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Are you a pursuer or distancer?


Have you had a friend that you often tease about his “flavor for the month” when it comes to women? He changes girls monthly. You can bet he might be with a lovely young woman in August, but you won’t see her come New Years Eve.

Have you observed your friend’s patterns in dating? You might describe him as noncommittal. How many men do you know with that characteristic? Do you have a friend who seems to be hunted and never the hunter? Or if he does hunt after a short time you can bet he turns on his heels and leaves the prey for dead.

The little game of pursuer and distancer can go on for years between two people. Until one says “I can’t play this game anymore.” If there’s love It’ll stay, if not, I’m leaving.” The pursuer finally calls the distancer’s bluff. He doesn’t respond to the chase and she walks. Have you seen that happen? Researchers have a theory about the cause.

John Bowlby was a well-known therapist (from which we derive many theories used in couples therapy). He and a colleague tried to understand studies by Burlingham and Freud 1944 and Roberson 1953. Their studies found that young children who were separated from their mothers went through a series of reactions:

1. Protest at the separation

2. Despair after the missing mother

3 Finally “detachment” from the mother

The opposite of the “detachment” idea is of course, “attachment”. The way couples react to each other reflects their attachment history. Attachment theory suggests a biological drive that causes infants to stay close to mother and father in the face of danger. In a concluding sentence one might say “attachment” means wanting closeness in the face of stress. This behavior in babies would be seen as the parent cuddles the infant and in return the infant looks into the parent’s eyes and the parent looks back caringly to the infant.

As the child grows older, the type of attachment shown at 12 months could also be seen at 18 months. Socially engaged, good self esteem, empathy and good ability to fit into the classroom at the age of 5. The relationship that the “attached” infant had at 5 years old could already show an advantage over a “detached” boy or girl at the same age.

In adulthood therapists used the “attachment” theory to understand current relationships. A husband’s avoidance might be due to an insecure attachment. A wife’s anger or anxiousness about the relationship might be the response from an infant being anxious to find the mother, but safety was never there to protect the infant from danger. The “detached” infant who could not find safety is still anxious about finding support as an adult.

When adults have been bonded and attached as babies they can show normal responses in their relationships. Being close to another person isn’t clingy or dependent. It’s as natural for adults to seek comfort and be held as the little baby did in the face of stress. Yet, these adults also have the ability to be independent and be who they are. Like the phrase, “the well adjusted adult can feel good in his skin.” There is the ability to be in a loving relationship and search for comfort when needed..

Simply put, the “detachment” from parents results in an adult who can feel insecure. It can be the basis for a critical girl friend or a passive boyfriend. It can be the basis for the pursuer and the distancer.

What can you do? Realize what the adult problems are and respond differently. Be the comforter. Stop the nagging and replace it with support. You may have to practice this for a while, but you can start healing the rocky relationship and have the advantage of a loving one without loosing your adult independence. Happy Dating from here on out!

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