests and capabilities and isn’t at one’s beck and call.

      I like the book “Why Men love Bitches” and “Why Men marry Bitches” though the titles are misnomers. It’s about being autonomous, but there is good detailed advice. I also have some articles on my blog if you search under “desire” and “fusion” or “needy” that could be helpful.

      Good luck!

      Alison

      Reply
  21. Ireni

    Hi Alison,
    I stumbled upon your website while engaging in some self-work from a difficult relationship. I just wanted to say thank you for offering so much invaluable information with such clarity. I am a licensed psychotherapist, but not trained in couples counseling. I work with individuals and in group settings. This really humbled me to the art of couples counseling- it is truly a unique set of skills, knowledge, and work within the field of counseling, and I see how it is necessary as a counselor, to not assume that I know what needs to be done in my relationship. There is so much here that I don’t know. I won’t be surprised if I pursue training and education for couples work in the future- thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment. I really appreciate the positive feedback! I think that even for couples therapists, it is always more difficult to see your own participation in less-than-ideal patterns. But usually your partner can help out identifying what you can improve! 🙂 Best of luck!

      Reply
  22. Eric

    Such a great article and finally offers insight that I can relate to.

    I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for 4 years. I don’t think I need to go into the backstory for everything, but bottom line is it seems we are stuck in a similar cycle. In the beginning, she had been the pursuer and I had been the distancer. Eventually, she kind of gave up and pushed away. This turned her into the distancer and made me feel like the pursuer. The past week or so we’ve been having some serious conversations about what is wrong and how she needs space, and is sorry for hurting me. I feel like this article has at least given me guidelines as a pursuer. Do you think it would be wise to show her this article? Not necessarily forcing her to read it, but maybe instead say, “it’s something I found very insightful and I think explains our situation fairly well”. Or do you think it would be better to just concentrate on myself and not worry about sending her this, as she may see this as another attempt to connect and with likely just be spiteful?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,
      Yes, I think it would be good to show her the article and say “this is something I found insightful.” I also agree that it’s important not to blame her, but to work on yourself, as you suggested. But I also worry that you are afraid that she will become spiteful at your attempt to connect. That is not healthy at all in a relationship. There must be a way to talk to her from the heart without being controlling or weak and say that you would like to be in a relationship where you can each be honest and candid about your feelings and goals, and where you each want what’s best for each other. There isn’t room for contempt or spite in a long-term relationship. Intimacy means that you can communicate with each other despite your fear that the other person won’t like what you have to say. Otherwise, you end up presenting just a little part of yourself to your partner and hiding more and more of yourself. This doesn’t mean that you have to share every single thought and feeling, just the important ones.

      Let me know how it goes. Good luck.

      Reply
  23. Tresi

    Dear Alison, your willingness to furthermore share your thoughts with thoughtful replies is very kind and of great help. I agree that withstanding the need for the partner’s immediate response is better for the own well being. Refraining from writing heart-felt messages has lifted a weight off my chest.It prevents receiving the superficial ones with no content of value. I keep asking myself where the line is between keeping a vital balance and jeopardizing your own self.

    Thank you for your time and insight – Tresi

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear T,
      You know that you’re living a mindful life when you keep asking yourself where the balance is. There is no perfect balance. As long as you keep trying to balance your own wholeness with compassion and giving to others, that balance will be reached with greater ease.
      All the best,
      Alison

      Reply
  24. Tresi

    Dear Alison,

    thank you for this wonderful written piece of insight. I’ve been trying to gain an understanding for my partner by reading Books such as “Quiet The power of introverts” by Susan Cain. At some point I asked myself if I as an expressive extrovert with a need for immediate gratification could manage my partner’s reaction to an emotional over stimulus :retreat. Was the relationship not advanced enough to let go of power struggles for communication and intimacy? After reading your article I realized the need to take a step back from being the one providing for both of us. I am in a long-distance relationship and was asked to give more space. It was painful to have a smothering effect even with the many miles in between us. During hard times I will think back to this article, thank you and kind regards,

    T

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Dear T,
      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it! It is hard but worthwhile to learn to withstand a need for immediate gratification. You actually end up getting more gratification!
      Kind regards,
      Alison

      Reply
  25. Dylin

    Hi Alison,

    I am in a long distance relationship of a little over a year now, I am very much involve with my girlfriend and we are in a good relationship however I often feel depressed, anxious and desperate when my girlfriend is not giving me enough attention for example if she takes long to reply to my text messages, doesn’t ask to Skype or phone call as much as I would like and is not very affectionate over text.

    These things make me feel very insecure and lately it causes fights over very small things as I just feel like she doesn’t care enough or I love her more than she loves me yet
    I know she loves me as when we are together she is affectionate and loving.

    After reading this article I can confidently say that I am definitely a Pursuer and my girlfriend is definitely a distancer. Im aware that I am over thinking a lot of the situations which get me upset and lead to these thoughts and that perhaps she loves me equally but just doesn’t show it or talk about it as much because I don’t doubt she loves me as even after all the stupid fights I’ve caused she does forgive me and every now and then she surprises me with affection and in person she loves holding my hand ect. I would just love to hear your idea on my situation and I would love some advice as to how to control my “Pursuing” in a manner that it doesn’t push her away and helps me notice her love for me in small ways she may show it. I want to be a good boyfriend and fix this so we can build our relationship to be stronger and happier.

    Please help!
    Thank you very much!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      The good news is that you have been going out only a year and that you both love each other.

      I would guess that your anxiety and depression when you are apart comes from inside of you and is not merited by external circumstances. You have to resist acting or behaving in response to your need for a lot of validation. Otherwise that validation is going to stop all together.

      People are so different in how effusive they are in emails and texts, and even on the phone, vs. in person. There is no right way to be. You have to keep reminding yourself that if you get needy or angry, you are eventually going to push her away. On the other hand, if you can find other things to think about and to do during those moments of anxiety that will make you a more whole and interesting individual, then you will become less anxious and more interesting and desirable to her. So you must decide what activities you will do when you feel lonely or insecure–read a book, learn a language, go for a run or a walk, play the guitar, write poetry, watch Ted Talks, etc. Find a couple of interesting things to do and then develop the will power and self-discipline to do them, instead of letting your anxiety and anger get the better of you and wreck your relationship. It will be hard at first, and then it will become easy because you will enjoy learning or exercising and the results of becoming more well-rounded, and of the increased interest from your girlfriend.

      Good luck, and let me know what you end up doing.

      Alison

      Reply
  26. RTaylor

    If only I had read this when I was 18. Thank God I’m reading it at 43. Might save a relationship that is totally worth something to us both. Thank you for this incredibly direct, humbling and insightful piece of wisdom.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I really appreciate your comment and am so glad that the article will help you now. I believe that the lessons we learn best are the ones that have really hit home, which unfortunately sometimes does involve some loss. The upside is that someone who has struggled for a long time in pursuing more intimacy with his or her partner can become more sensitive than most to the delicate balance needed to sustain mutual desire and caring. Thank you and good luck to you.

      Reply
  27. Suzana

    Hi Alison

    I’m so sorry I keep replying to you but this just keeps getting worse. What he wrote next just stopped me cold.

    __________________________________

    Don’t you dare start selling me the shit the psychiatrist tells you or talking about honesty to me after pretending for all these years. You could not even be genuine about how much you paid for servicing my car. So that is who I was to you. Someone to be scared of, someone to hide things from. How long would you have kept your REAL thoughts to yourself for if I hadn’t brought up the issue 4 weeks ago? Now you go around telling everyone that it was you who ended the relationship but the truth is that you would have kept pretending indefinitely and you know it. Why? Because after all it was convenient not being alone and having someone who cared about you. Wasn’t it? And if my job had been in geelong or melbourne and not here what would you have done? Keep pretending committing to a mortgage and a future together and then leave me alone? You are a coward. As for me yes I cheated on you. I disrespected you but that was a one night stand when drunk and on holiday. You have worn your pathetic mask for years. Come talk to me about respect. How many times when having a good time together looking at you smiling I have thought to myself ‘she would make a beautiful mum’. Despite the age, despite our situation. You are the one I truly thought I would have grown old with, made plans with, gone even with our ups and downs through this fucking life which otherwise without someone to love is meaningless. You have destroyed it all.
    __________________________________

    Everything he wrote is true. I tend to tell lies. I do wear a mask. I keep my true thoughts and feelings hidden. He asked me if i would move towns to be with him and i said yes then didn’t do anything about it. We lived together for a few years and then he got a job in a country town 3 hours from here. it’s true i would have gone on with the relationship if he hadn’t confronted me. I am a coward, I avoid confessing what i really think.

    Before we broke up if i had sat him down with him for a heart to heart he would be open to a discussion and feedback b/c i have done it before with little things and he is responsive. And when i’ve spoken to him about things that he does that bothers me he does respond. The reason why he’s so angry is because i usually don’t ever open up until he confronts me. And this is usually at breaking point when we question whether to break up or not. And then part of my real feelings flows out. I can’t even get them all out. He doesn’t trust me.

    What i do know for sure is that in those ligthhearted moments when we’re having a good time, i can’t imagine being with anyone else but him and being close to him feels natural, i can’t stop kissing and hugging him. When he offers his hand for me to hold it – it’s a great feeling. He’s quite different to me but i don’t think that’s a bad thing. I really feel like we fit. That we can just enjoy eachothers company. There have been times when he’s seen i am upset and he will come up to me and give me a hug and want me to talk to him about what’s bothering me – in those moments i melt b/c he’s supportive.

    I know that I can come and talk to him about anything, he is incredibly supportive when i come to him in honesty – i know that’s odd me saying that after all i have written – but something in me finds it so hard to reveal my innermost thoughts and desires.

    The feelings I keep hidden are my doubts about him – i don’t know if i really love him, i don’t know if a want a future with him, we don’t have much to talk about, i don’t know if i want marriage and kids. Maybe i believe i won’t make a good wife and mother. Such a huge responsibility to bear. But if you asked me if i was happy to have him as a companion for life then i would say yes. but why? these thoughts contradict eachother. it’s like i want him but i don’t. I want him at certain moments but when he’s in one of his silent moods – it’s like he’s a different person.

    I remember being in other relationships and the guy would ask me “what are you feeling?” and i would clam up. it felt like i froze and was a deer in headlights. i couldn’t move and the more they probed the more i would clam up.

    Him saying he wants to grow old with me and thought i’d make a beautiful mum. i had no idea he felt like that. i always thought i was a scatterbrained person to him with no direction in life. I always thought he would take the chance to go back to italy, that this what he was always hoping for. but to know he really is serious about being with me melted my heart. like him having faith in me when i don’t have it in myself, that means a lot.

    Do you think couples counselling will help us?

    My message back to him was this although he hasn’t responded
    _________________________________

    You speak the truth. I am a coward and I am dishonest. I hid my true feelings from you because I didn’t want you to know. More than anything I wanted my doubts, fears and insecurities to disappear. I disrespected you by hiding them and I regret not opening up to you. Those times when we were having a good time together and joking and laughing I couldn’t imagine being with anybody else. It felt so natural and my hugs and kisses were genuine. Last time I was with you in Sale I didn’t want to leave you. I stayed together with you because those moments meant something to me not because I just wanted someone to care about me. When you were silent for days and then would come to me or we would argue and then you would look at me and laugh I couldn’t help but feel close to you. You would have noticed that once you started speaking to me again I would light up like a Christmas tree and want to talk non stop with you and hug and kiss you. That was genuine. You’re right I would not have revealed what i was feeling until you questioned me and in that moment I felt defeated.
    _________________________________

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I don’t have time to respond right now, but just want to say it would be very nice if you could learn to communicate like that before being confronted. And you can do it, although you would have to push yourself.

      Reply
    2. Alison Post author

      Hi Suzana,

      There’s a lot here and I have no simple answer for you. The one thing that stands out is that in this last paragraph starting “You speak the truth” you are expressing your feelings and vulnerability in an empowered way. I would try to do this more often, and if possible before there are confrontations. If you do get back together with your boyfriend, you might consider having a weekly meeting where each person expresses feelings, needs, and appreciation for the other person–just as you have done here. You could always do it in writing if that’s easier.

      I have a couple of articles and a video on authoritarian vs permissive parenting, which show how deeply a child can be affected by a strict parent. Often the result of having a controlling or critical parent is a child who learns to hide feelings, put on an obedient mask, tell lies and keep secrets. This tendency to hide real feelings is a survival technique that is necessary in order to avoid being yelled at, rejected, or verbally or physically abused. This reaction, which saves the child in his or her youth, becomes ingrained as a habitual way of reacting to the world.

      Because the child must focus on putting on an obedient mask and hiding vulnerabilities and anger toward the parent, often the child loses touch with those feelings. Moreover, those feelings represent danger to the child. “If I show my anger, fear, disgust, sadness, or need for love, affection, or acceptance, my parent will reject me or yell at me. So those feelings are bad. I must repress them.” Hence, those feelings become tainted with excessive anxiety.

      Later, as an adult, hiding those feelings has become a habit ingrained in the brain. Lying to prevent you from showing vulnerability or any “dangerous” feelings has become second nature, generally not something evil and intentional. Repressing your feelings has also become second nature. It’s difficult to talk about your feelings, let alone understand the nuances of them, when you are used to repressing them and actually feeling excessive anxiety about them.

      However, as an adult, hiding and repressing feelings, and lying are more hurtful to you and your loved ones than taking note of your feelings and expressing them when appropriate. Thus, as an adult, life will give you experiences that indicate that the old reactions and patterns are no longer effective in many circumstances, and can in fact be and harmful. The mask is not only no longer effective except perhaps when you come across an extremely controlling and critical person.

      Now it’s time to start paying attention to your feelings and expressing them when appropriate. I really recommend “Nonviolent Communication”–the book or CDs by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg because the method is great, and also there are long lists of specific feelings and needs described in the book. The more nuanced your ability is to understand your own feelings and needs, the more empowered you will be, the less you will blame others for your suffering, and the better you can communicate with others in order to have better relationships.

      Let me know how it goes. Take care.

      Alison

      Reply
    3. Alison Post author

      Hi Suzana,
      Just to let you know, I posted a article a few days ago on my website that is a response to one of your questions. I’ll be posting a video on the pursuer/distancer dynamic today or tomorrow as well.
      Hope you are doing well.
      Alison

      Reply
      1. Suzana

        Hi Alison

        Great! Thanks for letting me know 🙂 I will have a read

        I’m doing ok. I have found my anxiety lessens when I don’t let my intrusive thoughts take hold. I’ve had anxiety free days recently when I’ve accepted where I am in the present without thinking of the past or future. I’m looking into meditation. As for my bf and I, we may have come to a point where we’ve both turned a corner with our relationship. We’re not officially together though and for now it’s one step at a time

        Thanks
        Suzana

        Reply
  28. Alison Post author

    Suzana,

    I think that sounds much better–honestly expressing how you feel without attacking yet with clear boundaries.

    While many or at least some people do lash out when they are hurt, it’s very hard to have a good relationship with someone who does so frequently even if they soon regret hurting the person they love. It sounds as though your boyfriend doesn’t even take responsibility for hurting you. So although he may love you, your constant inner anxiety is a signal that it is not so safe to be with him. I doubt that your anxiety is simply a result of your past experience with your father. It may be that your experience with your father allowed you to overlook your boyfriend’s increasingly critical behavior.

    I look forward to hearing how things go for you in the future.

    All the best, Alison

    Reply
  29. Suzana

    And after me writing that he lashes out

    “Well, now that I am gone you will be free from criticisms, judgements and anxiety. Please check the letterbox as my ripcurl watch has been posted back. I am collecting it next weekend along with my scooter and other things that I may have left behind. After that you won’t be a problem of mine anymore and would appreciate if you could avoid contacting me ever again. And by the way, just to make things easier and say all the truth, Kasey hasn’t been the only one.”

    My full message before he wrote that was

    “The biggest defeat is we didn’t communicate. We didn’t have heart to heart conversations of what was really inside both of us. There has to be emotional intimacy with the other person for a relationship to ever have a chance of succeeding. We didn’t have that.

    To help me with my issues you need to understand them. I have a physical response to situations and sometimes I don’t exactly know why. I just know that I feel anxious and it’s difficult to know the reason and where it comes from.

    With you I feel judged, criticized, disapproved of. And I’m afraid of what your response to me writing that will be. As if you will then turn around and say don’t be silly, it’s all in your head and blame me because they are my issues.

    Remember I’m not attacking you and saying this is your fault. I’m saying that’s how I feel. I take responsibility for my part as well. This is both of our faults. Not just me. Not just you. Both.”

    Obviously he is taking the part of the victim and blaming everyone else and taking no responsibility for his part at all. He is using anger to protect himself I think. Maybe I shouldn’t have written I feel criticized by him. I don’t know. I just wanted him to understand where all this anxiety was coming from. To get an insight.

    It’s like he is baulking at me and thinking I love you, how can you not see I love you and all you feel is being criticized by me. Are you blind you ungrateful bitch. He didn’t say any of that to me…but it’s the message I’m getting.

    Is his response typical?

    And yes I know that he cheated before and I found out about it quite by accident. He probably would not have confessed it. I stayed because I felt him moving outside of the relationship was my fault. And now he is telling me he was unfaithful more than once. So really he is just taking his own power back to protect himself because he perceives I have hurt him far greater than he has me. I forgive him for it. He has to live with that truth and his choices.

    Well maybe this is what I need to move on from him and stop pining for what could have been. We are potentially just too different.

    After he wrote that I responded with

    “Stop being a VICTIM. Blaming everyone else and not taking responsibility for your part. I blame myself for many things in the relationship but I don’t say things to hurt you on purpose. Kasey not being the only one…well you have to live with that and your choices. You see why I couldn’t speak to you. Always blaming me. You don’t even think to find out why I feel like that. Quick to judge.”

    He is coming back to collect the last of his things. What should I do? I don’t know whether it’s a good idea to see him or not? To point out he was unfaithful more than once is hitting below the belt in my books but maybe it’s a truth I need to hear to look at this relationship for what it is. And not for what I hope it could be.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I’m sorry you received such a hostile email right after receiving a more heart-felt email from your boyfriend. However, I think it’s good to know exactly who you are considering staying with in order to make a fully-informed decision. Relationships can move on in a positive manner after an event of infidelity, but when there’s a pattern of dishonesty and infidelity (and in this department two occurrences count as a pattern), that does not bode well for the mutual respect and honesty required in a long-term fulfilling relationship. Almost more worrisome though is the very hostile and hurtful tone and content of this second email toward you.

      People generally have different parts of their personality that can be triggered by other people or situations they encounter. After your first email, he seemed reasonable and conciliatory. Yet, there is another part of him that is extremely defensive, which was triggered when you said you felt criticized. Everyone can get defensive to some degree if pushed hard enough. However, what worries me is how vindictive he became toward you after you mentioned that you felt criticized and judged. You were clearly not attacking him, but trying to explain how you felt. Moreover, I believe it is very fair and important for someone who feels overly criticized to be able to express that to a partner. No wonder you lived in a state of anxiety. You sensed that if you spoke up in any way that might imply a criticism of him, he would lash out at you. And you were right. Relationships are very difficult to sustain if you can’t calmly discuss a a problem you are having between the two of you.

      In your next relationship, mention something (or give him the raised quizzical eyebrow) the very first time there’s an inappropriate or meanspirited criticism. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can even use humor. But nip it in the bud, and if excessive or inappropriate criticism or extreme defensiveness continue, move on before getting too attached to the person. Having had such a controlling critical father, it was more likely that you were used to criticism and judgment and didn’t automatically call him on it right away. But this is how we all learn different lessons about how to improve our responses–through our relationships, particularly through the suffering we experience.

      Also, although it can be comforting in the beginning of a relationship to be with someone who wants to help you or solve your problems, avoid getting in a parent-child relationship like that, because it will come at a cost!! Usually the cost is control through anger when the parental partner is no longer needed or heeded.

      In your prior email to me, when you responded with some hope to his somewhat thoughtful tone, you nevertheless felt fear:

      “My anxiety rises whenever i speak to him though – as if i’m waiting for the next rebuke, or criticism or him telling me what i feel is dumb and stupid. That what i feel is not valid.”

      Now I can see that that your ongoing fear is valid.

      Just to be fair, however, it would have been better if you had not said, “Stop being a victim.” Name-calling is never helpful even if it is accurate. You stop the other person from listening and put them on the defensive, which in his case would be in attack mode. I also would have replaced the next statement and “Always blaming me…” You could rephrase the ideas to be more effective and to come from a place of self-empowerment if you avoided attacking. Actually, his email is so angry, that it may have been best not to respond at all. Or you could have written something brief such as,

      “After your first email, I felt hopeful that we could open up honest positive discussion between us. But now I am saddened that to hear that you were unfaithful to me on more than one occasion, that you seemed to want to hurt me by telling me about it, and that you viewed me as your problem to solve.

      I will have your things ready for you as you asked. Let me know when you can pick them up. I wish you all the best.”

      Such an email, although it sounds much more friendly, actually conveys much more self-empowerment than attacking him. And it would make him regret his outburst. Anyway, live and learn, and the outcome won’t be very different.

      All the best, Alison

      Reply
  30. Suzana

    Thankyou Alison. I sent him a message. It just didn’t sit right with me to ignore him completely. You’re right, simply responding in an honest way is not catering to manipulation. Everybody seems to have this black and white view that I should terminate all ties with him and turn off all emotion. He is a person who deserves compassion and if what I say now will help him to understand and realise his part in all of this then it can only be a positive thing. If I was afraid to be honest before then I won’t be now.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Suzana,

      I agree with you and am glad to hear that you responded to him. If he reacts with anger, it’s probably because he’s hurt. While I don’t believe in responding to abuse, I think that if you are compassionate and strong enough not to take things personally, you can be kind with someone who is hurting without caving in to manipulation, and you can stand up for yourself at the same time.

      You never know either. I have seen couples overcome overwhelming problems and obstacles and as a result end up with a very deep relationship, or at least friendship. It does take two people to do this. So you only have control of yourself and being candid and compassionate in your communication.

      Take care.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Suzana

        Hi Alison

        He didn’t respond with anger 🙂

        He wrote back

        “I am hurt and not only for the loneliness that I am feeling now, how lost I feel and the jealousy that is already kicking in but because in our time together I haven’t been able to truly connect with you and help you with your issues. To the point that at some stage I gave up on you. My love for you is still there but has lessen year after year. That is my biggest defeat in this relationship.”

        “truly connect with you” WOW!! He has never used the word connect. He actually thinks “connecting” is some mumbo jumbo concept

        I responded that the biggest defeat is that we didn’t communicate or have emotional intimacy. It would have been hard for him to help b/c he didn’t understand me and I didn’t open up to him. I said I felt criticized, judged and disapproved of by him but i made it clear that this is not an attack on him but how i feel. I ended the sms by saying that it was both of our faults. Not just me. Not just him. Both.

        I’m so glad i responded to him. Thanks for suggesting it. My anxiety rises whenever i speak to him though – as if i’m waiting for the next rebuke, or criticism or him telling me what i feel is dumb and stupid. That what i feel is not valid.

        My dad did this. I felt invalidated growing up. And I would respond to my dad in outburst of anger. Even at 41, if he even begins to criticize me and my life choices I instantly snap back at him and don’t care if I hurt him with my words and I threaten that if he continues criticizing me I will walk out the door. I left home at 22 because of him. I had a strong feeling of “hate” towards my dad because he was overbearing and overly critical. I don’t feel this way anymore. He has mellowed over the years and I can actually have a decent conversation with him.

        It almost feels as if my boyfriend is a parent giving me permission and I’m waiting for his approval. I feel rebellious because of it.

        Yes you never know – we could end up back together. I wouldn’t rule it out because I don’t know. I’m taking this one day at a time. I’m glad the lines of communication are at least open with us.

        Reply
  31. Raleigh

    Thank you so much for this article and your responses in the discussion below. I am finding it both comforting and devastating at the same time. This has been happening in my relationship to my husband for a couple of years now, and recent events seemed to have tipped the scales over the wrong side once and for all. Long story short, he was depressed and having a hard time adjusting to live in my country, which made our relationship dynamic stressful and totally off balance for a while (him being overly needy and myself enabling that to the highest degree with parental behavior).

