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How To Connect With A Distancer When You Are A Pursuer

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How To Connect With A Distancer When You Are A Pursuer

Paired up with a distancer?  Many distancers are viscerally allergic to intensity, and become more so with time.

They may say, “I don’t like to talk,” but they’ve actually stopped talking because they fear getting trapped in a conversation that feels awful to them.

If your complaint is “He won’t talk” or “She won’t talk,” check yourself on the intensity meter. Remember that even positive intensity can also lead to more distance once the pursuit-distance dynamic is in place.

Being intensely generous or solicitous (frequently asking if your partner is okay, showering him or her with praise, wanting a “real kiss” while your partner is cooking dinner rather than a peck on the cheek) is unhelpful when a distancer is feeling crowded. Lowering intensity doesn’t mean shifting it from negative to positive—it means turning it off.

Getting out of pursuit mode may mean ratcheting down your level of intensity—which includes loud, fast-paced speech, interruption, over-talking and offering help or advice that isn’t asked for. This is not to suggest that these are neurotic traits or that you have some kind of personality disorder. A different partner, with a different cultural background, personal history, sibling constellation, and temperament might enjoy these very same qualities. He might view himself as lucky to have found such an articulate, impassioned, energetic partner.

Experiment with a low intensity style for a couple of weeks. Talk more slowly and less often, say it shorter, lower the volume, refrain from any interruption, avoid criticism, and leave more physical space.

You can aim to do this in all conversations, or, alternatively, only around a particular hot issue that you and your partner can’t talk about for 90 seconds without getting polarized. See what you learn about yourself or your partner if you damp down all communication from say, an eight to a two on a ten-point scale.

Sometimes you have to pretend to be less intense in order to become less intense. It may feel phony to pretend to be calm when you’re not, or to stop pursuing a distancing partner you believe needs to be confronted. You can’t know what’s true or possible in your relationship (or in yourself) until after you shift your automatic ways of moving in a relationship.

[Harriet Lerner]

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Dr. Lerner is one of the world’s most respected voices in the psychology of women and family relationships. She is the author of 11 books published in 35 languages. These include The Dance of Intimacy, Marriage Rules, and The Dance of Anger, a New York Times bestseller that has helped rescue men and women from the swamps and quicksands of difficult relationships. Dr. Lerner hosts a blog for Psychology Today.

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