Linda: I first learned about the distance and pursuer from family therapist James Framo who describes the pursuer as the one who likes a lot of contact, intimacy, connection, togetherness. The one who likes a lot of space, privacy, and independence, is the distancer. When I came upon The Two Step, The Dance Toward Intimacy by Eileen McCann, she refers to them as the seeker and the sought.
Watch your mind go into judgment about these two styles of being in a relationship. Neither is better than the other, but the judging mind certainly does have its opinions, nonetheless. Pia Mellody, an expert on addictions, calls the pursuer a love addict and the distance an avoidance addict. More recently, the well-respected researcher John Gottman calls this the Demand Withdraw pattern, most recently referred to as avoidant attachment and anxious attachment. These references are all so negative that I use The Connector and The Freedom Fighter, which allows each style a more positive and dignified association.
All these references are to the struggle that goes on between members of a couple where the dynamic unsettles the relationship and frequently leads to the couple fighting to have their differing needs for closeness and autonomy met. For the freedom fighter, their fear of being intruded upon and being controlled is activate. For the connector, their fear of abandonment is activated. Those who are insecure may be anxious and they worry that others do not love them completely. These people are easily frustrated or angered when their attachment needs go unmet. Others may be avoidant. They appear not to care too much about close relationships, preferring not to be too dependent upon other people or to have others be too dependent upon them.
The Connector’s Origins: The connector is possessed by a fear of abandonment. Their fear of being alone is strong as a result of childhood experiences where they were literally or emotionally abandoned, sometimes both. Starving for attention, care, and love, they focus so exclusively on their partner that their thinking and actions become obsessive. They are looking to their partner to make up for the devotion, love, and care they did not receive as a child.
As a child who grew up in a family where they felt disconnected and abandoned, they learned to be quiet, alone, and to be silent about their needs. They are still longing to heal that childhood need for connection, but find themselves attracted to someone who is familiar, and like their parent or parents, doesn’t have the inclination to give them attention.
When a caregiver abandons their child, the interpretation that the child makes is that they are defective, worthless, and unlovable. When a pursuer attempts to be a good spouse by being more attentive to their partner’s needs while neglecting their own, they are hoping that they will finally be loved. Since the pursuer’s self-esteem is low, they can be highly dependent on validation and acknowledgment from outside themselves.
The pursuer is negligent of their own self-care and has high expectations for love and attention from their partner. Since the pursuer is drawn to a distancer, that validation is rarely forthcoming. The pursuer ends up feeling angry due to the frustration in not being rescued for their aloneness.
The Freedom Fighter’s Origins: The freedom fighter has a fear of intimacy coming from their belief that they will be drained, manipulated, engulfed, and controlled if they don’t keep themselves separate. Their patterns originate in childhood where the young person actually was controlled by their original caregiver’s needs. Out of their childhood experience, they adopt the belief that intimacy equals pain; and they are determined to never be exploited again. There is lingering fear from when they shared of themselves and that information was used by their parent against them. The parent manipulated the child into taking care of the adult. These old wounds leave the distancer reluctant to tell their partner what they feel, need, or want thereby avoiding intimacy. The grip that this limiting belief has on them makes it difficult for them to be committed and connected to their partner.
When the connector attempts to get close to the freedom fighter instead of meeting with respectful boundaries, they feel that they are meeting with a wall of resistance. The walls of avoidance take varying forms, silence, using anger to keep their partner at a distance, faking pleasantness and calm to disguise true emotions, and staying busy in a compulsive addictive way with work, sports, household repairs, or cruising the world-wide-web.
The freedom fighter is attracted to the needy dependent person that calms their fear of being controlled so that they can feel safe. All this is occurring on an unconscious basis. Now that you have an understanding of the dance that these two do, and the clumsy way that they do it, you may wonder about the way out of the painful cycle that they find themselves caught in.
Stay tuned for Part 2 to see how to heal such a damaged partnership…