We’re talking about “pursuit and withdrawal,” a common behavioral pattern we see crop up in relationships when the people involved are trying to process disagreements and conflict. We’ll be identifying exactly how pursuers and withdrawers behave, and some steps you can take to prevent falling into this pattern when you have issues or conflict within a relationship.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're talking about pursuit and withdrawal; a common push and pull pattern that can show up in the way that you and your partner handle conflict. Today we're going to talk about how the pursuing partners behave, how withdrawing partners behave, and how you too can break out of this pattern.
Dedeker: You too can win Trivial Pursuit.
Emily: I just thought you two could prevent forest fires. I'm also over here-- Unfortunately, none of you can see it anymore, but I was pushing and pulling in the video making-
Dedeker: I saw your interpreter dance. That's helpful.
Emily: That was good. A family member of mine once upon a time talked to me about this pursuit and withdrawal, and the pursuer and the pursued thing. They said, "Well, in my relationships that I've had I have usually been the one pursuing, but in this current one that I have I am the pursued one. You know what it's working out well for me. I think that this is the person that I'm going to end up with," which I thought was really odd and sad.
I don't think that that narrative always has to be there by any means or always is there. I think people can coexist in a healthy manner. I do think that that narrative is out there that in any relationship that you have you're going to have someone who's pursuing and someone who is being pursued and that's just how it is.
Dedeker: I will say that when I first started looking into pursuit and withdrawal patterns, I initially thought that it was just this idea that there's always one person, essentially, that there's always one person who's more into their partner than their partner is into them, and they're always going to be the one falling on them and trying to get closer to them and trying to escalate the relationship with them.
Then the other partner, the one who's pursued is the one who has the power and can be aloof and standoffish, and that's just how it's always going to be. I always hated that story even though it's like I can see that in certain relationships, but I really didn't the idea of it being this weird binary and address this very what--? I guess it's fatalistic sense of like, "Relationships are just always going to suck," essentially.
Emily: Someone's always going to have the upper hand and someone's going to have the lower hand. What the hell is that?
Dedeker: I wanted to address that story first and get it out of the way so that our listeners know we're not talking about that. I don't really believe-- I think that it's a toxic dynamic that can come up, but I don't think that's something that's just inherent to every relationship. That there's always going to be one person who's essentially just more emotionally invested than the other person is.
Now what we're talking about today are patterns of pursuit and withdrawal, particularly, in the way that a couple or you and your partner might handle conflict. There are many different patterns and especially like unhealthy patterns that people can fall into. This is just one of them. The best way that I can think of to start out is to have a radio drama. Will you be my--
Emily: I really like how you wrote those two. All right. Let's really play it up. Come on.
Dedeker: Will the two of you be my radio drama actors?
Emily: We shall.
Jase: Are you going to do the sound effects and--
Dedeker: I'll definitely set the scene. I'll set the scene. We're going to start out. There's a couple, and they're in bed, but it's not sexy bedtime, it's normal bedtime bed. In bed, one of them's reading a book, one of them is looking at their phone. It's been silent for a little while and then, Emily, puts down her phone and turns to Jase.
Jase: The other way around.
Jase: You have me as the thin one.
Dedeker: Darn, I wrote the script myself. Jase puts down his phone, turns to Emily, takes a deep breath.
Jase: Hey, is it okay to talk about our relationship for a minute?
Emily: That sounds foreboding.
Jase: I just feel we've been a little disconnected lately.
Emily: Do we have to talk about this right now?
Jase: When else are we going to talk about it? We both are working all the time and right now is our only time to talk.
Emily: Why can't we just use this time to relax? This feels like it came out of nowhere.
Jase: It's been going on for a long time. We don't really spend time together anymore. Do you not think that's a problem?
Emily: We're around each other all the time. I don't know what you want me to do. End scene.
Dedeker: End scene.
Emily: Powerful stuff.
Dedeker: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I'll accept my-- what is it? A Pulitzer Prize. Any time you like. In that little interaction who is withdrawing who is pursuing? How are they doing it?
Emily: I was withdrawing.
Dedeker: You were withdrawing.
Emily: Is it withdrawal or withdraw?
Dedeker: Withdrawing not withdrawaling. Withdrawing.
Emily: Withdrawal is if you're with-- if you're an alcoholic and you're having withdrawal.
Dedeker: Yes. Withdrawal is the noun.
Jase: It's just that it's the noun.
Emily: Got it.
Jase: You have withdrawal symptoms or you're going through withdrawal. Same thing. Where one's a verb and one's a noun.
Emily: You can't withdrawaling .
Dedeker: I don't think so.
Emily: Okay. Thanks.
Jase: I was the one pursuing there.
Dedeker: What were the ways? What were your tactics for doing your respective withdrawing and pursuing?
Jase: Boy. I mean I was trying to talk trying to have a conversation. As I was getting resistance was like well then it's now it's a conflict, but either way it's I want to connect no matter the cost.
Dedeker: Right. Sorry. Emily, what was your withdrawal pattern or tactics there?
Emily: I wanted to relax and just enjoy myself with my partner instead of focusing on the situation. I talked about how this came out of nowhere, so I don't know-- it was basically deflecting and then also deflecting and saying, essentially, negating their experience and saying, "Well, we're around each other all the time. What else do you want for me?" sort of thing. We do spend time together. We're always together when clearly he wanted something. It's almost switch tracking. We were nicklebacking each other.
Dedeker: Yes, a little bit of switch tracking for sure. Definitely. I've definitely been in this conversation so many times with a partner.