    When he started to feel better things slowly started to get a bit better, we had more genuine intimacy as equals but I also regained some of my independence. The problem for me is, that he thinks we have found equilibrium now for about a year, whereas on the inside I am still often nearly panicking with the sense of being suffocated by his neediness. I feel I am losing myself to some extent. There is no rational way to discuss it as he, unarguably, has been giving in a lot (compared to the old days) to us spending more time apart. Sometimes I am fine with it, because we do have mostly very nice time together. Yet often I realize I need so much more than just his company, I need to exist outside of this relationship too. I find it hard that it seems besides going to work, I shouldn’t spend more than 5-6 hours per week apart from him. Two young adults in a childless marriage with perfectly stable job situation etc. – and we both get stressed to the max when I want to go meet a girlfriend for 2 hours after work some day: me out of the frustration that he will object, him out of the frustration that I spring too many plans on him.

    I honestly don’t even know what to do anymore, this is making me consider divorcing him, I cannot live my life this way. At the same time I love him deeply, and not in a dependent way but really genuinly care about him and feel in love with who he is. I am beginning to think we just cannot see eye to eye about this anymore, as I went into the relationship giving in too much in the beginning. Now I can’t take it back anymore, without my husband saying how I “used to be so easy-going/giving” and getting stressed out how much he needs to adjust for me. I don’t even know how to talk about this with him, as any time I try, as calmly as I can, he feels totally attacked. I guess I have probably built up so much resentment I just cannot hide it anymore.

    Are we doomed?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I really think that it is far better to first seriously talk to him, write him, or go to counseling together than simply to divorce him. He may not be able to stand on his own two feet adequately, or he may not want to have a relationship where both people spend more time apart pursuing their own interests and friendships. But it’s important for you to learn to be able to talk about your own needs and desires, whether you stay together or not. It’s also much kinder to have discussions and clearly make your feelings known before giving up on the relationship, even if he feels attacked (better than feeling abandoned for no clear reason–his greatest fear.) If you express your feelings and desires and ask if he’s willing to have a more balanced relationship supporting more independence, then it is in part his choice whether the relationship goes forward or not.

      If he feels stressed out about you seeing a girlfriend for two hours, I suspect that it is unlikely that he will get over his tremendous fear of abandonment and neediness without a lot of motivation and effort. Yet I still think it’s the right thing to do to express your feelings and your specific desires. If he feels attacked, then write him basically what you wrote here, “I feel guilty, stressed out, resentful and suffocated when you don’t want me to see my girlfriend or do things on my own. I love you deeply and don’t want to hurt you, but I can’t continue like this, because it’s stifling me, and I don’t want to resent you, because that too will ruin the relationship, and make us both miserable. I want you to want me to see my girlfriends and pursue some separate interests. I’d like to be able to go out… [specifics] and for you to be happy for me and not angry and hurt. I believe it would keep are relationship more vital.”

      You say that you both get stressed to the max when you want to go meet a girlfriend for two hours. In other words, you get stressed out too. There is something in you that fears his reaction or buys into his disapproval. That’s what you need to deal with. How can you handle his anger without being manipulated into doing what he wants and without being reactive and causing anxiety to escalate?

      It is so much harder to go from a relationship where you are always together to one which is more balanced. Someone is bound to feel hurt. That’s why it’s so important to nourish that balance from the beginning, and also to avoid letting someone else’s fears manipulate you into excessive compromise.

      Anyway, I wonder why you first fell in love with him. I also wonder if he would be different in his own country, and where you think his neediness comes from.

      It will be difficult but worthwhile to take the time and gather the courage to express your feelings and desires clearly (in writing if you have to) without attacking him. At the end of your note, you might something like, “I hope we can discuss this in a productive positive way without either of us attacking or feeling attacked.”

      Take care.

      Alison

      Reply
  32. Suzana

    Hi Alison

    I think I’m quite good at expressing my feelings without attacking. I know it’s important not to attack the person or their character but only point out their behaviour

    What I’m struggling with is knowing that I didn’t give him an opportunity to curb his negative behaviour in the relationship because I never said anything. I have ended the relationship and he is feeling very hurt b/c he didn’t know the full extent of my thoughts and feelings. How can he know to change something about himself if I don’t tell him it bothers me?

    At the time I truly believed it was because I didn’t love him but i can now see that it was much more than that. Sometimes love cannot save a relationship. His incessant negative attitude to himself and his life was wearing me down. His silent treatment and changeable moods was wearing me down. But was it unfair of me to end it without giving him a chance to remedy himself? Even though I was riddled with anxiety and needed space?

    At the time i was confused and felt i couldn’t stay. And it’s only in hindsight I am coming to this realization. I feel incredibly guilty I am causing him pain even moreso than the pain he may have caused me.

    I don’t want to make any decisions just yet especially if I think I may make them out of guilt and it’s killing me knowing he is all alone and hurting without any support around him.

    Our last set of sms message went like this…

    _________________________________
    Suzana: I’m struggling here as well. I don’t know how to handle any of this.I’m sorry you’re hurting. It was unfair to you for me not to speak to you about how I was feeling but I felt I couldn’t. I feel different things at different times and I’m confused.

    Him : After 8 years you think I don’t know you? I love you for what you are.

    Suzana: I know but I struggle with my anxiety and it’s really affecting me. I can’t sleep. I feel like I’m being eaten from the inside. When I think of the future I panic and get more anxious. I don’t know how to control it.

    Him: You once said ‘I love you’ at the station and couple of months ago you said your anxiety was gone

    Suzana: My anxiety was gone for 2 years. It went soon after I found out about the American girl. But it’s returned over the last few months. As for love I feel it at certain times for you but not all the time. So it makes me question if what I’m feeling is really love.

    Him: Then what are you going to do about that suzana? Because see, the issue here is your commitment to truly break this loop that’s going on and on. All I have seen in these 8 years is suzana saying I want to change and going to therapists gaining no benefits, starting things without finishing them, isolating herself, sitting on the couch watching tv. Do you agree with me? Now we split. What is going to change suzana? Beg your pardon if I ask but this is a movie that I have already seen and I know way too well the ending. You walk out of this relationship and then what? Let’s become the next persons sweetheart or worse, the next person’s sex toy. And then what?
    _________________________________
    The sex toy comment was referencing a relationship i had with the person before him. You can say that it was a casual relationship.

    I didn’t respond to this last message and my therapist recommended I don’t respond b/c he’s being manipulative. I do agree with you that compassion is needed at times and I’m not sure if this is one of those times.

    I know that his anger is born out of hurt and confusion. I can see past the attack. I think he hasn’t taken responsibility for his actions because I haven’t told him that his behaviour was a problem. So even if I don’t tell him am I expecting too much of him to start questioning this on his own? If the roles were reversed and my boyfriend wanted to end the relationship I would naturally want to know if I had done anything to cause it

    My boyfriend seems to think I am the problem because I have always believed I was the problem and expressed to him that it was my problem.

    But I’m still working through everything and I’m not even sure what me feelings are. I feel like I need space to work it out and the therapy sessions are helping me to get there.

    In the meantime I have a very hurt ex-boyfriend who I want to give answers to even though I don’t know what the answers are. Whether we may end up together again is unknown.

    Suzana

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Sorry Suzana, but I may disagree with your therapist. If you care about him, it’s unkind to ignore that text completely. I didn’t find it to be mean, although it’s not super neutral because he is hurt and trying to understand what is going on. I don’t think you should decide how to behave as a response to manipulation or guilt. That said, simply responding in an honest way is not catering to manipulation.

      I think you could start by saying something like, “I feel really sad that you feel so hurt. My intention is not to hurt you. I also take some of the blame for not having expressed my frustrations and giving you the chance to change. I believe now that much of my anxiety and being stuck in a loop, as you say, was due to the fact that I didn’t express how much your negative attitude toward yourself and your life was wearing me down and that your silent treatment and changeable moods were also wearing me down. I’m not blaming you. I’m saying that I should have spoken up many times, but it wasn’t clear to me that that’s in great part where the anxiety was coming from. Neither of us is perfect, and life and relationships hopefully allow us to grow and become better people and communicators.” Of course, you should only write what accurately reflects your feelings without being overly accusatory or self-accusatory, and you could leave out this last part :), but it’s true.

      I think it is absolutely key for a relationship that partners learn to communicate effectively. No two people are exactly on the same wave-length. If they were, it would be boring for them to be with each other. We’re attracted to people who are different and from whom we can learn. But we need to be able to understand ourselves and each other and to compromise, which we can’t do without having some discussions first.

      The key is to express your feelings and needs and not to label or attack him. I don’t think you need to decide to get back together or not. But after such a long time together, I do think it would be kind and beneficial to both of you to have some honest discussions without blame, just factual discussions about how you felt and why you didn’t express your frustrations and his contribution to them. Compassion and truly understanding how the other person feels are so important in a relationship.

      Good luck. Here are a couple of articles on effective communication:

      Changing Relationship Dynamics:
      “It’s too late to start telling my boyfriend to let me know when he’s coming home late because our communication patterns have already been established.”

      Disagreement: “You’re wrong!”

      Compassion

      Reply
  33. Leah

    Hello,

    My boyfriend just ended our relationship of 11 months a few days ago. I can see how we were definitely in the pursuer/distancer pattern, me being the pursuer. The trouble I have is that I don’t feel like I was asking too much. We live an hour apart and I wanted to see him once a week and have a couple short telephone calls during the week and a few text messages daily to keep in touch. That was already quite a compromise for me because in my past relationships my individuality has really become stifled as I’ve made my relationships my world. In this one, I’ve maintained my own personal life.

    I do feel like I was frequently pursuing him… Asking to receive affection from him and becoming emotionally reactive when I would go without this after having asked for it. This would become especially difficult when I had something going on in my life that was hard for me… I wanted his emotional support but I could not get it without directly asking, which was hard when I was already in a state of vulnerability.

    He ended the relationship saying there was something missing, some “excitement” that he could not explain. I interpret this now as a desire… He didn’t desire me because I was always pursuing him. I guess what I wonder is… Sometimes is this pursuer/distancer pattern present because two people are just too different in their needs? I did pursue him a lot, but I also felt I’d already compromised on my desire for closeness and become more independent… I feel like if I had given him more space and not allowed my desire for closeness I would have ended up giving up too much of myself and not allowing myself to accept my needs. I’m not sure I would have wanted to be in a more stoic relationship with minimal affection.

    Please give me your thoughts on this. Is there a point where a pursuer who backs off is giving up too much of their self/needs? Also, will I meet someone who i am just more emotionally compatible with and who will be more willing to meet me halfway?

    Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      You have asked some great questions. Let me take them one at a time.

      1. “Sometimes is this pursuer/distancer pattern present because two people are just too different in their needs?”

      1. Yes, some people are just too different in their needs for a relationship to work. It’s better to find this out by remaining mutual in your pursuit from the beginning and avoiding too much one-sidedness from creeping in. He calls you, you can call him, but don’t call two, three, four times in a row. You might ask for emotional support when you really need it, but if this becomes a weekly or daily thing, you are depending too much on someone else for support. Or if you feel resistance, don’t ask for support. You need to learn to contain your vulnerability, or go to a therapist or talk to another friend who is more available for that support. But even with other friends, beware of needing too much support. You are creating a dependent relationship, which is a turn off and becomes draining, not uplifting.

      You will never find an exact match. So there is always a little frustration, but that’s how we grow. The key in dating someone is to view it as a dance where you gradually get to know someone, their desires, their capabilities, and their interests. If you pay attention to what they give and take naturally, then you don’t need to get involved with someone who isn’t somewhat of a match for you.

      2. “Is there a point where a pursuer who backs off is giving up too much of their self/needs?”

      People differ in their needs. In general, it’s good to be balanced and to find someone who is balanced between desiring togetherness and separateness. If you start having too many needs, that is a definite turn-off, and will cause affection to disappear. When your partner comes to you as a child needing support too often, you lose desire for him or her. Instead you become parental, and eventually, resentful. So to be effective, a pursuer needs to back off. If a pursuer feels that too much is being given up, then perhaps he or she needs to learn to be more emotionally separate and independent, or needs to find a different partner.

      If you have a certain need in a relationship, for instance, wanting a certain amount of physical affection, and the other person isn’t willing to give it, then I would recommend having a discussion without being needy, manipulative, hurt, complaining, coercive, or angry. To express your needs and desires most effectively, you need to be self-empowered and not manipulative. Coercion, guilt, and whining can work, but only for the short-term. Eventually the person will lose respect and desire for you if you use neediness, manipulation, or anger to get what you want. A self-empowered way to ask for more affection would be, “I’d like to be in a relationship where there’s more affection, hand-holding, etc. Is that something you’d like?” Then listen for the answer and have an honest discussion. If the person isn’t willing to become more affectionate, then you have a choice: take him the way he is or leave him.

      On the other hand, if you keep pursuing someone and asking for what they are not willing to give, you are definitely pushing that person away further, even if he or she temporarily mollifies you.

      More importantly, if a relationship becomes excessively based on emotional support, it will become fused or codependent, which eliminates fun, freedom and desire. Of course, there is comfort in having some support, but there is a cost to too much dependency.

      3. Also, will I meet someone who i am just more emotionally compatible with and who will be more willing to meet me halfway?”

      You can only meet someone who is more willing to meet you halfway if you develop the relationship in a mutual way without one person becoming excessively in pursuit of the other. In other words, you need to resist the temptation to pursue more than the other person, as I mentioned in number 1. Generally, people who find themselves pursuing a lot need to learn to seek wholeness within themselves and not from another person. Also they need to accept the feeling of not being whole. Ironically, the more you can sit with feeling empty or lonely without feeling desperate, the less of a needy vibe you will send to others, which will actually make you more attractive. And then you will find more wholeness from the other person, but only because you are not seeking it. Tough, I know. That means learning to wait, to avoid being reactive, and to contain some of your own vulnerabilities. If you learn to sit with your feeling of longing and to move on with other activities wholeheartedly even though you feel you have an need to be heard or supported, you will be amazed how those you have longed for will be much more drawn to you.

      Good luck. Take care.

      Alison

      Reply
  34. Jake

    Hi Alison,

    Another great response! Thank you! I would like to call you and talk.

    Everything you say makes sense. And yes, it will be very difficult for me to put off seeing her for a few days if she asks to see me. I’ve never done that. I imagine that she will already be pretty shocked that I actually haven’t contacted her by the time she reaches out… To then say, “Sorry, can’t do Wednesday night, maybe Saturday,” would probably blow her mind and she might actually get the feeling that I’m not desperate to see her! Imagine! That would sure be nice… Maybe even get her to feel that I’m thinking I might not want to see her at all! Which, believe it or not, does cross my mind at this point!

    But the thing that is really upsetting to me is – why is this happening?

    Have you seen situations like this where a couple has been together for five years, lived together, and suddenly the distancer has a crisis, an affair, and distances more than ever before? Isn’t that the point at which she should say, “I no longer want to be with you.”??? Or when I should???

    Why the intense conflict of desire??? Why the pushing me away so intensely while claiming to still want to work on our relationship and be together?

    I don’t get why she wouldn’t just state that she doesn’t want to be with me anymore. What does it mean to be a couple? Is this what she actually wanted all along? To be completely separate and free and see each other once a week or two and have affairs? Is this just a phase of new self discovery at 30 years old? Rebellion against my control for these five years while still loving me? Transference of her feelings about her father?

    I know you can’t answer these questions. I’m sure she can’t either. But my God! It’s just been too much suffering and drama. I keep on thinking, why couldn’t she have just gone to a meditation retreat for a week? Instead of all this pushing and pulling and cheating and lying and drama? I guess she just didn’t even know what she was doing or why. It’s all a big acting out.

    Now, I wonder, after your advice from your last message, why I’m doing this at all. If I’m going to constantly be dealing with the feeling of desire unrequited to some degree, and struggling to be the way she wants me to be, is it worth it? Obviously only I can answer that, but it’s certainly a big question.

    If she is my twin flame as I believe, then this is exactly what I need to learn in life, and it has come in a package that I utterly adore just so I would finally be willing to stay and learn. If it had come from anyone else, I would have left long ago. But I feel so strongly that I only want to be with her, that I’m willing to stick with it and learn my lessons. Certainly, learning how to pull back, shut up, have patience, handle my emotions, deal with unrequited desire… These will be good for me in all areas of life.

    And if I decide to leave, I will still always have to deal with unrequited desire for her and whoever else I am with down the road… But I’ll never be with my twin flame during the process… So in a few paragraphs I’ve convinced myself to stick with it and that our love is worth it. There you go. That was easy.

    But I’m going to have to really gear up for this challenge. I think one thing you implied but didn’t overtly state was that she is, either consciously or not, testing me. She doesn’t really trust that I could have possibly transformed. She will be on the look out for signs of neediness or desperation or controlling behavior. Even if I haven’t contacted her in a few days or even weeks if it gets there, she will still expect me to jump all over her and have expectations of when I’ll see her again when we meet. Like you said, I have to control myself daily, and weekly, and indefinitely.

    Then I start to feel like I’m still being the GIVER in the relationship by altering my behavior to suit her…

    But… I also see that this alteration will be good for me in my life in general. So, it only makes sense.

    Obviously, I hope that my change will result in her willingness to change as well. Be more giving, wanting to spend more time together, being able to talk about things…

    But you also said that often the change a distancer is capable of isn’t enough… They are slow to change and don’t go as far. I am feeling like that will likely be the case. And then I’m faced with this lack forever… Not as much as now, but this homesick feeling might never really go away. And then I’m back to… Well, that’s right… But if you leave her, you’ll have the homesick feeling worse.

    And then, I’m just left with…

    Well…

    That’s life…

    Something is always missing, especially when you have a rich imagination and can create fantasies through music, art, movies, drugs, etc. that show you an ideal that can never be reached. But it’s the nature of desire… Never satiated.

    But who do you want to experience the unsatisfied feeling with? Who do you want by your side as you experience that existential angst? Who do you want meditate with?

    I know who I want by my side… Though I’m starting to wonder if it’s really a wise desire…

    Sadly, right now, she would prefer to be alone. And that does hurt. But I also understand. When she is alone, she has peace. When she is with me, all this stuff comes up. Even if I don’t say anything, all these issues are there. And she can really avoid them. Not like she can when she’s alone.

    Oh… I wanted to ask you two more things…

    One is, I know you said not to try to have any big discussions. That was actually part of our new arrangement before this latest break… No discussions and no sex. No sex just because it’s intense and usually she has some kind of emotional disturbance the next day and talk about pursuing! Will be quite hard for me to not pursue if sex is a possibility.

    What a shitload of restrictions we have! Well, I wanted to ask what you think of the emotional affair. I did tell her that I wouldn’t even being up her emotional affair. She has told me in the last month that she isn’t in contact with the guy anymore. That he has tried to get in touch but she hasn’t responded and doesn’t want to. I believe her since the purpose of the emotional affair, as I see it, has largely been satisfied, but when I suggested she block his number and Facebook so that she isn’t contacted out of the blue and dragged back in, she agrees it’s a good idea but won’t commit to it. She has explained that she is afraid that if she makes a commitment to no contact like she did last time, that if she fails again it will be too demoralizing for her so she would rather just not do anything but also not make any official statements. I explained that blocking his number was just protection against being dragged in by him but that she was still free to contact him if she wanted to, and would be more in control. Still, she wouldn’t do it.

    Okay, I get that she also wants to guard against being controlled by me. But what am I expected to do? Just accept that I will never know what she’s doing, and that she could be having an emotional affair at anytime? Or is it just not a good time to be talking about this stuff and I need to either accept the situation and the unknown for now or cut it off with her? Seems I just need to accept this too. Or leave.

    Then there is also the children! She has been very very close with my two daughters for five years. She lived with them when they were with me for two or three years. She was there for them during the divorce. They love love love her and she has shown a lot of love for them and claims to love them. I say claims, because during these two months of separation, she has only seen them three or four times. While she is taking her time and space from me, she is taking her time and space from them too. She isn’t asking me how they’re doing. She is absent from them just as she is from me. It makes me feel really awful. Like what is this??? Is this how she was raised? To just cut off from people? It makes me angry. The girls are 7 and 10. And surely, I understand she may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of being their second mother, but it was a responsibility she was fully aware of getting into it. And took seriously all this time. Suddenly, she is just gone. This aspect really upsets me and makes me feel like she’s not even a good presence for them is she can’t even be present.

    Is there a part of you that feels that maybe I should just end this? I do sometimes thing that it’s all a little much. I mean, it IS a little much. Not fair to my daughters, not fair to me. It is just heart breaking. How can it be so hard to just love? To state what you want and to give what you can? I get that shit gets hard. I get that people are different. I have my fair share of psychological problems and sought help since I was 20. But this was a committed relationship for five years which has been completely derailed and I’m still trying to figure out why. I was always getting better. Always willing to improve. Always willing to go to therapy and look at myself and change. So why the sudden crisis and break? It’s not like I was getting worse.

    I know you recommend less analyzing of one’s partner (and I read your article), but I can’t explain what has happened in any other way than that she was faced with confronting her father, as we were in therapy, and the therapist began talking to her father just before all this happened… And it seems to me that the closer she got to confronting her father, the more she needed to get the hell out of our relationship and destroy it if necessary. Anything to avoid talking to her father about making amends with me.

    What else could cause such drastic distancing, lying, cheating? What else could cause her to distance even more after distancing more than ever? While still saying she wants to be with me?

    The only thing that helps me make sense of this is to think that is a buried trauma that is so terrifying that she will do anything not to face it.

    And then I’m back to, why am I doing this? How long can I take this kind of love? Don’t I deserve to be loved without feeling such rejection and despair and longing? Just a nice stable healthy relationship?

    If the ball is in her court. And we haven’t seen each other for a week, why is she not texting me, “Hey. I love you. I miss you. I’m excited to see you soon.”

    Why? Well ostensibly, because she isn’t feeling that. Or she isn’t feeling it enough to break the thumb to Iphone barrier. Or, because it takes her at least four weeks to feel what I feel in a day. Really???? Do I really want to be with a woman, whether she’s my twin flame or not, who doesn’t miss being with me after a week? And won’t commit to being in an exclusive relationship with me after five years? Who just drops off the face of the planet even when tow children love her and miss her??

    Her distancing and other behavior have finally pushed me to ask myself for real…

    Is she worth it?

    And it’s not like when she comes back it will be just a ball of sunshine! These issues are all still there even if we don’t talk about them.

    I’m actually starting to feel like it may be time to just cut loose. Too much distance, too much pain, too many lies.

    This is what happens a lot I guess in pursuer distancer relationships that go too far and too extreme. The pursuer finally feels fed up and tired and gives up. And then the distancer watches in disbelief as they go.

    I don’t know.

    I’m not done yet.

    But I can see myself getting there soon.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Jake,

      This is a long letter. It’s quite amazing how you express your internal conversations very thoroughly. While I think that it is good to be aware of all the different voices in your head, I just want to suggest to you that if you also approach your girlfriend with so many thoughts and expectations that it might be overwhelming for her and cause her to distance even more. Perhaps you don’t inundate her with too many thoughts and expectations, but I am guessing that you do to some extent. And perhaps the primary goal for you would be to learn to contain your thoughts and emotions more (except in your music–in music these ambiguous feelings would make for great lyrics) and learn to expect less from others and find that fulfillment within yourself. Some people would greatly enjoy hearing the contradicting thoughts expressed pretty clearly that most of us experience at some time or another. I’m just suggesting that you stay tuned into your girlfriend’s reactions if you tend to express this much. It could be overwhelming and not alluring.

      I’m going to touch on some of your thoughts and questions fairly quickly:

      Yes, these things happen all the time. As relationship dynamics become more entrenched, and perhaps there is not enough space between people or too many expectations, then an external circumstance, a life crisis, meeting someone who is different from one’s partner or simply time can cause a sudden shift. Sometimes it is a blessing, because the shift, problem or crisis can lead to a change in the relationship before the patterns get ingrained for 10 or 20 years. Then it becomes much more difficult to change things.

