The emotional intensity of relationships has its ebb and flows. The tendencies of distancing and pursuing that we have been talking about for the last few weeks are held in balance when dating – because of the “in love” emotional state of well-being, almost a euphoric high. Feeling in love; getting married, being immersed in those feelings probably maintained the relationship balance for a few years before going from the “in love” stage to the reality of living life together every day, with all the negotiations, balancing of careers, parenting, household jobs, and maintaining family and friendship connections. Being a successful couple today requires conscious effort and honest communication.
In the story that we have been following, Phyllis realizes that she is a pursuer and has been pursuing emotional connectedness with Dave. The emotional high from early dating and marriage has waned and the balance of intimacy is off. She is frustrated, unhappy, and wants to figure out what, if anything, she can do to stop repeating this unhappy dance.
Here is Phyllis’ first step; and it’s a big one. It has been easier to focus on Dave’s distancing behaviors and to complain about them then it will be to focus on what’s going on within her own emotional orbit. Here are a few questions that she should consider.
#1.) What was your mother’s emotional style? Phyllis smiles and says, “Of course, I am just like her; she regularly pursued my dad for more closeness and intimacy, and, when that didn’t work, she got over involved in my life and whatever I was doing. Mom had a career mind you, but she kept it between 9 and 5.”
#2.) “Phyllis, how come you spend so much time trying to get into Dave’s head…his emotional space…to figure out what he’s doing and what’s happening with his feelings?” “I only care about him and want to show him that.” But, he gets annoyed and upset with you when you do that – isn’t that correct? “Yes!” Then, how come you continue this unproductive behavior when you know that you are only going to get him angry and as a result feel pushed away?
Phyllis needs to realize that it is time for her to focus on her own self-development…her own inner self. She has to develop her identity and become the person she really wants to be. Too often, after the emotional high of marriage, people forget that they have to continue to develop their own individual personalities, interests and goals. In this case, it seems like Phyllis is over focused on Dave rather than herself.
We all have a desire for connection and closeness. But, we must first be whole within ourselves. You are cheating yourself of developing your own identity if you attach yourself to someone else’s life rather than develop your own. It’s easier to focus on the other person; but, in the end, it will not work. Phyllis needs to realize that she has to develop her own inner world and not count on a connection to somebody else.
Well, how do you develop this focus of self-development and improvement? Remember, it came in Phyllis’ backpack; she watched her mother’s behavior during her most impressionable years. Some people can do it on their own – once they become aware; others, I would suggest that they work with a consultant. It is not easy when you have been a pursuer all your life, and now, you realize, that what you thought was healthy attention and focus on fixing the life of your partner, to realize that you have had a misguided approach to a healthy relationship.
What about Dave? Well, Dave seems to be totally fine. His definition of emotional connection is very different than Phyllis’. He would probably never seek any help because he doesn’t see any problem – his wife is doing all the work keeping the emotional relationship going. He might be contributing to his wife’s issues because of his apparent lack of concern and interest towards her. Dave is kind of a “meat and potatoes” guy, that is, as long as you feed him, provide household amenities, arrange for a social life and give him periodic sex, he’s content. The only time you will hear from a distancer is when his wife has gotten her life together and is finding her emotional fulfillment on her own – she is no longer waiting for him to meet all of her emotional needs. He will then begin to complain about her lack of attention saying, “How come you never ask me, “how I’m doing or what I’m doing anymore?” I don’t feel like you care about me anymore.” Notice, this is the first time Dave has said anything about feelings. He’s been fine in the cave; but now no one is constantly checking on him. He might be ready to have a real relationship. Only time will tell. Men are likely to distance themselves from expressing emotional conversations and connectedness because their partner continues to over pursue them. Men will often be pursuers until they get married; but after the birth of the first child, men tend to distance themselves from emotional expression and generally their wives will jump in to fill-up the gap. Then, you can look forward to the traditional distancer and pursuer dance.
If you would like to know more about this dance that many couples do, at different points in their relationship, you can read more about it in my book, Family Matters. You can find a copy of it on my website. Please continue to email me at the site below and let’s continue the conversation.