Today I would like to discuss two very different styles of how people connect emotionally, that is, find that comfortable space - neither too close nor too distant - when trying to find intimacy with their partner or soulmate. Let’s us the terms "pursuing and distancing" to describe these two styles of emotional interaction.

People tend to use one or the other when trying to work out the desired degree of closeness they want in their personal and intimate relationships. Basically, people who tend to use distancing as their style of emotional interaction are looking for space, more alone time, and are less likely to talk about feelings in their relationships. Pursuers, on the other hand, seek more closeness, more together time, and are eager to share feelings in their relationships. Begin trying to figure out your own style of emotional interaction; try to avoid focusing on your partners characteristics. Neither style is right nor wrong, but when a couple is out of cinq, one of these styles is usually out of balance. Striving to find balance is a normal and continuous process; the need for closeness varies at different stages in our life. We need to be able to adjust. Unfortunately, many of us get stuck in a “fight to be right” stance and lose the closeness we are striving to achieve. Hopefully, today’s article will help you see the road map and give you some better ideas on how to find the closeness and connectedness that we all are seeking.

Try not to think of a person as a pursuer or a pure distancer. Rather, each person is a mixture of both styles. Under stress, a person will most likely lean in one direction or the other; but people change their styles of emotional interaction around different issues and at different points in their life. There should be no value judgment placed on either distancing or pursuing; it is simply a style of interacting and neither is right nor wrong. (I know that, in your gut, you might believe that your style of interacting works best, but if you are thinking that, you are negating to some degree the feelings of the other person in this very delicate balance of trying to attain intimacy.)

It is interesting to note that most marital relationships or partnerships contain someone who tends to be a distancer and another person who tends to be a pursuer. Opposites attract. You may be wondering can you have two pursuers or two distancers in a marital relationship? Anything is possible, but generally, it doesn't seem to happen that way. Two distancers would be so far apart from each other that there would be insufficient contact to hold the twosome together. Two pursuers would probably burn each other out. There is no strict sex stereotyping regarding distancers and pursuers. Rather, one style of relating to others is more a factor of the types of emotional relationships that one experienced within one's family of origin. However, since women have for centuries been seen as the emotional center of the family, there is still a strong tendency for women to be more pursuing and for men to lean towards distancing.

Let's take a look at five general tendencies of each style. 1.) The issue of timing; for a pursuer, NOW is the best time to do it, especially if there is a problem to be solved or some upset or anxiety to be discussed. For the distancer, LATER is the best time; what's the rush, there's always tomorrow - particularly with regard to upset or emotional distress - leave me alone…I’ll solve it myself.” 2.) With regard to a problem or upset, the pursuer wants to thoroughly talk out the issue as soon as possible; would prefer not to go to bed angry or upset and definitely would want to avoid periods of not talking about it with each other. The distancer, however, feels that upsets are better handled alone, privately and by yourself; a distancer would prefer silence and a "cooling off” period - even if it takes a long time. 3.) With regard to having had a fight: the pursuer would like to make up in the shortest possible time while the distancer would prefer a slower, longer making-up period. 4.) With regard to movement, especially under stress: the pursuer would be moving towards people, would be wanting comfort and conversation. On the other hand, the distancer under stress would move towards objects, like the tools in the garage, the golf clubs, watch football games and not move towards people to discuss the upset. And finally, 5.) with regard to making changes in the relationship: the pursuer is more anxious for change, but usually defines change as the other person changing rather than self-change. The distancer, as you would expect, is less anxious for change and, if it has to happen, sees it as a slow, evolving process. Wow! Is it any wonder why we have stress and conflict around the issue that we say is our most cherished goal - intimacy?

Our style of emotional interaction probably had its origin - long before we ever met our mate - in the interactions we had in our family of origin. Our style of emotional interaction was packaged and placed in our backpacks as we were launched from our family and began developing our own intimate relationships and family. It would be very good to take a trip back into your memory of your family growing up and ask yourself which style of emotional interaction did your mother and father exhibit. When you think you know that, try to see the ways in which you may have accepted, followed, or repeated some of the same styles of emotional interaction that one of your parent’s modeled for you. They showed it to you and you assimilated it as a result of being around them at a very impressionable age and for so many years. Once you understand this, you then can become free in the present day to make a choice about what you want your style of interaction to be. You can keep it, change it or take a little of both of what your parents exhibited for you in their intimate relationship.

So, what is your tendency? Do you tend to pursue your partner or distance? Understanding your style is the first step in obtaining more peace and satisfaction. You can then understand what you are doing. You might be able to see how overdoing your style might be the cause of some problems. But it always takes “two to tango.” Your partner is playing a role in this relationship as well.

For example, if you are not aware of your behavior, you can do the “two- step” the pursuer moves two steps towards the distancer and then the distancer takes two steps further away, thus maintaining the same distance. 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.”

Wow! Sound familiar? If so, you will have to tune in next week, as I discuss how to unravel this and give you some ideas on how to live in harmony and attain the closeness you want. In the meantime, you can email me or go to to continue the discussion. Stay safe and well.


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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