      I don’t know if she wants to be with you anymore. From what she’s written you, I suspect there is hope but that she is conflicted. Often people don’t know what they want or they fluctuate. They may love parts of the relationship but feel stifled as well. Again, my best advice is that you allow some space, don’t be totally available, when together be kind, but work on becoming less desperate to have her fulfill you. If you ever talk to her in person, you might ask her what is missing in the relationship for her, or what she would like to change. And then listen. Or perhaps you already know.

      Rather than worrying about whether you’ll stay together or not (that kind of decision should not be made impetuously), why don’t you take it a day at a time. Resist too much contact, try to distract yourself with work, music, other people and ideas so that you don’t become overly-obsessed with her, which will push her away. I know that’s hard to do, but you can do it.

      Your change will result in her changing a bit, though probably not sufficiently to satisfy you. Basically, you can’t expect her or anyone to satisfy you completely.

      I don’t think you necessarily have to deal with the feeling of unrequited love for the rest of your life. If you learn to resist the temptation to pursue too much and if you allow the other person the space to develop the pleasure of desiring you, then your love will not always be unrequited. When you depend less on someone else to make you feel happy and whole, the other person will be more attracted to you.

      Love becomes an overwhelming obligation when it feels as though your love is desperately needed. If you can develop the willpower to not act on desire by not calling so much and talking together too long, it will become easier, because you will actually have a more mutual relationship, which doesn’t involve so much suffering. Your suffering comes in part from your belief or feeling that you will be fulfilled only if your love is fully reciprocated and if it’s guaranteed, but it never can be.

      She may not be texting you “Hey I love you and miss you,” because she is conflicted, because it is not her style, or because she is worried that you will take that as “all systems go.” If she does say something positive, try waiting a bit to reply and then reply in kind–that is, friendly, casually, and BRIEFLY. That allows her to pursue you without worrying that there will instantly be too much closeness.

      Regarding your daughters, that is tough. At least she has contacted them a few times. Some people in her situation stop all contact with the kids, which of course if tragic. If you think that she is not contacting them enough, you could send a positive brief text and without using any guilt and suggest something like, “The kids were happy to hear from you last week. It means a lot to them. No matter what’s going on with us, please keep in touch with them. Thanks.”

      I have to go. A Phone call? Pretty busy for the next two weeks. Let’s see how it goes. Good luck!

      Alison

      Reply
  35. Anonymous

    UPDATE!

    On Sunday night, after two days of silence between us after my “I’m done” text, I decided to write to her. I didn’t feel it was breaking my commitment because I was just trying to let her know exactly what my commitment was. It was a clarification…

    ∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

    “****,

    I just wanted to let you know that my last text to you, telling you that I’m done and that you should have courage and go fulfill your fantasies, was written while I was feeling hurt. I was feeling hurt because, as I heard it, you expressed no desire to be with me even during what was a promising time for us, and during a time when we have seen each other less than ever before. I was hurt because you didn’t communicate any awareness that I might feel hurt by what you were saying.

    It was just another situation which highlighted the fundamental dysfunction of our relationship. You’ve been the distancer, I have been the pursuer. It’s something we have agreed needs to be addressed if we want our love to continue.

    Please forgive me if my text hurt you. I was hurt, and I was incredibly frustrated to be experiencing another round of distancing when it seems to me that there has been so much distance created already. Sorry.

    However, I’m not sorry for the intent of the text.

    I am done.

    I am done pursuing you to the degree that I have, and I am not going to be in contact with you again, until you reach out to me. I have transformed my side of the dynamic. My pursuing days are over. What happens next will be up to you.

    On New Year’s Eve, you made movez and made shit happen. It felt good for me. It seemed to feel good for you. But you had agreed to do that, and I gave you the idea.

    Now it’s different. What happens next is completely up to you. There is no plan, only options. If you do nothing, nothing will happen, and our relationship will slowly fade. I am ready to accept that. Of course, I would prefer to continue working with you to create a new, better, functional love. But I want nothing to do with it if you don’t want it too. I will only move forward with you if it is clear, from your most authentic truth, that you want me, and you want us to survive, and flourish. If not, I’m ready to move on.

    I hope you’re doing well.

    And that the choices you make are true for you.

    Love,

    Me

    ∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

    So today, three days after the first “I’m done,” text, and the day after the above email was sent, I was feeling that familiar and terrible feeling of loss and emptiness. Not knowing what she’s thinking, what’s been real, what will happen. I need to work and make money, but I it’s hard to focus when I feel like this, and because I’m an independent contractor, what I do is up to me. Or not!

    I was walking in the city after a meeting and realized I was close to the fancy Waldorf Astoria hotel where I like to play the piano that they have in the ballroom. I arrived only to find there was a function in the ballroom. I asked the security guard if he knew of another piano. He told me there’s one on the 18th floor. A beautiful grand piano invited me right as I got out of the elevator. I sat down and played… and a song was born. Out of nowhere… I wrote a song from the perspective of two years in the future…

    “It was two years ago
    That I wrote that text to you saying
    I’m done”

    and in the song, she never reached out. Two years went by without any communication. And the sad thing for me, is that in my exaggerated, dysregulated, emotional artist’s mind and heart, that’s how two days felt! Then the song gets faster and more flowing…

    “And today, you called me!”

    With such passion… and in the song, she asks me if I want to get a bite to eat.

    Then the verse comes back in the end, and instead of “It’s been two years,” it’s, “Talking to you, it’s like two years, never went by. It’s like it was yesterday.” Pretty cool time bending going on in the song. And in my experience. Especially because when I turned the phone back on after I left the Waldorf, I saw that she had replied to my email…

    ∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

    “Anonymous,

    Thank you for writing. Ive read your email and I believe I fully understand. I want to move forward with you in my future, but I have to find the right way to do that so its true and authentic for both of us. I am very sick now. I didn’t go to work today which I’m sure makes a bad impression, but I’m sick as a dog and can’t get out of bed. I hope that you are healthy and continue to take good care of yourself. I will reach out when I’m able. I love you forever.

    ∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

    I am obviously pleased she decided to write, and so quickly. And she does seem to be wanting to give me some reassurance which is sweet. I’m a little unclear about what exactly she’s saying, but I’m sure she is too. It seems, and has always seemed, she wants to be with me, and she knows we are twin flames and wants to see us work, but needs a lot of space and time to figure out a lot of things… it could be a lot worse, if being with her is what my goal is.

    What is clear to me is that as we have gotten further along in our relationship, and closer and closer to dealing with some serious issues which have been waiting to be dealt with, she distances in order to avoid having to deal.

    Namely, it’s her father. Not sure I mentioned this… Her father is just a brick wall of a man… hardly anyone there, and what is, isn’t anything warm or inviting. She has never been able to be her true self with either of her parents. It’s all a mask she puts on for them. But he is particularly unable to see who she is. He never has.

    He threatened to call the police on me if I didn’t leave his house three years ago (he thought he was protecting his daughter from me after I didn’t take her to my brother’s wedding in California! He figured he would remove me for being such a creep and then she would thank him one day). I have been persona non grata for three years! All of this distancing, and cheating she has done… I believe in a big way its a subconscious effort to get away from me for good. It would be so much easier for her to just please her parents and leave me behind. They’d all be happy. And she would never have to confront her dad. Only, I guess it’s not so easy to just leave your twin flame.

    So we are at the point where it’s almost impossible for us to move forward authentically until she, at the very least, confronts her father. Maybe she’ll get nowhere, but if she doesn’t at least make an effort and attempt to talk to him, she will always have to know that she is being a coward which hurts us both.

    To exist in this dual life, all her family functions without the man she loves, never allowed in their house… it’s terrible for everyone but her father. We have her mother on board to begin repairing… And it’s even more complicated too…

    Her father had a mini-seizure the last time she had a serious talk with him… she was interviewing him when she was in social work school for a project, about his life, and when it came to his feelings for an old girlfriend, he had a seizure and ended up in the hospital for three days!

    So now, not only is there the fear of her father and talking to him, but there’s also this absurd, but seemingly well founded fear that if she approaches him he could end up in the hospital!

    It’s a damn shame. The whole thing.

    I’m ready to move forward and work on ourselves alone in the context of being together. But I do not have to confront my family about her. I don’t have to deal with this split consciousness between my lover and partner and my family of origin. It’s ridiculous. And who knows what’s at the bottom of the fear of her father. He is certainly controlling, self centered, deaf, and intimidating… I don’t know what else.

    To top it all off, her new job is doing therapy with teenage boys who have sexually abused others. !!! It’s a heavy load. No wonder she doesn’t want to see her twin flame too much. Everything comes out and is exposed when she sees me. Much easier to just not see anyone and keep quiet, and peaceful. It just won’t get us anywhere… but I’ve learned to be a pretty patient man.

    At least I stopped the pursuit.

    Maybe that’s a big part of everything and will create the space for the rest of the stuff to unfold.

    It’s good. I’ll write more music and do more work and make more money if I’m not busy chasing someone who keeps running away.

    Takes me so long to learn stuff.

    I will check out the books you mentioned.

    Thanks for all your great responses and advice! This is a great thing to be able to do! And I guess it does help your practice as you give real advice to real people who need it!

    I’ll keep you posted.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi.

      I have just a few comments. First, I think it’s great that you could bring all your emotions into your music and write a good song–with interesting ideas about how time feels. I do think that music is perhaps a good place for you to go when you are having strong feelings about wanting connection. It is key for pursuers and people who want to talk and figure everything out not to immediately engage a distancer with all their feelings and ideas. The challenge of a pursuer is to contain his or her own emotions. But artists and musicians are lucky when they can turn those feelings into something “greater than”, rather than letting them become gnawing needs, which feel draining for the distancer. A gnawing need can be sublimated in music, and become universal and beautiful. A gnawing need acted on in real life becomes irritating and tiresome.

      Second, even though she has now said she wants a relationship with you, it’s your daily (or weekly) response that matters. Take your time, don’t inundate her with your ideas. For instance, I would not tell her to fix things with her dad. That is up to her. It may not even be the best thing or appropriate timing for her to do so. It also puts pressure on her that is annoying and not helpful. Not all relationships can become better by confronting the other person. Some relationships do have to stay superficial, because it takes both sides to make a real change.

      Instead, if you get back together, next time she has a family event that she doesn’t want to bring you to, tell her that you would like to go if you like. If she doesn’t have the courage to bring you, then go somewhere else and perhaps distance yourself for a few days without being sullen.

      You might read a quick article I wrote on not psycho-analyzing your partner. Very hard for some of us not to do, but important: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/2011/05/04/analyzing-people-%E2%80%9Cyou%E2%80%99re-just-re-enacting-your-relationship-with-your-father%E2%80%9D/ It’s better to have fun or enjoy music together or talk about politics than to always have to fix a person or relationship. And on the matter, I personally don’t like to call relationships “dysfunctional,” just as I think it’s unhelpful to think of a person as “damaged goods.” Often it’s through our greatest suffering and challenges that we gain our greatest qualities. All of life and relationships are experiences that we live and learn from. We can adjust our actions and our expectations to become more effective and to avoid unnecessary suffering. I think it actually helps a relationship to not think of it as dysfunctional. Each relationship has its own unique journey, perhaps where one person was the pursuer and then became more balanced, and started writing better songs by putting that energy of longing into his music more, and allowing the woman to experience her own sense of desire more.

      People process things differently. As it said in the article you sent me, distancers tend not to change too much. They change more in response to the pursuer changing. If the pursuer learns to contain feelings, avoiding calling too much and expecting too much, the distancer will often respond to that change by becoming more caring (though maybe not as dramatically as the pursuer would like.) Thus, it is really about learning to sit with unrequited desire.

      So what I would advise is that when you see her again, don’t get into heavy conversations. That can be overwhelming. If she wants to see you, wait an extra day or two or three, so she’ll really want to see, spend a great time together and leave before she expects you to without a heavy conversation. That will take some will power on your part. But it’s not a game. It’s doing her the favor of backing off and allowing her to feel a sense of desire for you instead of feeling dread because she cannot give you enough and meet all your expectations. Allow the foundation of desire and love to laid down again before having more meaningful intense conversations.

      Take care!

      Reply
  36. Suzana

    Hi Alison

    Thankyou so much. Your words are a comfort and gives me hope I can resolve at least some of my issues if not all.

    Your detailed and clear advice is wonderful and a breath of fresh air.

    My gnawing anxiety only occurs when I’m in a romantic relationship. My internal dialogue is constant. I constantly have conversation in my head with my boyfriend and analyse past events and behaviour (his and mine) A big problem for me is I look at all possibilities and angles of a situation. I am an INTP in MBTI.

    I believe the anxiety is a combination of all of these things:

    – making decisions which affect him and his future. Especially when I’m not sure of my decision or my feelings about him or the future.
    – feeling stuck because of the above
    – not voicing my real feelings and keeping them hidden and/or revealing part of the truth
    – avoiding confrontation
    – feeling like I’m giving him false hope
    – guilty he is in Australia for me when I’m not even sure of what I want and he is expecting an answer from me

    I’ve had many throat infections. I believe this is because I don’t speak my mind and am holding in my thoughts.

    I don’t have this problem with my friends, family or co-workers. I’m actually naturally quite blunt and direct and quite often speak my mind. But in a relationship I’m the opposite and avoid confrontation.

    I visited my brother lastnight and asked him about our mum. He said he was the one always instigating the physical contact. Not so much my mum. She had post-natal depression and also was unable to breast feed my brother at the time. She had an abusive relationship with my dad – most of the abuse was hidden from us. It mostly occurred when we were at school. My brother believes I’m a lot like my mum – very independent and free-spirited. She had a nervous breakdown before the onset of schizophrenia – she had cauda equina syndrome which left her incontinent. She was admitted into a mental institution and had electro shock therapy. What she went through was awful and I know I need to sympathize with that. My brother told me on the day of her suicide she pulled him into the bedroom and gave him the biggest hug ever and looked out of the window.

    After speaking with my brother and voicing my feelings my anxiety left. But it returned soon after I came home. Being left alone with my thoughts tends to bring on the anxiousness

    I did send my boyfriend the first letter and I did feel calmer after doing that. I will most likely send the second.

    Thanks again for your advice 🙂

    Suzana

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Suzana,

      I do think voice dialogue or other therapy could be very helpful in clarifying what these different voices in your inner dialogue are saying, what is underlying them, and then how to mediate between them and become unstuck. Many people fear confrontation for good reasons, usually deep emotional fear having to do with avoiding outbursts or disapproval from parents at a young age. For people who cringe away from confrontation, they can learn to express their fears, needs, and desires in a way that is not confrontational, and yet with strength and honesty.

      I think you have done this in your letters. I don’t see attack or blame. I also don’t see excessive self-blame. In verbal communication, of course, tone of voice and body language become critical, again to avoid attack and blame as well as self-blame. Having needs and desires is not something blameworthy. However, you can hurt others when you keep your needs, desires, and fears too secretive, because other people can then develop false expectations.

      You can express contrary desires, which would clarify to your boyfriend why you seem to care and yet seem distant. When you are honest about those feelings, intimacy grows, and the other person gains some understanding of what’s going on. He may not be happy about your mixed feelings, but at least there won’t be as many misunderstandings and crushing disppointments. And if he decides to leave it will be for the right reasons, and vice versa, if he decides to stay it will be for the right reasons, because he will know more accurately who you are and what you are feeling.

      The description of your mother sheds some light and is not surprising at all. When somebody is abused, their self-esteem plummets. Without self-esteem, it is difficult to love others. That, in addition to her latent schizophrenia would explain why she could not bond with you, and probably not with your brother so much either.

      I do think good therapy over time will be helpful for you to feel less anxious. Eventually meditation could be very helpful as well. But some kind and loving guidance to accept yourself and to listen to your thoughts respectfully without feeling overwhelmed by them would seem to be the best first approach.

      I recommend listening to or reading Marshall Rosenberg’s book or CDs on “Nonviolent Communication.” It is a great method for anyone to learn to express their feelings and needs in a way that is effective and not confrontational.

      You’re welcome!:) Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Suzana

        Hi Alison

        Today I received an sms message from my boyfriend for the first time since our split.

        He wrote…

        “I am here hurt, struggling to accept this loss while you only a couple of days after ending an 8 year relationship have nothing better to do than going on Facebook joining party invitations. After all, you’re not so sad like you wrote in your email”

        I accepted ONE invitation to a close friends birthday party.

        We went back and forth – anyway he is very bitter and holds no responsibility for his part in the relationship breakdown whatsoever. I was quite calm today with hardly any anxiety until I received the messages from him. What I noticed is that my anxiety returned tenfold and sat heavily on my chest. I felt stifled. The overwhelming feeling was I felt like I was being manipulated by him into feeling guilty and taking the blame for the failure of the relationship. According to him I am the one who needs to change. Right now my decision to stay together with him would be made out of guilt. And this is what I’m afraid of. I have this strong urge to fix it because I believe I am to blame.

        What I thought was a simple “Do I love him?” is not. My therapist said I’m a Rescuer and my boyfriend is the Victim. It explains the dynamic in our relationship and why I’ve found relationships particularly difficult. I am now beginning to understand my turmoil which I never did before. I am the person who wants to smooth things over – with everybody. From family to friends to co-workers.

        I now have a starting point to work through this.

        What are your thoughts on Rescuer&Victim relationships?

        Suzana

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi Suzana,

          That’s too bad that he is using guilt and not taking any responsibility for his part in the relationship break down. The fact that you feel as though you have to do something to fix his victimhood and that you respond to blame and guilt explains in part why you feel so much anxiety in relationship.

          Just know that the part of you that wants to smooth things over is not bad in itself. It is only bad when it harms you. In essence, no personality trait is bad in itself unless it is an automatic reaction that becomes excessive despite the harm it incurs to you and anybody else. In this case, you are starting to resist allowing guilt to influence you to try to help him despite his lack of accountability and despite the way it crushes your life spirit.

          So you can remain compassionate and kind in general, but you may
          – stop trying to fix others who will not take responsibility for themselves,
          – stop allowing others to blame you, and
          – stop responding to guilt.

          You could say something like, “I am so sorry you feel so hurt. Yet I can’t fix that. I feel tremendous anxiety when you blame me for your feelings. In the past I have tried to fix things, but let my own feelings remain underground. I can’t bear the anxiety I feel when you accuse me of… and when I feel I must help. Of course I don’t want you to suffer. But I no longer want to stay in a relationship because I’m driven by guilt. I would like to be in a relationship based on mutual desire and respect.” Try to write or talk without attacking him, but with a description of your feelings and your desires instead. He may or may not have a positive response. Regardless, it would be good practice for you to express her own feelings and desires.

          I will think about and write something on the victim and the rescuer although it may take a week or two. I think it is somewhat similar (though not the same) as someone who needs to be needed. Here are a few different articles that might be relevant for you:

          1. Ending an Abusive Relationship:
          “I feel guilty leaving my abusive partner, because I have compassion for him.”

          2. Too much Guilt:
          “He makes me feel guilty if I don’t do what he wants.”

          3. Getting over your Victim Story: “My brother got all the attention.”

          4. Pleaser and Receiver

          5. Changing your Victim Story:
          “My dad was an alcoholic and my mom was never there for me.”

          All the best.

          Alison

          Reply
  37. Jake

    Hi Alison,

    I’ve been reading more on your site including your latest conversations with your readers. You’re really insightful and I’m still amazed at how responsive and helpful you are. What makes you want to spend so much time and effort on these dialogues? I guess it is beneficial for you since content drives traffic, but most content isn’t so high quality! It’s great – so thanks!

    I found myself a great therapist since first writing to you. She practices many forms of therapy and is very eclectic and wholistic. As the pursuer who pines for my twin flame when she runs, most people I have talked to have told me to focus on myself instead of her– get out of my co-dependency. But my therapist has helped me to focus on my inner child instead of just me.

    I realized that the feelings of abandonment I experience when missing my twin are really my inner child’s feelings that are being triggered by my twin running. So now I focus on my relationship with my inner little boy when I start to feel sad about my twin. I’m not actually sad about her. It’s my inner child sad about being unloved and mistreated very early in life which is being tapped by my current experience.

    After making that discovery, which has really helped, my twin did some more distancing, even in this period of extreme distancing, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I told her that I’m done. It happened over text after a phone call. I told her she was free as can be, free to fulfill whatever fantasies she has had in her emotional affair, and that I just couldn’t do it anymore.

    Normally, when I would say something like that, I would call or text in a day or two apologizing or asking to see her. Right back to my pursuing ways. Not this time. So it’s quite fresh and I’m sure she thinks I will be texting her any day now. But I’m not. I’m going to transform this dysfunctional dynamic by ending my pursuit or we won’t be anymore.

    I have no idea what will happen. It is my hope that she will realize eventually that she doesn’t want us to fade away and will figure out how to make herself vulnerable and pursue me to join me in the transformation of our dynamic (which she is well aware must change). If she can’t or doesn’t want to, then I want to let go.

    So by finally behaving opposite to my natural tendency, I will win either way. Not that it’s easy or pleasant to go through… But at least whatever happens, I will have more clarity.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.. I hope she chooses to transform with me.. But I’m prepared to accept that if she doesn’t, it will be for the best.

    I wonder what you think will happen. Is it over? Does she choose to stay silent and allow us to fade away? Or does she make a move and allow herself to be vulnerable and pursue me?

    Place your bets!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Jake,

      Thank you so much for your appreciation. I enjoy having to think about people’s questions, and if I can help, I really enjoy that too. When questions come from real people vs when I simply write about a particular idea or problem that I have thought of, it’s harder to have simplistic black and white answers. Also, I don’t want to lead someone astray with a flippant answer.

      I really like your new approach to dealing with feeling abandoned: “Now I focus on my relationship with my inner little boy when I start to feel sad about my twin. I’m not actually sad about her. It’s my inner child sad about being unloved and mistreated very early in life which is being tapped by my current experience.” That is excellent and a good way to describe what should be done with feelings of abandonment. James Hollis, a brilliant Jungian analyst and writer says “the quality of all of our relationships is a direct function of our relationship to ourselves.” Thus, “the best thing we can do for our relationships with others, and with the transcendent…is to render our relationship to ourselves more conscious.” And that seems to be what you are doing. (One of my favorite of his books is “The Eden Project: In search of the magical other.”)

      Hollis also suggests to always ask yourself, “What am I asking of this Other that I ought to be doing for myself?” Often we expect our partners to take care of our inner child, that is, our vulnerabilities, fears, sadness, feelings of emptiness. As you noticed, the terrible feelings of abandonment really occur because we are not there taking care of that inner child and its vulnerabilities ourselves. We have decided to let another person be in charge of the most valuable part of ourselves. We are asking too much of other people. And over time the only way we can guarantee that they will take care of our fears and needs the way we want them to is to take care of theirs the way they want us to. So each partner feels constrained by obligation to say certain things and act in certain ways, because the relationship has strings attached. Resentment and disappointment tend to grow.

      On the other hand, when we take care of our own vulnerabilities, we can stop manipulating the other person to take care of us, and we feel less constrained to act in an expected way. This lack of indebtedness and duress allows deeper intimacy and freedom to express ourselves authentically.

      So that is quite exciting that you have gained the insight and determination to stop pursuing a distancer despite the difficulty in doing so.

      I don’t know which way it will turn out, but I agree with you that you will win either way. If I had to place a bet, I would first ask you how courageous you think she is. It will take a little courage on her part.

      Let me know!

      Alison

      Reply
  38. Suzana

    Hi Alison

    I’m a distancer and my partner is a pursuer. I ended the relationship today. We were together for 8 years. We’ve been in limbo. He wants to take our relationship to the next level and I feel very resistant. The idea of marriage and children leaves me with pure terror and a feeling of dread. I’ve always been unsure of my feelings for him. In a nutshell “Do I love him or not?” For a long time I believed I didn’t love him but he wanted to make it work and his hope fueled us. I feel great when we’re in public together, with friends and family and especially when we’re in a jovial lighthearted mood. I feel on top of the world and lavish him with hugs and kisses. But when we are alone together at home, I cannot look him in the eyes for fear he will talk about his feelings and the future. I’m guessing it’s because I can’t reciprocate the same feelings but I’m not sure if it’s just a fear of intimacy.

