Last week I asked you to think about what tendencies you had when seeking to increase your emotional connectedness to your partner. Do you think of yourself as a pursuer, that is, someone who tends to seek emotional contact, someone who wants to frequently talk about what's going on with them, somebody who would rather be with someone else rather than be alone? Or, are you more of a distancer, that is, someone who would rather keep their emotional feelings to themselves, if upset, work things out on their own and, generally, keep things more to themselves? Once you see the direction that you tend to go in, it will be easier for you to find some peace.

People get into trouble whenever they try to change their partner’s behaviors. “Distancing and pursuing” is a perfect example of this partnership trap. One person believes that, if only my partner was a little more of this and a little less of that, my life would be perfect. So, the person who is trying to shape their partner up generally feels righteous in what they are doing. They will say, "I was only trying to help... You would be happier if you would only be more or less of some quality that I desire.” For the purpose of our discussion, I am going to call Phyllis the pursuer and Dave the distancer in this relationship.

The distancer, in this case Dave, is usually happy in his own little cocoon. Dave likes time for himself, his projects around the house and his golf game. He never wants for something to do - he keeps himself busy and doesn’t need to check on what Phyllis is up to. He assumes she must also be doing what is making her happy. Dave will almost never ask the pursuer, Phyllis, please come closer, can we spend more time together - I can never seem to get enough of you and your attention, please ask me more questions or please let's have more conversations. Dave's internal, emotional closeness monitor has been set long before Phyllis married him. Truth be told, Dave was always this way. It was one of the traits that attracted Phyllis to him. She saw him as a strong, quiet, hardworking and ambitious young man of high character. Unconsciously, Dave reminds Phyllis of her dad. Unfortunately, Phyllis isn’t seeing the whole picture - because her dad also was a distancer - it drove her mother crazy - but Phyllis wasn’t monitoring her parents’ emotional interaction, nor should she have been.

Dave wakes up on a Saturday morning and has his day almost totally planned. Golf with the boys in the morning, a few beers, then home to the projects around the house. At some point Dave will ask Phyllis, “what are the plans for tonight?” Of course, it's Saturday night and he thinks Phyllis's job is to line up some social event or something fun. Dave wants to be with people, but his preference is to be with more people and not go out as a couple - just him and Phyllis - where they would have an opportunity to catch up on how their day and lives are going.

Phyllis, on the other hand, has a very different outlook. She may have her day planned but her first question when she hears Dave rumbling around the bedroom is, "what are you doing today?” She wants to make a connection and almost get inside his thinking. Figure out what's going on with him; she just doesn't want a list of activities. She frequently does this. Dave responds, "same old stuff, nothing new.” She wants connection; and he hears it as a reminder of his mother asking him “where are you going?” Phyllis feels put off and Dave just moves along his path. Over a cup of coffee Phyllis tries again for some connection, "who is in your foursome today?” Dave replies, "same old guys. Who are we going out with tonight?” Please note that Dave has not asked Phyllis one question about what is going on in her life nor what is she going to do with her day. Neither of these two people are right or wrong. They are merely following a script that they learned long before they ever met each other. They are simply carrying those tapes learned in their family of origin, placed in their backpacks, into their marriage. Dave heads to the golf course rather clueless about what his wife really wanted or needed. Phyllis is wondering will this man ever change! Phyllis was contemplating saying to Dave, "I thought maybe just you and I could go out together tonight and go to that new restaurant that we've heard so much about." Unfortunately, she was too afraid of the rejection she may have gotten from Dave. Also note, that if Dave has a good round of golf, feels accomplished in the projects he works on, and has a good time at dinner with friends, he thinks tonight would be a good time to make love with Phyllis. Editor's note: "Dave, I wouldn't count on it.”

The most important thing that I can share with you is that neither of these two people are right or wrong. They are just following scripts that they learned. They need a consultant - an educational intervention. Unfortunately, most couples, like Phyllis and Dave, do not get the educational information that would set them free of their family of origin traits and teach them how to create the lives they really want. What happens too frequently is the following: "The pursuer blames the distancer for not being available, for being too involved in objects outside the relationship (like golf, work, etc.), for being cool and not sharing feelings, for not expressing enough caring unless sex was expected. The distancer then responds with a litany of, “what a nag, never satisfied, always on my case, never leaves me alone and is never interested in sex anymore.”

What should you do? Ask yourself the question, “who really wants to make a change in this unproductive dance that leaves both of you unhappy?” It is seldom that both parties come to the decision that something has to be done at the same time. Too often, the pursuer attempts to drag the distancer into the consultant’s office and tries to form an alliance with the consultant to gang up on and change the behavior of the distancer. That never works! If you realize that you are behaving in the dance described above, are YOU ready to make some changes - to your own behavior? Forget what the other person needs to do! Focus on what it is about your behavior that you have to stop doing. I will discuss what Phyllis has to do to improve her relationship with Dave in the next article. If you need to know before next week, contact me or let’s continue this discussion at


Tom Power is a family relationship consultant and the author of “Family Matters: A Layperson’s Guide to Family Functioning.” You can check out his website at or email questions to

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