    I didn’t bond with my mother. No idea why. She was emotionally distant and she gave all the affection to my brother and none to me. I had an overbearing father who just liked to tell me what to do. At no time growing up in my childhood did i ever feel loved my either of them. I can’t recall one time when my mother hugged me. When I was 13 my mother developed schizophrenia and by the time i was 14 she’d committed suicide. I have no warm feelings towards my mother and i refuse to visit her grave. I haven’t forgiven her.

    This relationship is the first “real” one. All the others were with men who were unavailable b/c i knew it couldn’t progress to a point where we were truly intimate.

    Do I believe I can’t be loved and he won’t accept me for who I am?
    Or is it b/c i don’t want HIM personally?

    I’m truly confused and unable to distinguish how I truly feel

    Thanks
    Suzana

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Suzana,

      I am so sorry about the inability of your parents to feel and express love toward you. I do believe that is why you feel terror at the prospect of marriage and why you can’t look at your boyfriend in the eyes when you’re alone together–it’s the fear of seeing his vulnerability when looking at you. As a baby/child, feeling vulnerability must have been so disappointing for you that it reached the point of being excruciating.

      When a baby’s natural vulnerability is not met with a parent’s soothing love, the baby/child learns to stop seeking the desired mirroring, soothing, and love from the parent. As a result the child doesn’t learns to be comfortable with being vulnerable–a requirement of love. In order to protect him or herself against this kind of disappointment, a baby/child would naturally start protecting him or herself by stopping showing vulnerability and repressing feelings of vulnerability.

      As an adult, seeing such vulnerability in other people—that is, expressions of need, love, sadness, and loss—would trigger your desire to stop those feelings or avoid them. Indeed, seeing vulnerability aimed at you could cause terror, because it was terrible as a child to be met with coldness. So vulnerability becomes the precursor to something terrible. Yes, that would be a fear of intimacy (for good reasons from your past experience) and an inability currently to reciprocate those same feelings.

      Your mother’s life must have been very sad. I can see why you’d be angry and unforgiving. Yet I think the idea of forgiveness implies that she had much of a choice. It sounds as though she was mentally ill and haunted by demons even before the overt onset of schizophrenia. I’m not sure why she could show affection to your brother. It would be interesting to find out if your brother received such affection in a healthy way, or if it felt to him to be overwhelming or somehow with strings attached or life-sucking. It would be unusual for a person to be able to truly love one child and not the other, unless her reaction had something to do with some sexism passed down through her family. Or perhaps she was full of self-loathing from her own life experiences or disease, and projected that onto her daughter (who is more like her) but not her son. I suspect that the affection your brother received from her was not all that unconditional and healthy as you might imagine.

      I wonder if you have shown your boyfriend this letter. Whether or not you get back together, I think it would be both kind to him and a good growing experience for you to explain how you feel, even if only through a letter, as you have done with great clarity and honesty in this comment. Your fear of his yearning for you might diminish if you were able to explain to him how you feel, and I think this letter shows pretty clearly what the genesis of your fear of intimacy has been.

      By the way, being honest about your feelings, even about your fear of intimacy, is being intimate. Intimacy involves sharing your thoughts and feelings honestly even at the risk of the other person’s disapproval and disappointment. Intimacy is scary for many because there’s no guarantee that the other person will accept and embrace you when you show parts of yourself that you have hidden from others.

      You ask whether you believe you can’t be loved and whether he won’t accept you for who you are. You probably do fear that you are not lovable (not an uncommon fear). As a result, you may be in the habit of avoiding the risk of finding out.

      You say that you have tended to seek unavailable men. This is probably to avoid the fear of showing vulnerability or being expected to reciprocate vulnerability. Also, you may be losing interest in this man who tries to love you because you suspect he is being duped and won’t really love you when he really gets to know your deepest feelings. However, the fact that you have had this real relationship with someone who is more available than the previous men indicates that your sense of self is getting strong enough that you can risk becoming more intimate.

      I recommend that you push yourself to gradually express more of your feelings with those you care about without opening yourself up too much. Expressing yourself in writing is a way to maintain control and self-empowerment while still deepening intimacy in a somewhat safe way.

      I wish you good luck. Let me know how it goes if you like.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Suzana

        Hi Alison

        Thankyou – that makes a whole lot of sense

        Some more background info

        At school when I was 8 I decided to play with another girl for the day instead of my usual group. The following day I went back to my usual group and they rejected me. The rest of my school years from 8-14 were spent walking the school yard alone. I had no friends. At 14 I even went back to the same group who rejected me asking if I can be part of their group and they said no. I was mostly snickered at by the other kids behind my back.

        When my mother died some family members kept asking me if I was sleeping ok and I was confused why they were asking me that.

        Growing up I felt detached and very insecure.

        Friendships are still difficult even to this day. I still find it extremely difficult to invite people into my home and entertain them. So mostly I do the visiting. I have a few close friends which I can confide to. I have intimacy with them but romantic intimacy still makes me feel very anxious.

        As to my boyfriend we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. He’s from Italy. We met while he was here on a working visa. I’m in Australia. Eventually I sponsored him on a de-facto visa. But during the whole time I’ve always had doubts if I truly loved him. I often feel we don’t have a connection and not a great deal to talk about. We would often go out to dinner sitting across from eachother with nothing to say. We don’t have many common interests and I worry we can’t sustain eachother in the long term. He is a social person and I find it hard to socialise. I can speak on topics that interest me but on usual small talk I struggle. He wants me to make an effort to socialise and make plans to incorporate my own friends but I don’t have a social network here. My close friends are interstate or overseas. He doesn’t have many friends in Australia and this is causing an issue. He said to me “It can’t always be just us” I am fiercely independent so I often like my own space and company so it’s not as if i want to spend all my time with him.

        He has always been sure of his love for me. He is a person who internalizes his emotions and when he’s upset he withdraws and stays in the man cave for a few days. He is silent. We have lived together for a few years and this was frustrating to say the least. He would ignore me as if I wasn’t there. I would never know what personality would greet me when I got home. I would wait this out and he would usually come around in a few days and be “normal” again. This would last a few more days and then it would start all over again. Like a rollercoaster. We would never discuss what happened but secretly I was glad I didn’t have to deal with his emotions but I was also angry at the same time. He would often come and lay his head on my lap for comfort.

        I understood he missed his family and friends in Italy, he was missing a social network here, he only finished his studies at 34 and got a “real” job. So he truly felt he was behind the 8 ball. He was living a life he never wanted to live. The real job was in a rural area, 3 hours from home, he felt isolated and alone. He moved there and I stayed where I was. He would visit me every weekend but this started taking its toll. He wanted me to move there with him but I was reluctant. I never expressed my reluctance but I agreed I would move. I never did anything about that b/c internally I was struggling but couldn’t bring myself to express that. I didn’t want to leave my job and the idea of moving house was overwhelming. My thoughts always revolved around if I loved him or not and marriage and children literally left me feeling cold. I know that was unfair to him. I wanted him to leave this job but he said he didn’t see the point of leaving a good job if there were no future plans to look forward to. I increasingly grew anxious knowing part of the problem was me not being emotionally available to him and not taking action to show I was committed.

        I ended the relationship because he needed a commitment and i was still unsure of my feelings for him. I’m 41. I don’t have years up my sleeve to decide if children are for me or not.

        My greatest struggle is now what to do. I don’t know if my intimacy issues have prevented me from feeling true love for him. I feel love at certain moments, it’s usually when we’re in public together or when we’re both in a lighthearted mood. I am struggling to work out if I really want a future with him. Perhaps he’s just not the right person for me. And if we get back together I fear I may change my mind in a few months time and realise breaking up was really the right decision afterall. I am so afraid of hurting him even further.

        I’m not sure whether to contact him. I want to show him the letter I wrote to you. But he may be thinking “so what…what does that mean for me?”

        At this stage I don’t know what it means for either of us. He has already collected his things from my place and has left

        I have gnawing anxiety in my stomach – from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed – for 6 out of the 8 years that we’ve been together

        I’m seeing a psychotherapist, my 2nd session is next week.

        Suzana

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi Suzana,

          Like your other letter, this letter is so honest and moving. I like the way you own your ambivalence, because life and feelings for other people are not generally clear-cut. If I were you, having spent eight years with him, I would show him this letter as well. There is a risk that he will take parts of it poorly although I don’t find that you are attacking him at all. But there is also the possibility that he will appreciate knowing how you feel and the complexity of your feelings. Whether or not you stay together, there is the possibility of a deeper friendship, a deepening of a loving relationship, or just a clearer understanding and appreciation for each other during the ending of your relationship. You will be taking the risk that he becomes defensive and won’t like parts of what you say, which would be a pity, but would be all right. In fact, his response to your honesty will help clarify your feelings for him as well as your future direction.

          What concerns me most in this letter is the second to last sentence: “I have gnawing anxiety in my stomach – from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed – for 6 out of the 8 years that we’ve been together.” Finding out what is going on here is worth pursuing. It would be great if through therapy you could get beyond that anxiety and if it could no longer have hold over you.

          I think that being alive, which entails dealing with uncertainty and the unknown, means living with some anxiety. But anxiety which gnaws in your stomach all day long is not good. If you ever seek additional therapy, you might try “voice dialogue,” which should help you discover the origin of that gnawing anxiety, and also find out the value beneath that anxiety. As a wonderful professor of mine Michael Meade once said, “Where there’s a wound, there’s a blessing.” The pattern of such anxiety often develops as a part of yourself is trying to protect you from harm. Through voice dialogue, and other types of therapy, you could learn to transform it into what it originally was intended to do–protect you, rather than make you suffer. You might check Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone’s site (founders of voice dialogue) under their global resources for someone near you: http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/

          If the idea of marriage and children with a particular person or anyone leave you feeling cold, then I would not jump into it no matter what your age. However, the fact that you are going to a therapist (hopefully one that you respect and like, otherwise find a new one) and becoming quite clear in articulating your feelings and thoughts indicate to me that you will be able to have deeper more fulfilling relationships of all kinds.

          If you do show him both letters (or at least parts of both letters), you can tell him that you are sending these letters because you want him to understand your mixed feelings of caring for him and not wanting to get married at this time.

          On a lesser note, it’s fine to be more of a loner. Yet your fear of having people over will diminish if you do it a few times, especially if you make it simple. But invite positive people that you feel comfortable talking to about subjects that interest you, not small talk. Ask them to bring something, and enjoy yourself despite anything that might go wrong.

          Good luck Suzana! I hope things will get easier. Let me know.

          Alison

          Reply
  39. Anonymous

    Hello Alison
    A very interesting article.
    I’m in a very desperate situation. I have been with my man for 5 years, I have 3 children from another marriage and he has 1 daughter that he never sees.
    He is a pathological liar, but I accepted him as he I love him, he treats me like a princess is a very hard worker, but it is very difficult living with someone like that as I am also worried that he is not telling the truth.
    He accumulated a lot of debts which he hid from me, so for the last 2 years I controlled the accounts to get us out of trouble (he was ok with that) 2 months ago he asked if he could have his credit card back, so I thought I could perhaps give it a try. One month later I found out he had bought things on credit and I went ballistic. I took the card back from him and he stopped talking to me. Igave the card back (forgiving him once again!)and explained everything that he had to pay etc (like a child) the next weekend he had a work do, went away and got very drunk and spent 200 euros!! he started saying that he was sick of being treated like a nothing in the house (3 teenagers who do not talk) and that he hated me for aborting his baby 2 years ago (I’d just thrown him out after finding out a very bad lie) I found myself with 3 bickering teenagers, a fulltime job, a house to pay for and pregnant (wanted) and I couldn’t do it on my own, so I had an abortion, only to phone him up 2 weeks later, we got back together and never talked about the abortion. For the last 3 weeks he has been ignoring me, I immediately thought he had someone else and started acting like a jealous mad woman, but how could he suddenly not desire me anymore, we are always cuddling, kissing sending 50 textos a day, so for him to suddenly stop, I was convinced there is someone else. he says there is no one, but doesn’t know what he wants anymore and hasn’t got time to think about it. I’ve been crying for 3 weeks, I keep asking him, ‘tell me if you want to finish etc, generally bugging him, but he cannot answer me. He doesn’t know what he wants, meanwhile, I’m off work with depression. He was the one in the wrong and he’s turned it all around to make me feel guilty. I’m not stupid, but I love him and I want to save our relationship. I asked him again today, can we start from scratch,please think about it,but it has gone so far, he doesn’t want any physical contact with me, it’s frightening, how will he ever want to kiss me, or hug me again? Sorry to go on so, but I really need help.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I’m so sorry you are suffering from depression and feel desperate, but I can see why.

      I think the only way you will feel better is if you get your life back and become self-empowered and gain objectivity and self-respect. I’m sorry but I cannot help you get him back. If you could read your letter again please, you might see why I would not recommend that. There are several independent reasons why you should not depend on this man in any way. Any one of these reasons is enough for you to gain the willpower to resist him and to think about what’s best for you and your children, as well as your future.

      First and foremost, he is a pathological liar. You cannot have a real relationship with a pathological liar. He lacks a sense of self and a sense of ethics. There can never be any trust between the two of you, and you can never truly get to know who he is, which are the primary bases of an intimate relationship: trust and knowing each other.

      Second, he is financially reckless. No matter how much you love someone, when that person is financially reckless, a basis for security does not exist, and makes love and romance a fleeting luxury. If he is a grown man and cannot control his spending, that is enough reason to become completely financially and emotionally independent of him. Do not live with him and do not share any expenses with him, unless you are independently wealthy and give him an allowance. You could still go on a date, and let him spend 200 Euros on you and get drunk in a bar, but not if you share a home and any expenses with him. That kind of recklessness destroys relationships and is sad, shameful, and unfortunate.

      If you continue to put yourself in the position of a parent by monitoring his spending, that alone will destroy his desire for you. He may put on the charm occasionally when he needs something from you, but his true desire would disappear because you would seem like a parent, which would cause him to resent you. He would also lose respect for you for being so desperate as to cater to his reckless whims.

      Third, he communicates contemptuously, not constructively. Hating you for aborting his child under the circumstances described does not show any maturity or compassion, even if he is pro-life. Hate is not the answer. Moreover, it’s very difficult to have a relationship with someone who remains sullen and withdrawn and will not talk about his thoughts or feelings. Some people withdraw for an hour or a day, but if this is frequent or lasts much longer, the relationship will head toward permanent misery. It sounds as though you are already there.

      It sounds like life with this man is so unpleasant. What are you afraid of? What are you gaining? How can you face your fears to gain a better life for you and your children?

      You will need to resist the short-term gratification of keeping your hope alive in order to regain your self-respect and tranquility. While teenagers can be difficult to deal with, I predict that they will become easier if you own your inner strength and regain your life without a man who is a pathological liar, reckless spender, and contemptuous communicator. Life will really improve.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  40. Anonymous

    Hello Alison,
    This is such a lovable, mind blowing piece of advice and elaboration on both sides. I read through with much interest, regardless of a mouth wide open to the way the article explains both ends with maximum beauty.
    I have been in six different relationships and none worked out for them because i give the quiet treatment. . Everyone of them kept leaving till at a point in time i just had to give up on everyone. I have been single since February 26th 2013 and i guess i have enjoyed autonomy enough. The independency on my side seems to be overwhelming now and its up to me to make things right. I know i can change to be a pursuer

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you very much. Mouth wide-open reading sounds like a compliment.

      It sounds as though you tend to be a distancer because the way you deal with conflict or any kind of problem is to be quiet. If so, I would recommend learning to speak up a bit. The trick is to speak up in a way that doesn’t put the other person on the defensive. It would help if I knew the type of conflicts you tend to run into. But for example, if your partner is rude to you, you say, “We’re on the same team, let’s work this out amicably,” or “When you use that tone, it makes me feel defensive, and I feel cold. But that doesn’t do either of us any good. Let’s figure this out together without attacking each other.” Whatever the words, focus on not attacking but standing up for your own needs and desires in a positive way. You can practice this in all relationships not just when you have a girlfriend/ partner.

      If you don’t speak up in a non-aggressive way, then your independence will slowly melt away when you are in relationship.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  41. Anonymous

    Hi Alison,

    Can I just say this article is truly correct word by word like cutting the veins and seeing blood? Such an intelligent and detailed work you did. This is what I’ve been searching for! You see, my newly wed husband and I are on a break now (surprised?) due to countless conflicts which led me going back to my home country and leaving him in his country (thousands of miles apart). He said he needed some space. At first I didn’t understand. We’re newly weds and of course every couple fights! Right? But my dedication and love smothered him. He also wasn’t that ready for a big commitment like this. I’m the type of woman who drops everything for him. He loves me to death but he always has a need to go out with his friends A LOT and feels irritated and dreadful to talk emotional stuff.

    “Feeling that the connection received in childhood did not adequately satisfy their need to be seen or loved, pursuers spend their adulthood pursuing connection.” That’s me! My parents were overbearing, loud, and dictatorial ones who couldn’t show affection. I was so ready to give all my love and I met my husband, my first love.

    “Distancers may have been left to themselves in their childhood or may have been hurt deeply at some point.” My husband came from a dysfunctional family and he lost his mother at 9 and he was in foster homes and then all by himself all his life. The loss of his mother still lingers and he feels guilty.

    So in short, I became the pursuer and he became the distancer. We both know we have issues to fix during this break. I’m enthusiastic to go to counseling (unfortunately I cannot find one in my country.) So I’ve been reading a lot and opening up to my best friends. I’ve recognized which issues we have and how to fix them. But of course naturally, my distancer husband is reluctant to go counseling and/or talk to his best friends or own family. He thinks our problems should be kept to ourselves and talking about them to friends and family won’t make any difference and will only encourage bothering opinions. I’ve tried sending him personal journals about us. I’ve tried sending him links to read. But he’s never even opened them. I’d become the most pathetic person pursuing his attention until one day I decided to cut the crap and save my dignity. I detached from him emotionally. I stopped the pursuit. We had no contact for a while. Then he connected with me again. I validated his feeling of not wanting to talk to friends and family, but I suggested to leave it on the hands of professionals (he can find counseling in his country) and he said he’d see.

    I’m trying my best to detach from him and be with my own life and handling my distancer husband calm and cool. I’m thinking positive and hopeful for the day we can balance pursuit and distance arrives.

    Thank you Alison.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Thank you for your comment. I’ve never had someone praise an article of mine with such a descriptive phrase! — “this article is truly correct word by word like cutting the veins and seeing blood.” Wow. Thank you!

      Losing his mother at 9 and then living in foster homes is likely to leave him very independent and suspicious of therapists inquiring into his feelings and making judgments about him. No wonder he enjoys going out with a group of friends, where he feels accepted and no one is expecting too much of him. If you do go to a therapist, make sure you tell him that you only want to go if you both feel comfortable with the therapist and if the therapist doesn’t take sides. Of course, a therapist shouldn’t take sides, but some seem to, and I’m sure your husband would not benefit from one more person telling him what’s wrong with him.

      You could go to someone who teaches nonviolent communication, which is an excellent, extremely beneficial method of communicating, which would be helpful for all relationships–marital, family, friends, and work. Then he won’t feel as though someone is prying into his private life, but he can learn a more effective way to discuss his desires and needs, your expectations, etc. with you.

      The book “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg is really helpful in that it also lists dozens on feelings and dozens of needs that people commonly have. Your husband may not be able to discuss his feelings because he doesn’t know how to articulate them, or he feels guilty about them. He is probably not simply withholding his feelings from you. There are also cds that are helpful to listen to by Marshall Rosenberg.

      I do think it’s important to respect your husband’s desires that you keep your problems private. If you talk to other people, other than a therapist or one or two very trustworthy discreet friends, than he will fear being open with you. You may want to read my article “He tells me to stop being so emotional. Does he want me to be cold and unfeeling like him?” or “Opposites attract:
      ‘Can’t you ever stop and just sit down with me!’”
      which describe the importance of not being too open and emotional with someone who is more protected, closed, or logical. When you push someone to open up who tends to be more introverted, closed with his or her feelings, or rational rather than open and feeling-oriented, it will backfire badly.

      Remember that when one person changes, the whole relationship dynamic can change. So you don’t need to focus on helping him. You can focus on yourself, how to communicate more effectively without hostility, and develop a feeling of loving life, enjoying and deserving affection, and not needing to be needy.

      Good for you for being able to resist pursuing him, and I’m glad he connected with you again.

      Good luck on your journey!

      Reply
  42. Anonymous

    Hi Alison,

    Your website is awesome. I have been all over the web reading about everything from Twin Flames, to Borderline Personality Disorder, Emotional Affairs, Addiction and Pursuers and Distancers. But I’ve never seen responses to people that are so thoughtful and thorough. How do you find the time to answer so many posts? It’s been really helpful to read your responses.

    I’m a pursuer. I’m tired of it. My Twin Flame and I are in a really good place though, because I kicked her out of my house after I discovered a second round of an emotional affair she was having with the same guy. It actually sounds worse than it is since the whole thing is clearly a fantasy addiction and not a real desire to be with someone else. Kicking her out was a great distancing act on my part, one I never thought I would actually perform but was instinctual. It was a genuine statement of “Enough is enough! I have boundaries and limits too!” It’s been the most intense 6 weeks of an intense relationship of 5 years. But we are both shining the light of consciousness into the recesses of our hearts and psyches now. All is coming out and we are both aware that we have a lot of work to do on ourselves before we can fully get back together and live together again. It seems we are both committed to doing the work.

    Now, I just need to face the longing and accept it and deal with it. Accept that for her, being the distancer, and the avoider, and the dissociater, it’s easier to be alone and not think of me, while I go to bed every night wishing she were by my side. I am also still the initiator of most of our contact and still talking with her about all these dynamics and how important is for both of us to own some of the disowned aspects we’ve been allowing the other to take care of.

    I still get bummed out when she doesn’t respond to a text in the time I would. But I’m much more aware that it’s silly and I am able to hold onto the knowledge that she still loves me and has proven that she does love me despite everything that has happened. I can see now, quite clearly, that whatever that abandonment feeling is comes from way back in childhood. Somewhere, somehow, I felt insecure in attachment and my Twin Flame brings it all up intensely. But I know it’s not her. I know she doesn’t mean to hurt me and isn’t abandoning me just because she isn’t texting quick enough. But that is how it feels. And that’s how it feels if she’s fine with not communicating for a day. I hate it. But I get that it’s ridiculous of me to be so needy. We can talk about all of it which is nice. And she is aware that much of her sense that she is able to be okay alone is also inauthentic since she’s the one with the addictions which are all about avoiding the pain of aloneness, or abandonment, or whatever she’s avoiding.

    She’s a social worker. She deals with these psychological concepts all the time.

    So anyway, I have a bunch of books I refer to about all this stuff… Passionate Marriage is definitely one of them. Have you heard of The Sun Rises in the Evening by Gary Nixon? Pretty great stuff. About second stage addiction recovery. It works for Love Addiction/CoDependence like any other addiction… and that’s pretty much what being a pursuer is… I’ve also begun working with a wholistic/eclectic therapist to help me actually face and heal the early childhood trauma at the root of al this.

    If you have any other advice, I would love to hear it!

    Thanks for being an amazing resource for people around the world.

    Sincerely,

    Anonymous

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate it!

      That is excellent that you were able to draw a boundary before things became really harmful. Many people, especially if they’re still in their 20’s or 30’s, develop friendships without thinking about the ramifications on the primary relationship. The earlier you set boundaries, distance yourself, talk to the other person, or any combination of the three, the better results you’ll have. Just to be clear, I don’t mean that boundaries have to be extreme. Action is usually more effective than words. But in order to keep the relationship on a positive trajectory, you can be kind when setting boundaries.

      It sounds as though taking a step back from your girlfriend while she over-invests herself in another guy is a positive step and is resulting in both of you thinking about what matters. It definitely will cause her to respect you more, and to think more carefully whether it’s worth it to develop emotionally-involved relationships with other men in the future.

      You’re right about the feeling of longing. You do have to face it and accept it without reacting too quickly by calling or texting too often just in order to appease your yearning. In fact, as you recognize, calling or texting too often is likely to result in her desire for you diminishing. And although you want to connect with her and hear her voice, I’m sure what you really want is for her to want you as well.

      It’s a little like resisting eating dessert. The more often you do it, the easier it becomes, and good results will follow. But you have to focus on the long-term outcome not the short-term gratification.

      No, I haven’t heard of “the Sun Rises” but will take a look at it.

      I wonder what kind of addictions she is dealing with and if she has been able to come clean.

      I don’t have much advice from what you’ve told me, as it sounds as though you are figuring out what to do. It’s great that you can talk to each other about your expectations, i.e., your disappointment about not being texted back for a day. I’m assuming that you are doing this in a way that isn’t needy. There are so many people who simply were never told by someone that if you get a call, email, or text, it’s important to call, email or text back soon depending on the circumstances, even if it’s just a couple of words. When parents don’t tell their kids to do this, often they never pick up the habit. So I would just suggest to her that it makes a difference to you and to many others if she could take a few seconds to text, “Thanks, I’ll call you at 6,” or “Busy now. Have a great day.” or “Ok. got to go.” And then when you get such a brief message, resist texting back until it’s important.

      People are all so different. I have some friends who write long engaging emails to me, while others write rarely and only when there’s some practical information to pass along. I have friends who never text, and others who will text when something humorous occurs in their lives. Yet these friends are all warm in person. So, your girlfriend may just be the type that doesn’t enjoy communicating in that way, and you can get used to that.

      Good luck. Take care.

      Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Thank you Jake,
          I’m going to read this tomorrow but just read the first paragraph quickly out of curiosity. Murray Bowen is one of my three favorite psychologists. The book “Family Evaluations” is invaluable if you like this kind of psychology. It’s edited by Kerr but all of Bowen’s ideas–so comprehensive. I’ll read the article tomorrow. Thanks.
          Alison

          Reply
        2. Alison Post author

          Hi Jake,
          I just read the article you sent me and another one by Thomas F. Fogarty called “The Therapy of Hopelessness” and found both to be excellent. Thank you for sending it! He’s very interesting and thorough.
          All the best,
          Alison

          Reply
  43. Anonymous

    Dear Alison,

    Such a good article.

    My story is that I had an affair, which became very passionate and intense. He was married but divorced his wife after 9 months or so. My situation was more difficult to leave–because I loved my partner (non-romantically), and because he was very needy and I’m a bit of a pathological caretaker. He declared he was “all in” with me, that he wanted to be with me forever, that it was up to me to choose him. I tried and failed to break it off with my partner. Perhaps a year went by of us seeing each other occasionally (we lived in the same city for the first year we knew each other, then I moved back to the town I’d been living in with my partner–long story–I was commuting during the first year we knew each other) so I logistically had to initiate all meetings.

    We continued communicating extensively and emotionally in other ways–phone, email, etc. He told me early on that if I didn’t choose to be with him he would have to get a girlfriend one day–but that he would never love again like this. This would only happen once–the opening up to another person. “I might fool her, but I won’t fool myself,” he said. Well, I’m streamlining a lot. Long story short, he began to pull back romantically but kept up his communication. In September he said, “We’d be together if I had my choice but I’m powerless to affect the outcome. Friends. We can do it.” We saw each other for the last time in late October, and at the end of a friendly visit we began making out. He asked me to go home with him, and I tearfully said I couldn’t.

    During this two year period, the love was intense on both sides. I, however, was pulled by the demands of another relationship and was not satisfying his needs emotionally and physically. He showed anger occasionally, but it always blew over (I thought). He said he liked to pursue, but this was too much pursuing for him.

    In November he began pulling back in our communications. In early April we were chatting online. During that conversation he told me he thought I should move back to the town where he lives–not because he’s there but because I said I was unhappy where I was living and I have friends and family in the town where he is. He also said I should leave my partner–that I needed a man more like him. He said he could tell me this now that he wasn’t trying to get me. He said he’d worked hard to get over me–had never hurt so bad–but he’d done it–that he couldn’t subsist on longing and occasional visits, so he’d had to. At some point in the conversation he asked if I would be mad if he started seeing someone. I said I would be sad, but that he shouldn’t worry about that. I asked if he was seeing someone and he said no. I moped about how I’d never meet a man but he’d have no problem meeting a woman.

    After that chat, I emailed him apologizing for moping, but I moped more in the email. Didn’t hear back. Sent a few more emails. (This is the first time in our relationship I’d ever been a pest). A few days later he wrote and said, “Sorry you’re feeling bad. Nothing’s wrong. I’m busy and happy in a new relationship.” That triggered a quick and really pathetic series of short emails from me that went unanswered. There were a few days of evasion from him and then an eruption of anger. Then he said he would talk to me at some point, but that we should cool it for now–that he was too angry about how things had gone in the relationship–that I’d strung him along. We left it on a better note. I said he was my great love and that I wished him happiness, and he said, “Same here–all of it.”

    He blocked me on chat and presumably all other electronic avenues. I spent two weeks agonizing, and then realized I had to leave my partner–which also meant moving, and the town where my lover (ex) lives is the only place I could go. Family, friends there. I waited another few weeks and wrote him a letter apologizing for my behavior during our last encounter–which was really so out of character in our relationship. I then apologized in detail for my part in the unhappiness of our last year and a half–not choosing him, causing him pain, and letting a distance grow. I apologized for not being easy to come to with anger, for shutting him down when he tried to tell me things I didn’t want to hear. I told him I had left my partner and was moving and that if it wasn’t too late I wanted to be with him, to work on fixing things. A few days later I wrote another letter reinforcing my commitment to him and to all the things we’d talked and dreamed about. I said I was all in–he had my heart, undivided, if he wanted it. I said I understood he might need more space to see if his new relationship works, or to think about how he feels about me, but that I’m here, ready to talk and take things as slow as he needs to.

    So now I’ve left my partner and moved to his town. He has gotten both letters by now. I have no idea if he’s even read them, though, or how angry he still is, or if he’s gotten serious with the other person. It’s agony, of course.

    We both had difficult childhoods. I was emotionally repeatedly abandoned, and he was physically abused. We are both probably natural distancers who have had to behave like pursuers and hate it. Or maybe we are both a little of each–I don’t know–but our love never had a real opportunity until now. But he hasn’t spoken to me in over a month now.

    Can you advise me on how to proceed?

    Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          It is terrible to be emotionally abused OR repeatedly abandoned. You seem very thoughtful. So I hope you had some loving or caring adult in your life as a child. FYI I know many people who have become loving, whole people with fulfilling relationships despite their painful upbringings. I wish you all the best.

          Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      Thank you for your question.

      I would advise you not to contact him anymore. I know that’s not what you want to hear. The best chance you have of having a relationship with him is to stop pursuing him. He received your letters, although I would have advised to simply tell him that you’ve broken off with your husband and moved to town without reinforcing your commitment to him, given that he’s just started a new relationship.

      If his new relationship doesn’t work, he will call you, unless you continue to write and try to communicate with him. In that case, he’ll retreat, no matter how great your loving relationship was. Truly, you’ll have your best chance with him in the future by maintaining your dignity and moving on with your life. There is a chance, maybe a good chance, he’ll contact you when his existing relationship doesn’t work. However, if you keep contacting him, his view of you will change–there is no doubt. He’ll see you as needy, desperate, and unappealing. If you don’t contact him, and his relationship doesn’t work out, he may start to think about you and want to see you, but not if you’ve become a needy pest.

      This is where sheer willpower is important. Have the willpower to go out and meet other people and do other things and resist calling, texting, or writing him. The instant gratification of pouring out your feelings to him with the hope that he will reciprocate will at this point only result in further pushing him away.

      By the way, the fact that he was very angry about how the relationship had gone and about how you strung him along had as much to do with his behavior in having a relationship with a married woman as with your behavior. That anger should be aimed at himself. While you might have strung him along, he should take some responsibility for his own actions of having an affair with someone who was clearly unavailable.

      This brings me to another point. If you do get back together, you may have to consider how you will trust that each of you has the strength of self to be able to say what you are truly thinking. Both of you know that you hid the truth from your former spouses. It would be worth considering how you could have been more true to yourselves in approaching your former spouses before taking actions that hurt them. The fact that your relationship started as an affair will impact your relationship with him in the future by harming your mutual trust. This doesn’t mean that any relationship with him is doomed, but you will have to talk about trust and honesty, and make a mutual effort to be more differentiated in the future.

      It’s easy to be open and honest when you are both in love. But when there are difficulties, downward trends, or onesidedness (the beginning of too much care-taking for example,) that’s when you need to be able to talk to one another, and to do so early on before things deteriorate.

      I hope you let me know that you are not going to contact him, and that you will move on with your life.

      All the best,

      Alison

      PS You might search for my articles with the tags of “differentiation,” “neediness,” “helping too much,” and “desire.”

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Dear Alison,

        Thank you so much for your reponse. He felt he had poured out his heart to me and hadn’t gotten the same back. He accused me (in our last exchange) of having been the distancer, and that was one reason I did tell him how much I love him, how my heart is his, undivided now, and why I gave him a full and heartfelt apology. I’m surprised to hear that you think that was a mistake. I don’t want to get him back by playing games, you know? He put his cards on the table once, so it seemed fair that I should do the same.

        About not contacting him again: that is a daily struggle. It’s funny, because during the time he was getting over me, he was in contact with me constantly. I did not think less of him at all for it. It made me draw back, but only because I didn’t want to give him hope until I was his entirely.

        But, yes, I will sit on my hands. My plan was to wait a month and then reach out again, because a lot of the anger he feels is that I was not serious when he was. I want him to know I’m not playing around, that I’m not going back to my partner.

        Is that not a consideration?

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

          I should also say–in his last email he said I needed to live off the land, that I needed a camel like my old bf. (This after telling me I needed someone like him!) Anyhow, his point was that I’m not the settling down type. It’s not true, and I wanted him to know that.

          Reply
          1. Alison Post author

            People say all sorts of things. Convincing him that you are the settling down type is probably not the problem.

            If you do contact him in a month or two, I would not talk about your relationship, love, etc. Simply see if he’ll meet for coffee or a drink to catch up. It sounds like you have a lot of chemistry together and it might be better to just casually get together.

        2. Alison Post author

          Hi again,

          Well, sending one email telling him you love him may or may not have been a mistake. But I question your statement that you did not think less of him for being in contact with you constantly. Of course it is nice to receive continued validation from someone you are attracted to while you are in a less than perfect marriage. But please look at your own behavior described below:

          “After that chat, I emailed him apologizing for moping, but I moped more in the email. Didn’t hear back. Sent a few more emails. (This is the first time in our relationship I’d ever been a pest). A few days later he wrote and said, “Sorry you’re feeling bad. Nothing’s wrong. I’m busy and happy in a new relationship.” That triggered a quick and really pathetic series of short emails from me that went unanswered. There were a few days of evasion from him and then an eruption of anger. Then he said he would talk to me at some point, but that we should cool it for now–that he was too angry about how things had gone in the relationship–that I’d strung him along. We left it on a better note. I said he was my great love and that I wished him happiness, and he said, “Same here–all of it.”

          He blocked me on chat and presumably all other electronic avenues. I spent two weeks agonizing, and then realized I had to leave my partner–which also meant moving, and the town where my lover (ex) lives is the only place I could go.”

          It is not because he loved you and poured his heart out to you that you left your husband. It was only after he was no longer available because of his own new relationship that you started becoming the pursuer to the point of becoming a pest. It is only when you agonized because he blocked communication with you that you finally decided to leave your husband.

          Pursuing him avidly will cause him to retreat. You have already let him know your feelings for him and that you are available. Now it is up to him to tire of his existing relationship and to begin to long for you. Trust me he won’t be longing for you if you are after him too much.

          Nobody ever wants to hear this. But it’s a law of human nature that if you pursue too much, the other person will retreat. Don’t play games, but use reason and be respectful. Allow him to want you, which means you have to allow him to have his current relationship to see whether it doesn’t work, in which case he may miss you. There is no guarantee, but this is your best chance.

          Good luck.

          Reply
          1. Alison Post author

            P.S. Continuous reassurance that you are there waiting for him if his new relationship doesn’t work out will only make it more comfortable to give his new relationship a good try because he knows he will have a fallback position (just as you knew you had a fallback position–so no urgency for you to leave your husband until the boyfriend became unavailable.) So it is good for you on many levels to develop new acquaintances and friends and pursue activities. Your energy will become different and more appealing. Plus you won’t be wasting the precious time of life by ineffectively waiting and hoping for someone who is living his own life. In other words, living your own life fully in the meantime will be the best way to attract him back, and if you don’t get back together with him, it will have been the best way to spend your time to be able to move on.

  44. Ann

    I hope you can shed a little more light on my situation and if I have blown it completely :/ This is extremely long; I apologize!

    I met a man online and he was the purser. Even though both of our natural states (coming out now) are the opposite – me pursuing, him distancing.

    He pursued and we did what I feel to be a very natural progression. Common flirting, pushing and pulling, not playing overly hard to get. However, we did not meet which became a source of problems near the end of the month we were “together”. At the beginning, I had asked for a meet up right away to avoid this exact situation – being emotionally invested in something virtual. However, he cancelled and I let it go. Thinking to give time and space. I was not concerned that his reasoning was due to lying. I did not think commitment issues as I do now :/

    Anyways, the end of our month together we became very emotionally open. We expressed many things including talk of love and dating exclusively. The next day, he avoided me via text. That night he invited me to his house for clearly a “booty call”.

    While chemistry and attraction was evident, I did not want this to be our first meeting ever. I requested to wait until he had slept and woken up – basically when he was sober.

    The next morning came and he stated he didn’t think it was a good idea for us to meet and we had gotten carried away. I disagreed with him and kept my calm. He went silent. I had never seen or dealt with this and reacted extremely negatively. For the next four days I texted him constantly. He replied once saying it was sad we never met. And once more at the end of the 4 days saying please stop texting me.

    I did.

    Two months go by and I randomly text him because the feelings would not stop. Even though I do know this is merely the baby beginning stirrings of love. I know true solid love takes much interaction and time in person – I do realize this. However, this strong feeling had been started by all that time bonding emotionally and it had not wavered. He answers my text and we talk for two days – not about why or how he left. General terms. Attraction and want still evident and strong and spoken about. However, he seems more guarded at first. As if hes wounded. I am confused even though I do not inquire. I am confused – he was the one who ended it but now it seems like he is upset that I had no contact with him for so long.

    On the second day, we are in the middle of texting and have an argument; he stops talking. Now after the last incident not wanting to be apart again I become full on pursuer! I know I am doing it and should stop but somehow I cant. I am also torn in the fact that he is giving me the silent treatment (not acceptable!) as well as I am afraid he will not reach out based on what happened last time. For the next three weeks, I text him randomly. No texts are mean or angry. Some are sad, some are lighthearted, some are just hey this happened, but most are please stop this now and talk to me so we can work it out. In the middle of these three weeks a personal matter happens and I am upset and crying asking him to contact me. He texts immediately just to see – I go on to start texting the story; he says nothing – back to silence.

    One night I text him basically I love you and why cant we work this out. I am confused as to why you would tolerate someone (i.e. not block their number – a simple and effective cut off) bothering you unless you still had feelings for them.

    He answers right away and says how can you say you love me when we have never metd. Honestly I did not have an answer even for myself. He said please stop. youre scaring me

    I felt so bad and guilty I did not ask him anything. Not are you scared of my intense feelings? me? the situation? us? how you feel? nothing

    10 days go by. I did not want to repeat what happened last time and wait two months. I sent a simple text saying im giving you your space, I will contact you again in x amount of days and see if maybe we can try again? no response

    I wait the days and contact him basically apologizing. Letting him know I was wrong. I told him I was going to step back and stop pursuing. Let him decide – but I wanted to be asked out. (I felt this was a necessary thing to say as I do not want to live on this phone)

    Now this was Monday. Many people suggest to send random texts to show you still care, are still there, etc. So on wed I sent a simple text in regards to the extreme weather as he has to work outside.

    now I am at a crossroads. I want to text him random, normal fun stuff but I am afraid. I also want to explain myself again as I finally have a good normal answer to the “love” debate.

    I feel a strong need and want to at least try to bring this relationship to its full potential for many reasons to long to list here. Should I now just not send anything? Ever?? I am afraid he will not reach out first due to pride. Can I still send the random stuff? How long in between? Yes, I have lots of other interests and things to do. But I feel this missing of how he makes me feel :/ I also am at a point in life where I want to intentionally and exclusively date build a relationship. I also feel weird dating other people when my inner emotions are on him.

    HELP??
    Thank you!!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. I may not be the best person to give you advice as I have never experienced online dating, and the notion of being in love with someone you’ve never met in person is foreign to me. However, I will read through your email again and tell you how I would recommend behaving in the circumstances you’ve mentioned.

      “He was the pursuer.”

      I don’t know if this was the case with him, but in general beware of people who pursue too avidly in the beginning. They often prefer the chase over the relationship.

      “Near the beginning I asked him to meet…. We did not meet.”

      Right there, I would have recommended that you say “call me when you want to meet, and let’s stop texting until then,” and then stop texting all together. Why continue with someone who will not meet you? He may be weird, scared, married, not who you think he is, or somehow unavailable. He may text with 15 different women and simply be addicted to the safe back and forth interaction through a phone. Why waste your time? The only reason is to be able to get that endorphin rush of getting a text or a compliment or some feeling of connection. But in life you have to resist instant gratification if you want to have long-term fulfillment.

      “We talked of love and dating exclusively.”

      I would not talk about love no matter how strong your yearning for a relationship is without first spending quite a bit of time together and feeling mutuality in the presence of the person. It is important to learn self-containment. You can yearn for someone, but you don’t have to express it unless there’s mutuality. I wouldn’t talk about dating exclusively until you’ve met. Why would you want to date him exclusively until you actually meet him in person? That makes you seem desperate. Desperation and neediness is a turn-off. I don’t want to make you feel bad, but I want to recommend that you value yourself more.

      I do appreciate the fact that you didn’t go to meet him the first time at night when it appeared to be booty call. Good for you.

      You suggest that you wanted to meet him when he’s sober. How do you know he drinks a lot? Does that concern you?

      You say there is chemistry and attraction. How do you know? Do you skype and see each other on the screen? Is that adequate to know? How much of this is projection of your desires?

      “He went silent and I texted him constantly for four days.” Never text someone constantly. In fact most of the time, I would say wait until you receive a text back and then wait a while before texting. Don’t send 2,3,4 texts in a row without a response, unless you are texting addresses or practical information. The more you pursue, the more the other will retreat.

      “I texted him because my feelings wouldn’t stop.”

      One of the difficult but important things in life is to pay attention to your feelings, but not to be driven by them. You can feel any which way, but act according to what is effective. Acting on your strong feelings will get you in trouble.

      “He said I was scaring him.”

      It is scary to have someone text you frequently without any or much reciprocation. It is scary to be told by someone that they love you when you haven’t met. You might have strong emotional longing and enjoy his interactions, but that doesn’t mean that you have to pour out your heart. In order to protect yourself from being hurt, you have to prevent yourself from pursuing someone who is backing away. Saying you love them will not make them love you. Sending many texts will not bring a relationship to its full potential. It may be difficult for you to resist this continuing pursuit, but you can and must do it because it is backfiring.

      AS to your question whether you should stop sending texts, my answer is yes. You haven’t met him. He asked you to stop texting at one point. He said you’re scaring him. You are demeaning yourself, which makes you less attractive, by continuing to pursue someone who has done the above mentioned.

      You will get over this longing eventually. Good luck and let me know what other activities you can pursue in order to stop obsessing about him. Things WILL get easier I promise.

      Alison

      Reply
  45. Sam

    Hi Alison, my situation is a bit different, hope you will be able to shed light on it… I have been friends with a guy since college. We’ve been good friends who’ve kept in touch on and off over the past 8 years. A year ago, he moved away to start a career overseas and for some reason he started texting me daily from his new place of abode- in retrospect, he might have been feeling lonely and wanted something to connect him to back home. At first, I was annoyed by his constant barrage of texts but never ignored them and responded to them. However, as days went by, I started getting used to his attention and our correspondences started each day with a good morning and ended with a good night. Needless to say, I got more and more attached to him… to the point where I kind of fell for him. After a few months, his interest seemed to start waning and I became the one who initiated the texts. In fact, at some point, I was so flabbergasted at just how much he could ignore me and I confronted him to which his reply was “C’mon on now, you know I would never ignore you”. Anyway, we went back to an almost daily correspondence via text messaging. Recently, we have been talking more on the phone… well when it comes to texts, I am the chatty one but since in real life I am very shy, he is the one who does more of the talking on the phone. So, what really irks me now is that when I send him a random text and he isn’t online at the time, I expect a response when he gets the chance to respond, but he just glosses over it and doesn’t give me the feedback I need. So, next time he’s online he totally ignores the last text and starts a conversation anew. I don’t understand why he does this. Again, I told him that I felt he was ignoring me and he said that he was very surprised I would say this and was confused about what I was talking about because he just probably was not in a convenient place at the time I texted him. Well, you can see that I am definitely a pursuer and he has become a distancer whereas it was the other way around at the beginning. And I don’t even know where I stand with this guy since we started off as friends and now what I feel for him is sooooo much more than that. I don’t know how to handle this situation. Please help.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi.

      What jumps out at me most is in your comment is your sentence, “…he just glosses over it and doesn’t give me the feedback I need.” When people start feeling obligated to give certain feedback to another person, that’s when a relationship becomes fused and one of obligation, need, and even dread, rather than one of desire. In order to sustain a fulfilling relationship, you have to resist making him feel guilty for not remembering to respond to your questions. You can guilt him into contacting you more, but that’s not a healthy relationship.

      You asked me what I would do if I were you. I would not complain about his not answering your last text. I would not text too much or talk on the phone too much. Leave a little space to allow desire to develop. Resist your impulse to call and text too often. Learn to sit with your frustration in not receiving answers right away. Get busier with people whom you can meet with face to face, whether they are acquaintances or friends. It’s very easy and potentially extremely disappointing to project all your unmet desires onto one person with whom you’re emailing, talking, or texting.

      If he really does something wrong, then talk to him about it in an emotionally-neutral way. But it might be better to back off a bit rather than to complain.

      My sense is that your relationship with him and potentially with others would improve if you focused less on him and your communication, and more on other activities, people, and pursuits. You say you are very shy. I would think about small steps you could take in your every day life to make your life more full. There’s nothing wrong with being shy unless it’s keeping you from living a more fulfilling, multifaceted life. What small things could you do that may take withstanding a little discomfort that could gradually enhance your life? Any new activities, groups to join, friends to make, sports or hobbies to pursue, classes to take?

      If you pursue him less, while still responding to his texts (though not always instantly), and focus more on broadening your life, you will be feel less dependent on receiving his texts and phone calls to feel good about yourself. That will only improve your relationship with him and your own well being!

      Let me know if you decide to take some steps to enhance your life.

      All the best,

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Sam

        Thank you so much for your quick response. This has been one wake up call after another. I am definitely prepared to take some steps to improve my relationship with him, for myself, first and foremost and definitely for what could potentially develop between the two of us. I would have never realized these things about myself and I am so happy that I decided to read up on my “5 stage clinger” tendencies and found your website and others which have really opened up my eyes. I will definitely try to pursue him less. Next time I get the urge to just fire off one text after another, I will seriously sit myself down and talk myself out of it. I hope I can get better, I really do. I’m actually taking a french language course which I have been enjoying and I recently started taking arabic courses which I will try to focus more on- I find learning languages extremely fulfilling and I will try and focus more on what makes me happy and what makes me, me 🙂 I would really love to get some tips from you about how to try and change the thought process of a pursuer and some self exercises to try and change my obsessive ways. By the way, let it be known that I am an Ethiopian living in Ethiopia and my first language is not english, so please forgive me if anything is lost in translation. If anything, now we know that relationship issues are universal 😀 Oh, and by the way; should I apologize to him about how strongly I came on and accused him of ignoring me (he probably thinks that was a bit psycho 🙁 ) Or should I just leave it at that?

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Your English is excellent! I find learning languages very fulfilling as well.

          Yes, absolutely, a pursuer can change. The best stimulation for change is being hurt and somewhat abandoned and wanting to avoid neglect in the future. The trick is not to become overly closed, but to seek a balance and mutuality. Once you find a happy balance where there is always some mutuality of effort and desire on both sides, you will be rewarded for your ability to resist the automatic reflex of wanting instant connection and validation. You may have to remind yourself to simply sit with your longing for connection without reaching out too frequently. Meditation, going for a walk, writing a diary (for yourself) are all ways that strengthen your inner self. Write a list of maxims that you want to learn to live by.

          I would apologize to him but without going into lots of detail and making a big deal of it. However, if and when he calls, you might somewhat casually say you’re sorry about accusing him of ignoring you. No one’s perfect and you had simply missed him and over reacted. Leave it at that. And try to be friendly, yet get off the phone before he is the one ending the phone call.

          I recommend reading “Why Men love bitches” and “Why men marry bitches.” I’m not fond of the titles, and it is not about becoming mean or faking autonomy. However, most of the specific advice is very good for a pursuer (man or woman) and is based on sound psychological theory.

          Good luck. Let me know how it goes. I will think about some more tips and write a blog on it in the next couple of weeks.

          Alison

          Reply
  46. Anonymous-ish

    Thanks for your thorough response! I will have to mull it over more. I also should look into differentiation — me finding that balance has always been a struggle! I like solitude, but also want human connection so it’s never been easy. I might swing all one way or another. Like you said. I’m either closed off/distanced/many arms length, or I spew my vulnerabilities all out there to someone I feel closer to….and then it gets invalidated/ignored, and I feel all hurt/mad/resentful. Ugh! And as I dally more into the world of attempting relationships, I like your point to take it slow, small steps, etc.

    Also this line…
    “So the risk of depending emotionally on someone as an adult would trigger fear of that unpleasant, controlling environment, which anyone risks when they are dependent on others.”

    Yes, and that’s even twofold. I am also afraid of being depended on and responsible for someone else’s feelings. When we weren’t being yelled at lol, we were super depended on as our parent’s friend/confidant/therapist/everything … which is not healthy (adult and 10 year old?) … so I think a part of me sees any kind of close relationship as me signing a contract to suddenly being responsible for a person’s entire wellbeing. I also hate hurting other people…I would hate to give someone the brush off, reject advances, or draw a boundary that might hurt, because I also know what it’s like to be rejected and ignored. I need to have more faith that other people can take care of themselves, I guess. I don’t want to be the one responsible for causing someone else those feelings of pain that I have felt! It’s convoluted, lol. So I’m either solid impenetrable fortress, or I end up finding a “distant” person that I then depend on and then feel rejected/blown off by. Something’s off there lol.

    And yes like you said, when I do put myself out there to others, it seems to not go over well. And also in that same childhood of mine, often we would open ourselves up on a good day only to have it thrown back or used against us later. I’ve come a long way with all that…though, apparently I haven’t worked through it all yet.

    You said if I have any recent example of how I react with friends. My go to (not so mature) pattern is to withrdraw without speaking up. Here and there I will voice that I’m upset a person hasn’t responded to me, or whatever…but that doesn’t seem to go that far. So it’s another dumb cycle. I get hurt and then retreat and feel resentful and hope the person knows why. I also will withdraw wanting to talk to them…like, seems unfair in away that I can be blown off yet still supposed to bend over backwards for them. But I still seem to end up doing that. So maybe I just let it happen too easily. I don’t feel empowered to stand up too much to it because, deep down I feel I am perhaps too demanding so…if I were to say something…it might annoy them even more. it’s a weird cycle. But it ain’t workin for me! I’m ready to be done with it. Another recent example, I did finally speak up, and it seemed we came to an understanding…but give it a few months and now it’s back the old pattern. I feel like if I say something AGAIN … that’s just going to make me seem annoying/demanding. You know? The thought of confronting people on it makes my stomach turn, because it makes me more annoying than I already feel. So my logic is, all right, I’ll withdraw my friendship for a while and hope they miss it. Ugh, not good …not good, I know. :/

    Thanks again for your thorough response!

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Balance togetherness and separateness

      The key to not swinging from one extreme to the other is to keep a balance between solitude and connection on a daily basis. Open up a bit without opening up completely. Spend time with someone or on the phone, but not for excessive amounts of time. Value time with the other person while valuing time alone. Definitely avoid spewing all your vulnerabilities out. Otherwise, you are asking for people to push you away. You might read my article on Boundaries.

      Dedependence

      It is a disservice when parents treat their children as their therapists or their close friends. It makes sense that you would want to avoid repeating that kind of relationship. So again, small steps can be taken to care about someone, give advice if asked, but avoid acting on that dreadful guilty feeling of having to soothe and take care of another person’s vulnerabilities and problems. Learn to listen (not extensively, don’t become the person’s therapist!) without having to fix the problem. Simply show a little empathy and ask “what do you think you should do?” or “I’m sorry you’re going through a hard time,” and leave it at that. You are actually treating the other person as more self-empowered by not listening to endless complaints and not bending over backwards to fix their problems. If you’re asked for advice and you think the other person will listen, then you can give it, but don’t feel obliged to push them into fixing it.

      A close relationship absolutely does NOT mean being responsible for another person’s well-being. It means respecting the other person and allowing that person the autonomy to take care of him or herself while wanting what’s best for that person, and at the same time being candid with that person so that he or she gets to know the authentic you.

      Boundaries without rejecting others

      You can draw boundaries without rejecting and hurting others. First, don’t be too effusive and open when you get to know someone. Withdrawing suddenly after being very warm and open can feel like rejection. If you are courteous without being overly accessible, then you can gradually open up if it feels comfortable. A good relationship involves being honest with another person while being diplomatic and respectful. If you are considerate and respectful and your honesty hurts them, then your relationship will be tested. You can avoid some unnecessary hurt and rejection, but you cannot completely avoid hurt all together.

      Withdrawing and speaking up

      The earlier you can speak up, the more easily you can do it without sounding hurt, angry, or resentful. In fact if you bring something up (something reasonable) very early on, you can do it with humor or in such a way that it is absolutely no big deal. It’s when you wait that it gains heat and makes it more awkward to talk about.

      People are human and tend to fall back into their patterns. So when you come to an agreement with someone, don’t feel surprised if they forget or fall into their old habits with you. Find a way to simply remind them. If you do it with the right tone of voice–confident, light-hearted, yet somewhat serious, but not in a heavy way–then they are more likely to listen and respect you. If you have kids, you’ll know that you don’t tell them to say “please” and “thank you” once, but probably hundreds or thousands of times until they remember to do it on their own. Adults are not too different.

      You probably don’t feel empowered because you haven’t learned the right confident neutral way to speak up without any guilt, resentment, hostility, or meekness involved. You might try practicing that neutral, light, confident tone in front of a video.

      All the best.
      Alison

      Reply
      1. Anonymous-ish

        I went back and re-read this response to me (from January) after eight months, thanks for your feedback again. (Hopefully this response will go with the original posts so you know what I’m talking about). Can’t really say I’ve made any progress since then, but, it’s still in my head. Oh as an update, that friend I didn’t want to confront/ stand up to again…eventually I did, although more firm/blunt than neutral and kind…and literally that’s the last I heard from them. Not that great of a friend, as it turns out. Not worth stressing over I suppose.

        I liked your earlier advice too to just be more reserved from the get go and open up as it feels comfortable. I still have a tendency to be friendly and then hide, that kind of deal. And still realizing that the thought of a two-way, person to person, direct relationship type thing (I can’t even say “relationship” haha) terrifies me. I know that contributes to why I used to pursue distancers. Beyond the fear of losing myself/freedom/solitude and fear of being responsible for someone else’s feelings, it’s a fear of the unknown and just seems really bizarre to me. The whole, aw, someone looking deep in my eyes, saying nice things about me to me…just thinking about it, I get an automatic feeling of NO, run away. Almost disgust or something. Like it’s just inappropriate and not really suiting to me and who I am. Not to sound woe is me, but like, I can’t imagine someone else really looking at me that way and meaning it…it weirds me out. Who knows?

        Also that parent, I’m pretty convinced in my mind now she had some kind of personality disorder, maybe BPD, which is too bad. And I still deal with trying to keep a distance there while not feeling guilty, which I’m not too successful with (the not feeling guilty part). eh. But even now, the communication with this parent, though I keep it really limited, almost always descends into some kind of negativity and me feeling like I have to be the therapist/support system/all that.

        I’m okay being on my own and obviously have been for my whole life thus far, but, if it gets to the point one day that I’m serious about being in a relationship…or the desire overcomes the avoidance factor, I could probably benefit from therapy. Or just go for it, but…that’s what I told myself I’d do eight months ago. And I’ve had some open doors since then and gone to my usual reaction of “NO! ABORT!” run to the safety of my cave.

        Ah well, c’est la vie. Anyway thanks for your comments to me and others. Oh and I do think I should practice being assertive without being snippy and resentful. I tend to be quiet/accommodating until I get annoyed and then it’s resentful and irritated. So yes, def need to work on being more confident, neutral, asserting what I want from the get go. Have a nice day.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Thanks for your update. There’s no perfect way to be, but you can avoid some unwarranted discomfort and guilt by being more aware of your tendencies (for example, to accommodate certain types of people, or to run.) When you understand the reasons and history behind those tendencies, you can more easily determine how much of a feeling of discomfort or wariness is from your projections due to your past and how much is due to objective reality. For example, when someone compliments you, you will more easily distinguish a genuine compliment from an attempt to manipulate you. However, the better you become at not being manipulated and not feeling guilty about it, the less it will really matter if someone is trying to manipulate you or not.

          Having a parent who is borderline and is willing to use her child as a pseudo-therapist would definitely contribute to you being wary of anyone who looks deeply into your eyes with any kind of vulnerability. Of course you’d be worried about being needed or somehow making that person upset or disappointed.

          As you say, the more you practice saying what you think and being less accommodating when it doesn’t suit you to be accommodating without being angry or short, the less you’ll fear being manipulated into giving up your freedoms. The more you practice this in small ways with everyone, the more natural it will be to have boundaries and speak up confidently and neutrally in a way that doesn’t offend people but engenders their respect for you.

          Have a great day!

          Reply
  47. Terri

    Hi Alison,

    This article described my last relationship perfectly and I’m hoping you can help me with my current dilemma. I broke up with my girlfriend in October after six months of dating. I made the decision to move to another city this coming May and the thought of being serious enough by then that she might follow me there terrified me. I should mention that we had both always planned to move and that there would be greater opportunity there for her as well. So I wasn’t feeling guilty, just scared.

    I had been thinking about breaking up anyway. All the little things that bothered me. I wanted more space. Etc. Was this the excuse I had been waiting for to bolt or was the relationship not really working? I thought at the time it was because she’s a few years older than me and we had different hopes for the relationship. But that didn’t make sense – I always thought I wanted a relationship. I realize now that the dynamic you’ve described fits us perfect.

    I feel so pathetic. My anxiety issues make me want to be alone all the time. But that’s not possible in a relationship. Why can’t I be a normal person? Why can’t I stop feeling that way when I know logically what I’m feeling is normal?

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about her a lot. Is that because it was Christmas, though? Because I’ve been spending time around couples or because someone I had a crush on is now dating? Or because I really do want her? What you’ve said about how pursuers can make themselves more attractive is so true – the more I think about her living her own life the more I want her. What if I get her back only to freak out again? I don’t want to hurt her. I’m still moving in May, though. I’m starting a new life. What if I decide I don’t want her in it? (And underlying this all – what if she doesn’t want me back?)

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi, Thanks for writing in.

      Longing for someone

      I’ll start with the last paragraph first. It’s normal to long for someone when you are feeling lonely, whether it’s because of Christmas, a friend being in love, or just plain desire for connection. Usually when people feel that kind of longing they attach it to the last person they’ve been with or the person with whom they felt the most powerfully connected. People who haven’t been in a relationship also get the feeling of longing but may not connect it with someone in particular, or they may fantasize about someone they don’t know very well. So don’t think that missing and desiring your ex-girlfriend means that you should get back together with her.

      Whether or not you should get back together

      Of course, I don’t know the answer, but know that when you break up and the other person is doing well, a person does tend to long for that person more. Distance allows desire to develop. However, there are two phrases that strike me most in your email: 1) that after six months you felt “terrified” of the thought of being serious enough for her to move out with you, and 2) that “all the little things bothered me.” The fact that you didn’t simply feel a little cautious or anxious about her following you, but “terrified” indicates that she is probably not the right person for you. Everyone gets annoyed occasionally by their partner, but “all the little things” seems excessive.

      From what you’ve said, either she is not the right person for you for a long-term relationship, or you need to learn to set up better boundaries for yourself in relationship. Perhaps, you do not need to live with someone at least at this point in your life. How did you get a situation where there were so many things bothering you about her? Did you move in together too soon? Or do you see each other too frequently. Are you unable to speak up (in a direct but kind way)? Is she too needy? It would help if I knew what kind of things bothered you about her.

      Anxiety issues

      I am also curious about what your “anxiety issues” are. You say you want to be alone all the time. Why is that? Have you always preferred being alone? Is it because the alternative recently has been spending time with someone who tends to annoy you or is too needy or isn’t very interesting?

      Life is too short to ever feel pathetic. And there’s no need to be a “normal” person. It’s best to find out how you can respect your own needs and desires while being respectful of others. If you have anxiety issues being around people, you can work on them gradually. There’s no need to have negative feelings about yourself, or try to be the opposite. Gradual appropriate improvement is what you might aim for.

      If you let me know what bothers you, and what your anxiety issues are, that would be helpful.

      I do think it would be thoughtful to be able to explain yourself to your ex–how you feel overwhelmed or bothered (in a diplomatic way) because that might give her the opportunity to learn and grow, and it is good practice to be candid about your needs and feelings while being kind and considerate.

      Take care, Alison

      Reply
  48. Anonymous-ish

    Ha, and what if you are both? No wonder I’m doomed, lol. I’ve either been the long suffering and desperate-to-connect pursuer after someone unattainable, or, avoiding a relationship or connection or even mere date like the plague because I am afraid of my independence/solitude/anything being annihilated. I could relate to both. I’ve thought about it before and figure, well maybe the reason who I’ drawn to pursue “distancers” is because they don’t actually give anything back…because when that happens, and there seems like a real opportunity, I freeze, panic and flee.

    I have never even been in a real relationship — no surprise why, eh?

    But I am perhaps ready to risk my independence and autonomy some. I’ve already decided that I never ever want to fall into the “pursuer” trap with “love” again because it is absolute torture, torture! Makes you feel so worthless and even pathetic. I tend to find it happening even in my friendships.

    I would say that I grew up in an extremely smothering, controlling environment where I was emotionally depended on to the nth degree by a parent, yet the parent was also rather harsh and critical and put us down a lot (our whole character and being) whenever the slightest mistake…so that could explain where the double whammy comes from.

    So yeah. Balance I think will be the key as I roll the dice and open myself up a little to the possibility of a real relationship. And while I like to think I’m the most self-sustaining person ever, any little nuggets of tips for that would be welcome. 😉

    Interesting article.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. Thank you for your comment. The wonderful thing is that you are quite aware of your tendencies and where they come from, yet you haven’t been too afraid to live life. Given your smothering, controlling childhood environment, which was also harsh and critical, no wonder you would be drawn to distancers. In order to survive as a child, you had to be accommodating to the controlling environment, which must have been very unpleasant and overwhelming. So the risk of depending emotionally on someone as an adult would trigger fear of that unpleasant, controlling environment, which anyone risks when they are dependent on others.

      I like how you point out that this pursuer/distancer dynamic can occur in all relationships, such as mere friendships.

      I don’t think anyone should jump into risking his or her independence and autonomy too much. I believe the key is taking small steps in all your relationships to be able connect while keeping the strength to say what you think (diplomatically), to ask something of someone, and to continue valuing and pursuing your own interests despite others’ displeasure. As an adult, most people no longer control your very life and survival. Yet your reptilian brain may still react to another’s displeasure as a life or death situation.

      It takes practice in small every day moments to retain your sense of self while still be connected to another person. I do think it’s important to remain financially independent (at least capable of leaving in a moment’s notice and surviving on your own) and to keep a vibrant multifacted life of interests and other friends. In a long-term intimate relationship there is bound to be some emotional dependence, but it’s important to avoid becoming needy and too tied to the opinions, validation, and emotional support of one person. While intimate relationships involve sharing your vulnerabilities to some extent, it takes self-restraint to avoid pouring out every vulnerability and squeezing validation out of the other person.

      The whole idea of differentiation–learning to be emotionally separate rather than reactive while still caring about someone–developed by Murray Bowen and further discussed by David Schnarch, is key to being able to easily and successfully balance togetherness and separateness without controlling the other person or allowing yourself to be controlled.

      It’s best to look at moments of conflict or discomfort in the recent past and think about how you could have reacted better to be true to yourself with self-respect and being respectful to the other person. Often it’s just a matter of saying what you think or want in a calm and kind way but with inner strength. When new similar situations come along, you’ll be better prepared to react in a more positive way rather than in a reflexive way developed to survive in your childhood. This can be practiced with everyone and becomes easier with practice.

      I would think of instances with friends or at work where you hide or are overly-accommodating or regret the way the situations turn out. How did you play it safe? How could you have acted differently? It takes a bit of stretching into discomfort to practice new ways of being, balancing the tone of voice and words just right to avoid sounding angry, defensive or weak. If you like you could give me a couple of examples.

      Good luck.

      PS Even though you are not concerned about parenting right now, it may be interesting for you to watch my video on Authoritarian vs. Permissive Parenting, which ends with a section on respectful parenting. These patterns are also the bases adult relationships.

      Reply
  49. J.

    Dear Alison,

    I came across this article which describes my ordeal perfectly. I would really appreciate your advice as I’m at loss at what I need to do.
    I believe relationships are built and that they need a lot of work just like taking care of a garden. I have no problem being committed to building one, but that is a 2 way road.

    I am very emotionally fond of a man I had met at work 8 months ago. He is 27 and I am 25. I am never usually the type of girl to approach guys and I’m only hooked when I like someone who approaches me. He was very mysterious at first but he had exerted alot of effort to get to know me. Once we had started dating, I noticed that I have become the pursuer and he has become the distancer. We do not talk everyday ever since the entire thing had started, even after I left the country for an internship 3 months ago, which I had expected would be something that would bring us closer. This has always bothered me since I expect him to at least be curious about how I’m doing. I suffered the same problem before I traveled but always blamed it on his extremely busy lifestyle, but recently I have been packed with so much to do I can barely take the time to look in the mirror however I always think of texting or calling him. I do not understand or see why it’s not the same for him. When I found that I had initiated contact several times in a row I started to feel that I had allowed him to make a habit of it and that he will never be worried about losing touch with me.
    We had started getting sexually intimate which is against our culture. It has been going on for months and we never really talked about it until today. We still talked and saw each other normally afterwards so my assumption is that he did not go through all the trouble just to get lucky, however when I spoke to him about my doubts, he told me that it was a normal thing for a human to experience, he is not ashamed of it and neither is it special to him in any way which contradicts his attention for me at the very beginning, also whenever we have a face to face encounter. Our outings were always fun and exciting, and I always had the sense that he wants to be emotionally close to me but is refusing the attachment completely and refusing to be vulnerable even in the slightest ways. We agreed to stay in touch before I traveled. I had made a point to ask him where this was going and he told me that for him it has not developed into anything yet, it might in the future but it also might not. A few months had passed since we talked about whether this was going somewhere or not, my confusion is that he always comes off as a very emotionally independent person if we text or bring up the subject of being in a relationship but whenever I meet him face to face, I feel the total opposite, he seems very affectionate and attached. I’m pretty sure I’m not delusional about it. I try always to think twice about what I say and how I act because I don’t want to drive him further but no matter how careful I am, the results are still the same. We are currently in different continents, our texts are short and brief for the exception of yesterday, it was my birthday, and he made sure to convey to me that he had not remembered, somewhere along the conversation he said good night but when I asked him why so soon, we continued to speak for the next 4 hours after which he asked to get intimate online. I do not feel so good about it because this is something I don’t like to do but I feel forced into it becuase I do not want to upset him and also I had missed him so much. This is when I opened up to him and told him I did not feel so good, his response seemed to show concern, when I told him that this was special to me he responded by saying that it’s perfectly normal but it’s not special in any way, it’s a privilege that everyone should have. I feel hurt by this. I don’t know what he wants or in which direction I should head. I don’t like taking the easy way out of anything.
    Please tell me if you think he is a very advanced case of being a distancer or does he really not care? I’ve seen both sides and I do not know what to make of it.
    From my personal judgement he is a distancer but I do not know what to do to bring us closer.
    Thank you so much for your time in advance.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello.

      You seem like a very nice and thoughtful person. I hate to disappoint you, but it is much better to see the situation clearly now than in a year from now, or later. I read your email twice, and I’m going to pull quotes from it for you to re-read.

      “Once we had started dating, I noticed that I have become the pursuer and he has become the distancer. We do not talk everyday ever since the entire thing had started, even after I left the country for an internship 3 months ago, which I had expected would be something that would bring us closer. This has always bothered me since I expect him to at least be curious about how I’m doing.”

      The fact that he lost his avid interest one you showed interest indicates that he is not very interested. I suspect that he likes the pursuit and always loses interest once someone shows interest in him.

      “I always think of texting or calling him. I do not understand or see why it’s not the same for him.”

      Because he is not that interested.

      “neither is it [sex] special to him in any way.”

      He is telling you clearly that sex with you does not mean that you are special to him. That is a clear message.

      “[he] is refusing the attachment completely and refusing to be vulnerable even in the slightest ways.”

      Showing vulnerability is an absolute essential requirement of love and emotional intimacy. Good relationships and love require exposing who you are, what you feel, and what you think despite the risk of being rejected. People should not expose all their vulnerability at once, but if someone doesn’t expose his or her vulnerability at all, he or she is probably incapable of doing so for various reasons, and will probably not change without some dramatic life experience or counseling. Thus, his lack of continued avid interest in you may have to do with his inability to have a deep emotional relationship, which has to be based on exposing who you are on a deep and vulnerable level. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can make him feel comfortable enough to share his vulnerability.

      “he told me that for him it has not developed into anything yet, it might in the future but it also might not.

      He is telling you clearly that he is not in love with you, while he is also keeping his options open for a fun, casual sexual relationship. Someone who says after eight months that “it has not developed into anything yet” is saying that he is in this relationship for convenience until something better comes along.

      “I try always to think twice about what I say and how I act because I don’t want to drive him further but no matter how careful I am, the results are still the same.”

      If he’s that easy to drive off, he’s not crazy about you, OR, more likely, he is not available for an emotionally-intimate relationship with anyone. You can do better than having to tiptoe around in order to keep someone interested in you.

      “I do not feel so good about it because this is something I don’t like to do but I feel forced into it because I do not want to upset him and also I had missed him so much.”

      Do not allow yourself to feel forced into anything out of desire to become closer, because feeling forced means you are denying being true to yourself. You can’t have emotional intimacy when you hide your true feelings. Most importantly, it seems that you were considering accommodating him out of fear of losing him. Giving in to someone else’s desires despite your own desires and values is a sure way to lose self-respect and ultimately the possibility of having a relationship based on mutual respect and self-respect. I know you did bring up your concerns. So that is good.

      “his response seemed to show concern, when I told him that this was special to me he responded by saying that it’s perfectly normal but it’s not special in any way, it’s a privilege that everyone should have. I feel hurt by this.”

      He SEEMED to show concern. Throughout your email, you show that he can be charming or show concern, especially when in pursuit of you–at the beginning of the relationship, or when you are troubled and uncomfortable. But his actions and his words state very clearly that this relationship is NOT SPECIAL, that sex with you is normal but not special. Do not be fooled by shows of concern, fun and exciting dates, and his continued mild interest in you after sex. He says over and over again through his lack of contact and through his words that you are not special to him.

      I’m sorry to say but it doesn’t really matter whether he is an “advanced distancer” as you call it or if he doesn’t really care. In fact, advanced distancers usually are not capable of deeply caring. Their sense of self is often quite fragile, ironically, even though they appear super independent. They distance themselves precisely because they fear losing their sense of self in relationship. Some may seek sexual intimacy as a way to validate themselves. They may exert a lot of effort in pursuit of another person until that person shows interest, and then they lose interest. They may be charming and keep the relationship going in order to receive validation.

      A relationship, if you can call it that, with the man you describe will become more and more frustrating and disappointing. A satisfying long-term relationship should be based on mutual desire and respect and sharing vulnerable feelings and thoughts on a regular basis. I would get out of this relationship now before your self-esteem deteriorates more and you get more emotionally dependent on his validation. Beware though, when you do back away, he will probably re-double his efforts and start saying things that you want to hear. But the pattern will repeat itself once you give into his pursuit. If you do feel weak, re-read this letter and the multiple indications that he is not interested or available for a long-term intimate and healthy relationship.

      Let me know how it goes and good luck to you.

      Alison

      Reply
  50. Tina

    Hello Alison,
    I would really appreciate some outside feedback on my current situation. Let me start by first giving a little background.

    Me and my partner have been together for almost a year now. He is 35 and I am 31. We met at work and are still working together side by side as colleagues. The relationship is public except from his parents who he hasn’t got around to telling yet due to a culture difference.

    My partner is the eldest of 4 girls who are all grown up working, uni etc but he still lives at home with his parents and the two youngest. He has his own house also which needs a bit of work. That is where we stay when we spend time.

    My partner is an introvert. After tons of social interactions dealing with people at work, he needs a nap at lunch. He also has insomnia. He has a small social circle but does many things outside of work alone or with his sisters. He is very active and goes to the gym twice a week or more sometimes, and to martial arts class once a week. The rest of his week is spent one day with his male friends and the weekend (sat/sun) is for us.

    He has a schedule and he also has OCD and can become very obsessed when it comes to tasks. If he thinks of something that needs doing, like a job on the house or losing weight to achieve a goal, he works at it and puts 100% into it.
    He is the distancer.

    I am the persuer, because I am very introverted and have much less social interaction than he does so I found myself getting lonely when he didn’t devote more time to me. I don’t have many friends that I do things with and I spend a lot of time at home on my computer in my free time.
    I have been trying to lay off the needyness and stop letting it get to me. I have been doing fine with that. I would constantly check my phone and message him when he was with his friends but I have cut that down too and I try to keep the talking short when we are apart so not to tire him.

    He says I don’t make many decisions. He expects me to just come out and say ‘Hey, why don’t you skip the gym today and we can go out for a bite to eat or back to yours’ yet in the next breath he tells me I’m too needy and I should get my own social circles. I don’t know if I am coming or going with him.

    Can it be possible that someone can have both traits at the same time? He is so closed up from me at the moment. At work when we are alone he looks very unhappy, but he puts on a front and acts bubbly and funny with everyone else. That really hurts my feelings and I’m starting to feel irritable about it and somewhat left out and to blame.
    He isn’t very good at communication and when I want answers he fails to deliver. The last time he spoke his mind he said something very hurtful and it upset me, so now it seems he is worries to ever speak his mind – even though I have been trying to get into that head of his all week.

    He told me that he feels he can be himself infron of me, but I don’t understand why everyone else gets Tigger and I get Eeyore.

    I’m really worried about him and wondering if he has some form of depression, but the whole point of my post is regarding him blaming me for not suggesting things and asking more of his time, when he tells me he likes his own space. I feel like I can’t win and I’m so lost.

    Please help

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I will need to respond more fully in the next couple of days. In the mean time, you might benefit from reading “Why men love bitches.” The title is a marketing ploy but the content is sound and might be helpful.

      I would be friendly and keep a little distance. It sounds like something is going on, and it would not help to be needy, upset, hurt, or demanding. I would plan to do some other things that you enjoy or find some other things and friends you enjoy.

      I am also curious about the cultural differences and why that would preclude you from meeting his parents/family.

      Talk to you soon. Take care.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Tina

        Thank you for the very swift reply. I understand you are busy and I appreciate your comments. I will leave a little more info for when you have time.

        My partner is Asian and was a devoted muslim for 20 years. Just over a year ago he left Islam and after a long time managed to pluck up the courage to tell his mother.
        She was ok with it to his surprise which was a huge relief for him and he was so elated.

        I lost my father 4 years ago and turned to him to air my problems and worries. He was there for me through a lot of tough times and I was there for him also. We are best friends and have a special connection.
        He had hidden feeling s for me for a long time and after his mother accepted his decision to leave the religion he revealed them to me and we started dating.

        The trouble is that his mother is very traditional and he is very nervous about telling her about me because I am white and non religious. He has told his sisters about me but we haven’t actually met up formally yet.
        He plans to tell his mother soon but I think with the issues we are currently having he is putting off telling her. He is also afraid that she will reject him.

        He worries far too much about the future and that puts a strain on us.

        I love the bones of this man. He is a gentleman and has the biggest heart I’ve ever known. I’m just unsure where we are going wrong.

        Thanks Alison

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hello,

          It’s hard for me to know what’s going on here, but I think there is something going on and it’s important for you to find out. You must remember that you only have control of your own behavior, demeanor, and actions. If you want him to share his feelings with you, you must not get upset and overreact when he tells you something you don’t like. Otherwise, he will start walking on eggshells and keeping things from you, which he seems to be doing already.

          The biggest issue here that I see is that he is 35 years old, lives at home, and was afraid of telling his mother about his religious change and is currently afraid of mentioning you. I am not judging his cultural background, but it is clear that his family and his mother in particular come first. You may come 2nd, or probably 3rd or 4th.

          If he is serious about you, he will fix up his home, move into it, and introduce you to his parents. But you should not become pushy, bitter, hurt, or resentful to push him into such a decision. I think it’s much better to be kind, clear and straightforward. Ask when he has time to talk, and say something like, “You have a big heart. I love you and want what’s best for you. However, I’d like to be in a relationship with someone who cares about me enough to introduce me to his parents. Are you willing to do that?” If he is not, I recommend backing off.

          I am surely speaking with my own cultural bias, but I believe that a man does not truly become his own man capable of being a great partner until he’s able to separate emotionally from his mother. I don’t mean that he has to be unkind or no longer love his mother. But he can’t let fear of his mother’s reactions guide his life. Otherwise he will not be available to you as a partner.

          Regarding the way he treats you at work, perhaps he is trying to appear professional by not being overly friendly toward you, but he ends up being a bit cold. Or, perhaps he is already feeling dread because he fears facing his parents and yet he knows that he eventually has to pick between you and his parents. Either way, I would talk to him about it without attacking him and without appearing to be a victim. Practice a clear, friendly tone of voice that indicates that you care about him, that you have self-respect, and that you are not going to get angry or be upset if he says something that you don’t want to hear.

          I also recommend pushing yourself despite your discomfort to make other friends perhaps through a sport, activity, or organization, and to do some other things regularly. You will feel less lonely, and you will become more attractive if you have some more things of your own going on in your life. You are less likely to become needy, which will make your partner feel like you are a burden rather than a pleasure to be with.

          Please let me know how he responds and good luck.

          Alison

          Reply
  51. Dave

    Excellent Post!! I have been wondering why my relationship has been so difficult and when I came across this post, things started to make sense. I met my girlfriend online and she was a bit distant at first, but after a couple of months I would like to think that my charm won her over and we have been together for about a year now. I should mention that it is a very long distance relationship; she lives in Colombia and I live in the USA.

    Even after a year, she still keeps her life a mystery, almost like she has compartmentalized her relationships, friends in one compartment, family in another, and me in another. None of these compartments knows much about the other. Our conversations have never been very deep, she will listen to anything that I am willing to tell her about my life, but when I ask for information about hers, she turns it back on me. She told me that she does not live in the past and if she thinks of the past, it will give bad feelings. From time to time I get frustrated with her and she tells me that I have to be patient. When I tell her that I have some need for attention in the relationship and she is not meeting my needs, she sometimes acknowledges this and other times ignores my trying to communicate my needs to her.

    After 8 months of “dating” we finally decided to meet in person; so I flew to Colombia to meet her. She did not want to meet me at the airport, but agreed to meet me at my hotel and we had a very nice dinner and conversation (in Spanish), making plans to spend the next day exploring Bogota after breakfast. I called a taxi and she went home that night, sent a message the next morning to wish me good morning, I responded expecting the best and she disappeared leaving me alone in Colombia for the next 3 days only to show-up an hour before my flight to see me to the airport. She said that she realizes what she did was bad, but her friend had an emergency and she had to leave town, but she loves me and wants to continue to be in a relationship with me. After weighing my options, I decided to continue the relationship with her and visit again in a couple of months.

    Due to the expense, most of our communication is via text; but messages are not much more than “hi love, how are you?”. When I tell her I need deeper conversations than how is the the weather, she says that she does not like writing messages. When I ask her to use Skype, she tells me that she does not like Skype. I tell her that we should just talk on the phone then, she tells me it is too expensive. I tell her that I will buy her a calling card, she doesn’t respond. I call her and she never answers….

    On several occasions I told her that she needs to decide what she wants(giving the power to her of course), and she always says that she wants to be with me. I keep telling her that I need attention from her and to feel wanted, she says she understands but never makes an effort to give that attention. When I tell her that there needs to be more of an equal distribution in effort, she will agree and tell me she will try harder, but it never materializes into anything beyond one or two days.

    I realize that I am the Pursuer in this relationship and have tried on occasion to give her space which she immediately recognizes is uncharacteristic and gets angry if I don’t respond in a few hours. However, sometimes she just ‘disappears’ for a few days leaving my messages unanswered.

    I guess that I am looking for advice whether she is too distant, is unable to meet my needs, and I should end the relationship now versus trying another strategy in the hope that she will begin to understand and change?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi Dave,

      As a counselor I normally have the time to help someone come to their own decision. But we don’t have that luxury and you asked for my opinion. I’m sorry to say, but my answer to your question is a resounding yes, you should break up with her, IF you are even together. You sound like a thoughtful and forgiving person. I know it’s nice to receive warm texts from an attractive woman. However, she is simply not available, your relationship is far too one-sided and it won’t change. There has to be more mutuality from the beginning.

      I strongly suspect that she is in a relationship with someone else given the compartmentalizing and all the details of your trip to Colombia–avoiding you and avoiding being seen with you at the airport, as well as the “emergency.” I don’t care if her mother died, if you are visiting her in Colombia, she would make some effort to introduce you to her friends and family and to spend a little time with you if she cared and were available.

      This is more than a pursuer/distancer dynamic. This is a well-intentioned man seeking warmth and a totally unavailable woman seeking admiration, but not a relationship.

      Why would she lead you on? Because she is not fulfilled and it feels good to have someone pursue her and send her warm texts.

      Even if she is not in relationship, she will not change, I guarantee it. I highly recommend ending all hopes and expectations right now. Find some other way to spend the time you would spend contacting this woman. You need to start meeting other women who are interested in seeing you and having you participate in their lives. I would find a new sport, a new club, get on match.com to meet new people, and start living life with real people–who may hurt you, but they won’t lead you on for eternity without letting you into their lives.

      Please let me know how it goes.

      All the best, Alison

      Reply
      1. Dave

        Thank you for your advice Alison. After a long internal struggle, I decided to end the relationship when I started recognizing several red flags that would certainly lead to a caustic relationship in the future. I began realizing that there is no passion being communicated between us unless I was the one doing the communication.

        I did confront her about several issues and her response was that it was all in my head. Knowing that this is pretty much textbook narcissism and borderline emotionally abusive; I decided that it was time to end things and move on out of respect for myself; and yes, I have signed up for a couple of the dating sites with high hopes.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Dave,

          I am so glad to hear that. I’m sorry for your disappointment, but it seems very positive to move on in your life. You definitely should experience some reciprocity in a relationship, quite a bit actually. I agree that her behavior as you describe it is truly narcissistic and perhaps borderline. The complete lack of regard as to how she limited your life by leading you on goes beyond selfish.

          I would recommend taking it slow with dating any particular woman so you get to know the person before you get too emotionally attached. I know this is an odd suggestion, but I recommend reading “Why men love bitches.” The title doesn’t convey the psychological depth of the book. While it is aimed at women, the overall theme would be very relevant to anyone who has been hurt by a distancer or a narcissist. Try to learn from what the author implies about human nature underlying relationship dynamics, rather than viewing what’s recommended as game-playing.

          Thanks for letting me know and keep in touch if you like.

          Alison

          Reply
  52. Maia

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks for your advice. I wanted to update you. He broke up with me last week. I went over his house and we both just cried and held each other. Dramatic, I know. He said he just didn’t feel the same, he doesn’t crave me anymore, and hasn’t been extremely happy. However, he also said that if things cleared and cleansed that something wouldn’t be out of the question for the future. I feel like I’m getting mixed feelings. I also feel like a lot of the messages made it sound like he wanted pity for breaking up with me. All he could talk about was how I was a wonderful person and he hated saying that he didn’t feel the same and that he still loved me. I did tell him I was hurt and how I felt about him. Last Monday, when I decided I had nothing else to say he said, “I obviously miss your daily presence in my, life, but I want to give you space, whatever works for me and if I needed anything or wanted to talk he said I’m here.” I didn’t respond because I didn’t know what to say. Then after a week of not talking he sent me a message saying he hoped I was doing well and good things were coming my way and that he had been thinking and reflecting, emotional and crying and that he wanted me to know that I broadened his perspectives on life and that he is a better person bc I was in his life. He then proceeded to say life was too short not to share what was on his mind and heart. How do I respond to that? Do I continue taking space for myself? What does that even mean?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi again,

      I’m sorry to hear that you are hurt. It sounds to me that he cares for you a lot, but has decided that he doesn’t want to proceed with a relationship with you. People often have mixed feelings, and I admire it more when people can honestly see that they have mixed feelings rather than deciding to break up and then vilify the other person to justify their decision. The fact that he doesn’t preclude a relationship with you in the future is that part of himself talking that loves you and that has learned a lot from you.

      The fact that he doesn’t crave you any more may be a result of what he viewed as a betrayal, when you had relations with your ex-boyfriend, and the fact that you saw him while you were with your boyfriend. Some people lose their desire when they see another person as untrustworthy. Or perhaps he’s just responding to the normal waning of fascination that inevitably occurs in romantic relationships. Some people seek that initial cocktail of endorphins when they fall in love and can never stay with someone for a long time. You can probably look at his past history to see if he has had a continuous stream of short-term relationships and fits that description. Another possibility is that he has met someone else and doesn’t want to admit it.

      Whatever the reason is, if I were you, I would view him as a friend, and move on with your life. It is really nice to be with someone who really wants to be with you. Keep your next relationship clean in terms of trustworthiness.

      Thanks for the update and let me know how it goes. Take care.

      Reply
  53. Margaret

    I was told today in counseling that I was a pursuer and my husband of 19 years a distancer. I would have never have guessed this in a million years so I’ve been looking around the internet for some information on the topic (not always a good idea). We are in couples counseling related to the fact that my husband was sexually abused as a child and suggested we go to counseling so we could better connect. He has been in individual counseling for over 10 years and wants to improve our relationship now that he’s made it through the worst of it. I was somewhat taken aback and hurt by his suggestion of couples counseling because I pretty much feel like I put my life on hold for him to work through all his “stuff” and the suggestion made me feel blamed for the current state of our relationship (his distance). He was also adopted and has a lot of issues related to this topic. He was very distant over the last several years as he worked through his feelings. I do not feel there was any pursuit on my part that caused this distance. Once he became distant, I’m sure me trying to reach out and make sure he was okay felt like pursuit. Our relationship revolved around him for many years but not because I wanted it that way. I do not feel like my pursuit was trying to meet my own needs necessarily. Does someone have to be pursuing for the other person to become distant? It seems somewhat like the chicken or the egg question. My theory is his distance caused my pursuit and not the other way around which is how I’m most often seeing it described. Does this make any sense? Maybe the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter which came first anyway we just have to work our way out of it now. Thanks for listening.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Most pursuers will read an article about pursuers and distancers and immediately say, “That’s us. I’m a pursuer and he/she is a distancer.” If you did not have that experience, then you may not be a pursuer. There are cases where one partner who is not a distancer at heart becomes depressed or faces some demons and withdraws or becomes less communicative in the relationship. As a result, the other partner cares and reaches out to reconnect and to find out what’s going on. This may not reflect the typical personality traits of pursuer and distancer, despite what the counselor said.

      I personally believe it’s very positive that your husband would want to go to couples’ counseling, and I do not believe that it is an insult to be asked to go. Most people are not experts on couples relationships and would not know how to express what they seek in the relationship or in their lives. Many people don’t even know what exactly they are longing for. Even stable successful couples can improve their relationships if they go to a good counselor or good workshops. It’s like going to parenting classes or even English classes. You may be fluent in English but there’s always room to become better, which enhances the enjoyment of using the language. So much for that analogy.

      I think the fact the relationship revolved around your husband for many years if not the whole marriage means that there is plenty of room for improvement and moving toward a more mutual relationship. The fact that you put your life on hold for him indicates that you may tend to give up too much, which may lead to resentment. Perhaps there are things you could learn, such as not discussing his “problems” as much, asking for what you want in a positive way, going after what you want, and feeling entitled to ask for more. Any relationship can be revitalized when you have the courage to look at yourself and your relationship more deeply and with compassion. Your fear of counseling may reveal your dread of giving up more time to look at his problems. Maybe you should take the opportunity of going to counseling to bring up what’s underlying your resentments, which are a whole host of your own desires that nobody is taking seriously enough. Good luck and let me know how it goes please.

      Alison

      Reply
      1. Margaret

        I didn’t mean to make it seem like I was against counseling just was a little shocked by the initial suggestion and also like you said feared it would be focused on what I need to do to help him (this is where a lot of my resentment comes in). Also trying to express that it makes it hard for me to classify him as a distancer and me a pursuer if he initiated the counseling. I think I do tend to put others thoughts and feelings before mine and also tend to overanalyze situations. When he becomes distant I immediately assume it’s about me and probably intensify (instead of diffuse) the situation. So this is one way I can connect to the pursuer/distancer relationship. However, I definitely see myself as the more passive one in the relationship so the label of pursuer just doesn’t seem to fit. Even though it sounds selfish, I think I need to focus on myself before I can give any more to our relationship. I think I’ve started to figure out that what is underlying my resentment is a fear that I’m not good enough just the way I am. Thanks again.

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hi. It is definitely not selfish to focus on yourself first. It is draining, exhausting, and unappealing to be giving to others all the time without allowing yourself to thrive, be soothed, and to enjoy life. In fact you can be more enjoyable to be around if you make sure that your needs are taken care of and that you pursue your interests. You should try to avoid doing things that make you feel resentment. There is a balance in relationships. Each person is responsible for themselves but should be considerate of the other. If the whole relationship is focused on one person because he or she is someone under-functioning or has suffered abuse or a disease, then resentment will creep in and eat away at the foundation of the relationship.

          Sometimes a person who grew up pleasing others tends to do too much, and secretly fears that he or she will not be desired unless he or she is always giving. But the opposite is true. Too much giving actually lessens desire. You might read my article on “the Pleaser and the Receiver.” If you go to counseling, I hope you will mention that there has always been a lot of focus on his needs, but you would like to focus more on your own desires and needs. Good luck!

          Reply
          1. Margaret

            Yes – pleaser/receiver seems to fit us a lot better than pursuer/distancer. I’m starting to see someone individually every couple of weeks and then the 4 of us (my husband and his therapist) also have a session every couple of weeks. Hopefully it will make a difference. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll keep you posted.

  54. Maddie

    Jade, your situation is identical (to a great extent) to mine. I’d love to know what is transpiring as time is progressing. Let me know if you care to share and I can give you my email.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  55. Maia

    Hi Alison,

    I am 25 and in a relationship with a 31 year old man. We started out with a really strong connection as friends. I was in a relationship of a couple of months, and enjoyed my relationship, but I didn’t feel the spark was as strong. Needless to say, I made a huge mistake and had some indiscretions with the 31 year old. After a couple of months of that, I ended the relationship with my bf at the time. My relationship and friendship grew with my friend, but he felt as though I kept picking my ex over him during the time of the indiscretions. We decided to be together officially about two months ago and I feel he still resents me. Also, I went on a pre-planned trip in June with my ex, but it was strictly as friend. I know that was selfish decision to make and it really hurt my current bf, but I can’t take that back. We’ve had so many talks and have been trying to work past the pain, but it is difficult. We decided we needed space and then made an agreement start Dating (as in go out and do new things together instead of just hanging out at home or getting into that routine) in order to create positive experiences so that when we talked about issues it would not be from a negative place. He says he’s trying to let it go, but it seems like he can’t. This worked for a while, but there is still underlying hostility. We haven’t been intimate in a while and he recently told me he just didn’t have the urge and that he felt an emotional block. After reading this article, I found that I am a serious pursuer. He also told me that he appreciates all the nice things I say and the reassurance of my feelings, but he feels a bit bombarded. However, last week we had a tiff and he said that he’s happy to be on this journey with me and that he had been feeling insecure and just wanted to know if I wanted to be with him. And this week he’s feeling bombarded. I feel like I’m getting mixed messages. Now, I will say after reading this article I am definitely a pursuer, but I feel like he’s telling me two different stories. Any advice?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I think people often have very opposing feelings. On the one hand, they may want to be with someone because they are attracted to the person or enjoy feeling validated, but they also don‘t want to be with the person because they feel overwhelmed, trapped, or mistrustful. In this case, it sounds like your 31 year old is attracted to you but he is also very wary because you dated him while you were with your ex, and then you went on a trip with your ex while you were with him. I think he’s wise not to trust you to be faithful and loyal to him. And he may never trust you. Even if you reassure him with your feelings, he knows that feelings can change from day to day, and that if your feelings change, you may not have the ability to resist going off with someone else.

      Over time, you may realize that you’ll benefit from resisting the urge to be with someone you’re attracted to for the moment until you’ve broken it off with whomever you’re currently seeing. You can still be a pursuer, but there’s no need to hurt others as much in the process. Eventually you might even get tired of pursuing, and find that more mutual relationships that aren’t based on novelty and excitement have some deeper rewards to offer. Please let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  56. Jade

    I’m having a problem with my partner at the moment. I would say that we had a pretty balanced relationship with maybe him being somewhat of a distancer and me being somewhat of a peruser but only to a mild degree. We live together and do things together but also do things apart, so I would say it was pretty balanced. I mentioned to him that I would like to have a child in 2 years and has gone into major distancing – to the point where he moved out as he needs to “sort his head out”. We do have contact with each other occasionally, it’s like he is checking in to see if I am still there and if we do plan to catch up, we have a great time but then he goes into major distancing again. I try not to contact him that much and wait for him to come to me but it hurts so much. Any advice would be great.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I’m sorry to say that it seems that either he does not want to have children or he does not want to have a serious commitment with you. Have you asked him whether he ever wants to have children? How does he respond? If he says that he may want to have children, then the fact that he moved out may indicate that subconsciously or consciously he doesn’t want them with you. This could change. But it won’t change by you’re continuing a relationship hoping that he’ll change. You are more likely to waste several years hoping that he’ll change. If you want to have children, I would tell him that while you still love him and you will miss him, you need to get on with your life. I know that’s very tough to do when you feel so hurt. But this is the best way that you will be able to have what you want in your life. Either he will miss you and respect you and come back willing to have children (not coerced into it), or you will be on your own with self-respect and open for a new relationship. You might check out the book “Why men marry bitches,” despite the title of the book, which is not an accurate reflection of the book. Good luck and let me know how it goes.
      Alison

      Reply
      1. Jade

        Hi Allison,

        We have spoken about children before and he has even said that we’ll have a baby before we get married. He said he feels pressured as I’m putting a time on it and he would rather it happen naturally and me bringing this up has made him think about a lot of other things that he’s never had to think about before. He said he doesn’t know what he wants at the moment and just wants to be by himself for awhile but still wants to see me and catch up. When he moved out he said that we’ll get through this and he wouldn’t give up on us that easily. He came around to my place on the weekend to visit me and I asked him if I should take the photos down of us two together and he got funny about it and asked why I would do that? Don’t I want them up anymore? I feel like he is torn with what he wants….to take the next big step and commit or not. I don’t think it’s because of his feelings towards me, I think it has to do with him being mentally ready for it. He has told me several times that he still loves me and that he just needs time. When he first asked to have a break I asked him if he loved me and he said yes, then I asked if he was in love with my as they are two different things and he said yes. I also asked if he sees a future for us and he also said yes….It’s so hard!

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          Hello,

          First of all, in hindsight I think it would have been better not to have asked him whether you should take down the pictures of the two of you for two reasons. It’s a little needy and manipulative, but more importantly you are handing him the power over the relationship. You are basically asking him, “Are we still together?” as though it’s just up to him. The implication is that you are waiting for him no matter what. That should not be the case. You may want him, but you should not want him at all costs, and you should definitely not want to be with a guy who is not excited about you, and moves out. I only point it out so that you can try to avoid being needy, manipulative, and unempowered, because all of those traits are unattractive.

          Right now your relationship is in limbo and it is up to him to decide what he wants because you have handed him that power.

          Many people are afraid of making a big move such as getting married or having a child. If he can “have it all”, that is, be in control while you wait for him to make up his mind, it is unlikely that he will suddenly see the light and want to get married and have children, especially if you start getting insecure, angry, and needy.

          This is the time to stay self-empowered, desirable, independent, without being threatening or angry. If I were you I would go out and enjoy your other friends, enjoy life, meet people, take up a new sport, and treat your boyfriend nicely when he calls. Be attractive, but don’t stay on the phone a long time. Don’t answer every phone call. Don’t be available every time he wants to see him. Don’t ask him where the relationship is going. Let him wonder where you are and where the relationship is going. Then he may suddenly see the light and realize what he is missing. If you are always there and pretty insecure and unhappy at that, he won’t have the opportunity to miss you and to desire being with you and having a family with you.

          You should read “Why men marry Bitches,” which is not an accurate title. Here “bitch” refers to someone who is autonomous, happy, not needy, and NOT a DOORMAT.

          Good luck and let me know how it goes!

          Reply
  57. N

    Hi, my boyfriend and I have been together for 2 years and 1 month. We’ve already known each other for a year before we started going out. We were on a Long Distance Relationship for 9 months (started on the 4th months – 13th month) due to my study.

    When I came back after graduate, everything was so nice. He came over almost everyday. He took care of me on almost everything. But since I am a Pursuer and he is a Distancer, after few months I still demanded his full attention and affection. He, in the other hand has moved on from our so called “honeymoon phase”.

    Another situation here is that some of my best friends are getting married and he feels pressured. I am not pressuring him to propose to me of course. I told him that we are going to get married when we are ready. But he is doubting himself whether he could make me happy or not. We almost broke up that time, but we didn’t. Although, it built the insecure feeling inside me that he would leave me anytime.

    Since I felt insecure, I started to demand of his attention much more than before. I got angry if he didn’t answer my text, or canceled our date (we usually spend time together every weekend). the amount of texting is reduced, less and less. and I was so tired of the fact that he barely care of how am I doing (or so how I feel). I confronted him and ask what is going on, and he just said that he is tired. But it seemed to me that hanging out with his friends doesn’t make him tired at all.

    So last Saturday, we talked about this situation. He assures me that he still loves me, but he needs time to figure things out. He said that his head is too full and foggy, and he couldn’t think straight. He said that he felt like our relationship didn’t give him positive energy and happiness (I felt that as well, somehow). Instead, it gave him burden and he felt so tired. In the other hand, I felt abandoned and unloved.

    We decided that it is better for us to be on a break for a while, so both of us got a chance to think what is going on in our relationship. We surely still want to be together (well, I know I do), so we want to work things out. It made me so sad and desperate that I do not know what is going on with his life or what is he’s thinking.

    I’m so confused 🙁 Any thoughts?

    xx,
    N

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello N,
      Thank you for your comment. It’s a good step forward that you realize that you have been a pursuer and that you have been demanding of your boyfriend’s full attention. I really do think that his fogginess, loss of interest, and fatigue (around you more than his friends) is a result of you’re wanting too much from him. People in general want to be around someone who cares for them, but who remains desirable because they are independent, fun, and want the best for them. It’s tiring being around someone who wants more attention and is not enjoying life on their own.

      The good news is that you can change those qualities in yourself without needing to change you who you really are. I highly recommend that you read the book “Why Men Love Bitches.” There’s also one called “Why Men Marry Bitches” that is very good. I know the title is off-putting, but it’s a great step-by-step guide as to how to be more independent and desirable (not bitchy–that title is just for marketing I think.) Some of the steps may seem like playing a game. But they really aren’t. There’s good psychological reasons for what the author recommends. For someone whose instinct is to pursue and to want more, she provides helpful guidelines as how not to sell yourself short and push someone away.

      I also have more blog posts on my blog that you can find if you search under “needy,” “neediness,” “pursuer,” and “differentiation.”

      Let me know how it goes with him or a future relationship.

      All the best, Alison

      Reply
      1. rob

        I was the pursuer in the relationship and felt a mutual response for fifteen months. For the past two to three she has pulled back to the point that our great sex life and physical affection does not exist, and she refers to me as her good friend. We broke it off because I want a girlfriend and she wants a friend. The problem is that I am having a very hard time letting go of her. I want her back but definitely not under these terms. It just happened and she says that she loves me but is not in love with me. What do I do?

        Reply
        1. Alison Post author

          I’m sorry to hear that. Do you know if she is seeing anyone else? Are you calling her a lot, which I wouldn’t advise. Are you the one who broke it off? Without knowing more details, I would recommend not calling for a little while. It would be good if she would have a little time to miss you if she still loves you. Desire and wanting someone requires not always being together. I wouldn’t be cold but try to keep yourself engaged in life and somewhat busy. Then perhaps after some time take her to dinner and do something romantic and see if you can reignite the spark. If not, I would ask her to be frank with you to let you know why she has lost romantic feelings for you. But when you ask, do not sound weak, pathetic, or complaining. There may be a specific reason. Or perhaps you or she or both of you neglected to nourish the romance. Perhaps you spent too much time together, or stopped having fun, or didn’t consciously spend enjoyable time together. The important thing for you to remember is that although you loved your 15 months together, you do not want to spend years with someone who does not desire you and show desire for you. Please let me know.

          Reply
  58. Lily

    Nice use of blatant sexism there, by assigning masculine pronouns to “distancer” traits & feminine pronouns to “pursuer” traits. Job well done perpetuating oppressive gender roles & patriarchal nonsense like the hysterical woman clinging to the stoic man’s shirt collar. As a woman who (shock/horror!) has only ever been the distancer & therefore labeled a frigid Ice Queen by men who seem normal at first but reveal themselves later to be weak, soft little boys desperate for attention & affection every second of every day, you might be surprised how many dudes are needy, emotional & whiny ad nauseum & how many women are stone cold, independent & self sufficient.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I tend to use “he” and “she” to make it easier to follow an example. There are plenty of women who are distancers and a lot of men are pursuers. I couldn’t guess on what the real statistics are. I don’t view being a distancer as any better than being a pursuer, or vice versa. Both can be painful positions to be in. In my book I did use “he/she” and “him/her” much more, and will throw in a disclaimer right now. Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  59. Mia

    Hello
    I found your article really helpful. I do need some personal advice.
    I’m not sure if I’m a big pursuer or not but my boyfriend (ex) seems to be a big distancer.
    We were in a long distant relationship as he is in the army, we met online last Christmas and started a relationship 6 months ago. Things were so perfect, we were really supportive of each other’s goals, both our family members and friends love us a couple, we never argued, we didn’t financially depend on each other, both very loving and affectionate however I was always the one showering him with gifts to remind him of how much I love him, he didn’t really do it back but he would always pay for my food and drinks when we were out. I also gave him a fair amount of space, I wasn’t always contacting him first.
    We hadn’t seen each other for a month until last weekend, I got quite drunk and we ended up having an argument. Just before we both departed he was very affectionate but through out the day he was very cold. A day later he ignored me and I expressed myself in a message apologising deeply. I asked again for a response and then he all of a sudden said he’s losing feelings for me cos of the distance, but I know myself that when you truly love someone distance doesn’t matter. After that I was obviously heart broken but I’ve completely cut all contact and we haven’t spoke for a week now. What do you think? Could he of truly loved me to do that? Do you think he will come back?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi
      Unfortunately I can’t predict if he’ll come back or if he truly loves you. People can love others and lose feelings for the other person for a variety of reasons. They can meet someone else or they might fear intimacy. He may have been truly hurt or repelled by the argument you had. I do believe that a good long-term relationship should be able to withstand a few arguments. But there may have been something said in that argument that made him realize the relationship wasn’t right for him. Or perhaps he’s been losing interest over time anyway and the argument was the final straw.

      Although six months may seem like a long time, it often takes a year or two, which is past the initial honeymoon stage of infatuation or falling in love, to get to know a person well enough to know whether the relationship is right for you.

      If I were you, I would let him go. He is more likely to come back if you resist the temptation to pursue him. If he doesn’t come back, your calling him would not have brought him back, and the relationship would be too one-sided to be fulfilling.

      Regarding “showering him with gifts,” there’s an interesting book called “The Five Love Languages,” which shows that different people show their love in different ways: with gifts, with service, with appreciation, with verbal affirmation, with physical affection etc. So it’s always helpful to find out how the other person most appreciates being shown love. In other words, the fact that he didn’t shower you with gifts doesn’t mean he didn’t care for you. Taking you out to dinner may have been his way of showing love.

      I’m sorry for your sadness and disappointment. Take care.

      Reply
  60. Brad

    Thank you for this article! I am a pursuer and am trying to effectively become more of a distancer. Engaging in my own interests and activities is fairly easy, but emotionally I still feel like I’m waiting for signs of interest from my girlfriend. What I have the most difficulty with is “genuinely” distancing myself from her. Even though I do my own things, she can still text me and I respond. I don’t like the idea of waiting or not responding because it feels manipulative (and even if it were effective, I don’t want to have a situation where I’m not free to express myself freely the way I want to).

    I did talk to her once about what I wanted from a relationship (more expression/affection), and she was receptive and things improved for a while before going back to status quo.

    I felt much more independent and “at peace” while I was alone or in relationships where I had the upper hand and didn’t “need” as much. But it wasn’t satisfying because I felt smothered and never really made myself vulnerable to her or invest myself in the relationship enough. In this case the tables are turned, but I don’t like always being the pursuer and feeling desperate for attention. How do I learn to truly become and feel comfortable as a distancer in this situation?

    After reading this article, I wonder if I would do better to stay in a relationship where I felt like the distancer and see if your “Solutions for the Distancer” advice helps me to learn to provide the reassurance she needs without feeling smothered (assuming she does her part as well).

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      There are a lot of topics in this comment. I’ll try to respond to them.

      First, while there is no ideal, ideally both people would be somewhat balanced in terms of how much emotional connection they want and how much space they can handle. It’s better when neither person is too needy or too cold and protected. A better way of looking at it is that when you do pursue connection from another person you do so from a self-empowered position–not a child position. It can be irresistible when someone who is confident (not needy) pursues you. So instead of trying to be a distancer or a pursuer, it’s best in any given circumstance to try to be self-sustaining adult-like but honest about your desires. So if you’re dealing with someone who is needy or trying to manipulate, how can you be kind and straightforward without being mean and without allowing her to manipulate you. If, on the other hand, you’re with someone who is a distancer, how can you tell that person that it’s important to you to have some emotional contact and togetherness without feeling like a child who is pleading.

      What’s great is that you are self-aware enough to recognize how you are behaving in different relationships. With that kind of self-awareness and with life practice, your relationships with women in general, or in a particular long-term relationship, will tend to improve. It’s never easy, but that’s part of life and relationships. What’s sad is when someone is too afraid of being hurt to have relationships.

      I agree that waiting to respond to a text can be manipulative. Responding right away doesn’t mean that you are needy.

      Regarding wanting someone to change and wanting more affection. People can change, particularly when they are a bit younger. But don’t expect transformation from general conversations. I think it’s great that you said that you want to be in a relationship with more affection. But you might have to remind her frequently but without complaining or whining. Instead, do it in a self-possessed and appealing way e.g., “Hey, give me hug, etc.” Just make sure your demeanor is full of confidence, fun, and self-empowered. Then you won’t seem needy. In fact demeanor is more important than playing hard to get in terms of pursuing connection without becoming needy.

      Good luck.

      Reply
  61. Michael

    I always feel like I’m in a cycle of pursuing and distancing myself from the women I date. Its frustrating because there’s times where I know I’ve been too clingy and the relationship ended because of it. So I distance myself with the next girl but never feel satisfied because I’m worried about being too clingy so I never fully enjoy the relationship. Its gotten to a point where I no longer can find middle ground with myself while dating and am always concerned I’m doing to much or to little. How do I find middle ground?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Relationships and life in general are about balance. Some things come easier to some people and other things take more consideration and thought. For instance, it might be easier for you to be balanced in terms of not spending too much money but not being too frugal, or balancing working hard with relaxing. The good news is that you are aware of your need to balance being close and caring with being autonomous and allowing your girlfriend to some independence as well. You’ll find it easier through practice and time–to enjoy doing things together and having an open-heart and yet not clinging. It really helps to be with someone who is loving, trustworthy, and also confident in herself. You might read “Ten keys to a great relationship” from my blog. Let me know if you have a more specific example of what’s going on. Good luck.

      Reply
  62. Shawn Tan

    Thank for your reply and advices. I just want to know is there anything I can do now, so that she knows I am still waiting. From your experience, what are the chances she will come back to me.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      It’s hard to know what the chances are that she’ll come back. But you want to make sure that if she does come back, she treats you well and truly desires you. You don’t want her to come back because she feels lonely. So it’s important that you try to become more multifaceted, pursuing other interests, and to not be too eager to drop everything the moment she wants to see you.

      You may have a better chance with her if she is not sure that you are waiting for her. Perhaps you shouldn’t be so sure yourself.

      I wrote a recent blog based on your email: “I think I am a pursuer. My girlfriend initiated a breakup. I want to salvage this relationship. What can I do?” Good luck.

      Reply
  63. rod

    My gf of 6 yrs broke up with me saying she thinks we aren’t right for each other.. After reading about pursuant and distancers I realized I was a pursuer …
    She said I was nagging and stuff.. She hated that I showed emotions and feeling.. She says she don’t want to try again.. How could I turn the tables?
    We have 3 kids together we are having them 50/50 and I see her almost every other day..

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I’m so sorry. That is a difficult thing to go through. I think it is best to be respectful and polite, yet not to pursue her or try to get back together. I would not try to spend time with her, but rather try to improve your life by being a good dad and pursuing some of your interests in a positive way. Also try to see some friends or do some activities or sports that you enjoy. There is a chance that when she sees that you are living your life and not pursuing her that she will be drawn to you again. And if not, then at least you will be gradually rebuilding your own life. Good luck.

      Reply
      1. rod

        Thank you.. It’s just very weird… We agreed to be Facebook friends to share pictures of the kids and tag each other in them for our families to see..
        But when I text her asking about the kids she doesn’t reply or anything…
        Also before I thought we were supposed to be with the kids all the time.. But when the first time she had the kids and I was alone I didn’t know what to do.. It was sad… But I found something to do and it opened my eyes… I need to do stuff to make me happy also without the kids…
        And she told me that she doesn’t want to try again… She’d only be doing it for the kids and not for us… So I don’t know if she said that cause I was trying to question things right after the break up.. Or what.. But she tries to act like she doesn’t want anything to do with me…. Even on Facebook.. I know she sees my posts and pictures and stuff but doesn’t acknowledge them out anything… Its just weird.. It’s only been 2 weeks now since the break up…
        Should I just act as a distancer and act like I’m cool about this whole thing ? I’m not so paranoid about it all anymore..

        Reply
  64. Shawn Tan

    Hi Alison, I think I a pursurer. I feel I and her have made good progression during our courtship. But lately I think I have overly pursuit things which should not be so at this stage of the relationship. Then last week she initial a breakup. We went throught a long discussion and finally she agree to ask me to give her time to sort out this confusion.
    I’m now very low and very much want to salvage this relationship, what can I do.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      As difficult as it may be when you feel so low, it’s important for you to continue to do things that keep you healthy and interested in life. You may think this sounds silly or like your mother talking, but eat well, exercise, sleep, listen to music, see inspiring movies, go out with friends without only talking about your girlfriend (ex), pursue new activities and your favorite activities. One of the best ways to get out of the vicious cycle of yearning for someone who is not sure they want to be with you is to travel, or even go somewhere that is new for you for the weekend or for a day. It’s the dwelling on how you feel and how much you want the other person that will push the other person away and sap your life vitality. Not that you have to fake feeling happy, but try to do things that will interest you, and you will feel less low, AND you will also be more attractive to your girlfriend than if you mope around hoping she’ll come back to you. It’s also important that if she does decide to come back to you, that you take your time to consider it yourself. One person shouldn’t have all the power and call all the shots. You may want to take it slow and not be completely available at her whim. Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

      Reply
    2. rod

      Thank you.. It’s just very weird… We agreed to be Facebook friends to share pictures of the kids and tag each other in them for our families to see..
      But when I text her asking about the kids she doesn’t reply or anything…
      Also before I thought we were supposed to be with the kids all the time.. But when the first time she had the kids and I was alone I didn’t know what to do.. It was sad… But I found something to do and it opened my eyes… I need to do stuff to make me happy also without the kids…
      And she told me that she doesn’t want to try again… She’d only be doing it for the kids and not for us… So I don’t know if she said that cause I was trying to question things right after the break up.. Or what.. But she tries to act like she doesn’t want anything to do with me…. Even on Facebook.. I know she sees my posts and pictures and stuff but doesn’t acknowledge them out anything… Its just weird.. It’s only been 2 weeks now since the break up…
      Should I just act as a distancer and act like I’m cool about this whole thing ? I’m not so paranoid about it all anymore..

      Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        That is very tough. Yes, you should act as a distancer would, but not in order to manipulate her. Rather you need to protect yourself emotionally, and by gaining distance, you will free yourself to find other activities and people in your life, which will be life-enhancing. You should spend more time with people who appreciate you and want to be around you. When you have been married or lived with someone for years and the other person breaks up, it is normal for you to feel very emotionally tied to the person and continue to yearn for that person. The more contact you have with that person, the harder it is to find out that you can be happy without that person. So distance yourself by focusing on other activities and people. I would even suggest defriending her from facebook for a time.

        And yes, while it’s important to be a good parent, it is very important to do enjoyable activities without the children. It’s not only good for you; it is good for your kids to see that you have adult relationships and that you value yourself and can balance family with friends and relationships with some time on your own.

        Good luck!

        Let me know how it goes.

        Reply
  65. maryam

    Hi, thanks for your article, now that I met my love of my life and I’m so in love and everything seems so beautiful and colorful in our relationship there is one thing that I can’t stand and it add stress to our relationship and both of us.. he is a very good friend of his ex and no day pass without texting each other, what can I do?

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      That is an interesting question. It really depends on the extent of their friendship and how much they text one another. If you become controlling regarding a simple friendship, his activities will probably go underground and become secretive and even more special. On the other hand, if he puts in a lot of energy toward her, which is taking energy away from you, that will eventually take away the primary connection between the two of you. Can you have an open, non-threatening conversation with him about it without seeming weak or controlling?

      Reply
  66. Simone

    Hi There

    If I am a pursuer and in love with a distancer and our relationship has sadly come to an abrupt end for the second time the way you described in your article – Is it not possible for me to fix what has been broken, is it in my best interest to wait for him to come to me?

    I am not ready for it to be over however I would like to break the cycle.

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      I’m sorry to say but in my experience, when a distancer abruptly ends a relationship, particularly for the second time, it is very unlikely that the relationship will ever be an equal one. The only possibility is through time away from the distancer that you become less needy and less of a pursuer. This means you should not try to fix what has been broken.

      It is in your best interest not to wait for him to come to you, although he may come to you if he gets lonely or bored. Instead it would be better for you to get on with your life, finding new things to do and people to do them with, so that you will not be waiting for someone who is not treating you well. The only way to break the cycle is to move on to other activities and not be willing to jump into a relationship with someone too quickly. Instead, let a relationship develop more slowly and keep somewhat independent so that you can prevent yourself from pursing someone too much.

      Good luck.

      Reply
      1. Manon

        To me, it depends on why he broke up. If he wanted space and you kept pushing, it is possible that he broke up to get some space. If so, the ball is on his side and he might want to come back a few days or a few weeks later. These guys need space. I would keep it light if he wants to come back. But, he might not because he is a distancer and he might fear your anger and rejection. Alternatively, after a couple of weeks, you might want to reconnect. Send some flowers with a card. Let him know that the door is still open. No guilt tripping. Keep it light and stay positive. Don’t talk the relationship to death. When you are together, enjoy the moment. In the meantime, I would advise you to read a few books about the distancer-pursuer dynamic. Good luck!

        Reply
  67. J

    Thanks for the article. I am a pursuer. My wife’s a distancer. For sure! Problem though is we already lead autonomous lives. I study and socialize. She has a shared studio and socializes. Yet the dynamic remains strong. We have two kids that demand lots of attention so that doesn’t help our energy levels. Generally though I pursue intimacy where she wants to be left alone. This has been going on for years.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Great question. In your case, if you become more of a distancer, you may end up with no relationship at all, or very little other than your parenting together. It’s important that you talk to her without any hint of being needy. You have to talk to her from a position of self-empowerment, without being threatening and demanding, but also without pleading and complaining. It’s all about tone of voice and your own feeling of knowing what is important to you in your life and relationship. I would find a time to sit down and say that you don’t want to end up in a marriage where when the kids go to college, there is no romance, sex, and companionship left. The only way to keep the marriage getting better rather than slowly deteriorating to to continue to do some fun, adventuresome, and romantic things together on a regular basis (not all the time however), despite time constraints. This might require the action of scheduling time together. The key is to talk to her without pleading but with personal strength-that this is what you want in the relationship. Once you do schedule some time together, make sure you do some things on your own as well so that she doesn’t take you for granted–always being home and ready for togetherness (as a pursuer.)

      If you continue to have trouble, I recommend reading or going to a seminar with David Schnarch or John Gottman, who both have a lot of success in helping people change the dynamics of their relationships.

      Reply
  68. Andrew

    I have been in a volatile relationship with a person where I feel we have had an extreme distanced/pursuer dynamic going on. The problem I am experiencing is that the relationship is extremely volatile and every couple of months she will become stressed about something and push me away to the extent of breaking up.

    I have tried to explain how hurtful this is and how it creates instability… the point though is that I’m in a position where I’m trying to decide whether we should get back together and I’m wondering if a distanced can change significantly or is this a behaviour pattern that is likely to keep repeating if I am with her and something I am likely to have to just learn to live with if I choose that path?

    Reply
  69. Jane

    As a pursuer, would it help to send this article to my distancer or would it further push them away? Just had an argument this weekend and wondering if this would help put things in perspective for my distancer and help him see both ends of our issue…or not.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      I think it could help. I hope the article is fair-minded and not attacking either side, but simply pointing out how people will get polarized and the situation will get worse if both sides don’t try to integrate the other side. So sending the article could help. Then trying to give a little more space from your end may help over time. Sometimes, however, the situation will not improve, in which case you would need to decide whether this is enough of a relationship for you. Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  70. Sls

    This is a really great article. My fiancé and I are caught in this vicious cycle. I think it’s exacerbated by his job as I have a strong sense of autonomy and have never had this problem in previous relationships. He’s an over the road trucker. I only see him for a few days every 2-3 weeks. I feel like he only wants to participate in our relationship on his terms, his rules, whether he is home or away. I feel like I’m in a box. Like I’m a prisoner. I’ve talked to him about how I feel in every way imaginable, from calm and logical to completely flying off the handle. I don’t know what else to do.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Thank you for your comment. You should definitely not allow yourself to feel like a prisoner. It would be helpful to me to have a couple of examples on what “his terms” of the relationship are, and how you want things to be different. Talking is part of the equation, but how you behave or limit yourself, is a big part too. Describe one or two concrete examples of what’s not working so I can give better advice. Thanks.

      Reply

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