Emily: Are you usually me?
Dedeker: Yes, but we'll get to that a little bit later in the episode because sometimes it's not always easy to predict or to be able to tell-
Emily: I agree.
Dedeker: -which role-
Emily: I think a lot of times.
Dedeker: Yes, exactly. Before we get into that let's talk about how this particular pursue and withdrawal pattern even begins. Generally, what tends to lie underneath this pattern is that one partner is seeking some closeness or a connection. Or it can happen if both partners do want closeness and a connection but there's maybe a perceived disconnect, or one person feels the other partner is not going to come through when they request that connection or closeness.
This pursue withdrawal pattern, it's frequently examined in what's known as EFT or Emotionally Focused Therapy, which happens to be something that I'm studying right now, which was developed by Dr. Sue Johnson. If people want to know more about EFT or about these patterns, her most famous book is called Hold Me Tight. It's recommended a lot. That's the basis behind these things. It's this idea that someone is seeking connection, the other person may not be there for them in that connection.
Now that sounds all fine and good, but the thing is that obviously, I think from that little radio drama that we did, it didn't maybe seem obvious at first of like, "I just want closeness," or, "I just want intimacy with you." That sometimes it could come in the form of someone, your partner approaching you about putting the dishes away, or about, "We need to have a conversation about scheduling something." It can be on these different levels and it's not always just obvious on the surface.
Jase: It's not always just like, "Hey, I want to have a serious talk."
Dedeker: Exactly. It's not always, "I want to have a serious talk." It's not always, "Hey, I want to be close to you." Sometimes, it can be a little bit more subtle than that.
Emily: Interesting. If we look into both pursuit and withdrawal, we should dive into each of them a little bit further. What does pursuit look like? There are common pursuing behaviors. There's a fear of this, there's a list, so I'm just going to dive into that. One of the behaviors is hyper-focusing on a particular issue or disagreement. I guess in that scenario that we did it was on, "I don't feel like we see each other," or, "Our time that we spent together doesn't really mean what I wanted to mean," or, "I don't feel like you're really engaged with me."
Insistence on talking out an issue to the bitter end. Whoa, I definitely do that, yikes. That's a tough one because I think also, Jase and I, tend to be spewers a lot, and we want to have an entire conversation regarding something. At times, I should probably just hold and assess something, and maybe take a minute before I just say whatever is on my mind.
Dedeker: I think those two behaviors like hyper-focusing on particular issue combined with insisting on talking out every single avenue and factor and facet of this issue, I think they go hand-in-hand. Often with pursuers, it can also be in their minds that they find, "I can't just put this to the side. My mind is occupied trying to think about this thing and solve this thing. I need to engage my partner also in that process of thinking about this from every angle and trying to solve it through talking," which can end up being a little bit overwhelming to the withdrawing partner.
Emily: Absolutely. Pursuing people might call in text more frequently, might get in a scenario where you're texting multiple times a day, asking for reassurance multiple times a day, things like that. Also, literally, pursuing a partner who is attempting to leave the room or the space. Someone's in flight and you are going after them. Pursuing behavior might include things like demands or blame or finger-pointing. Also, even things like increasing the volume of your voice. That one sometimes I get into as well. Not that I'm in a shouting match, but just I tend to get really heightened in the thing that I talk about. Which is interesting that that's on here that it's a pursuing behavior.
Dedeker: Right. Sometimes, at least in my observations of this, that it can look like the ones who are the pursuers are the ones who often, it seems like they are the ones who escalate the conflict.
Emily: Passionate or whatever along those lines.
Dedeker: More passionate or driving more of the conversation. In reality, I think both of these behaviors can serve to escalate the conflict. I think from an outside observer, it can seem like, "Well, this is the person who is raising their voice, or who is bringing in demands, or who is asking all these countless questions." They seem like they are ones who's escalating the conflict.
Jase: Yes, that's really interesting because I feel like your point about from the outside, if you weren't really paying attention to what they were saying, you could see that. I think that oftentimes the withdrawn person can point to that and then turn around and blame themselves and be like, "You're always the one turning things into fights." When if you look the dialogue that Emily and I acted out earlier, another person could come and look at that and be like, "Wow, Emily's character was being a real jerk, and just totally being the one who essentially made it into a fight instead of just a conversation."
Dedeker: By shutting down.
Jase: By shutting down, not being willing to engage. It is really interesting that from a different point of view, either side can think, "I'm so obviously the good guy because I'm trying to connect." Or the other one being like, "I'm obviously the good guy because they're the one escalating this into fight when I'm just trying to have a nice time with them." It's really interesting.
Dedeker: That's definitely something for our listeners is, I don't want anyone to start putting labels of good or bad on either of these because there isn't. These things, pursuing behaviors and withdrawing behaviors, are locked in a symbiosis as it were. We will dive a little bit more deeply into that later on.
Jase: Continuing now with pursuing. Those were some of the pursuing behaviors that Emily mentioned. The reasons why a pursuer might do that is something like they have this internal belief or an internal model, if you will, of, "I need to know my partner cares and talking about it is the only way to show that, is the only way to get that." Something else like any connection is better than no connection, which they're like, "It's okay to start a fight because at least we're connecting."
Dedeker: At least, I am getting your attention when I'm escalating or when I'm raising my voice or leveling demands or things like that.
Jase: Right. That "It's up to me to solve this and make this work like I'm the only one putting in work here, so I have to do it or else we'll fall apart. If I can just connect to you, then I'll feel better." It's like all of this comes down to that the pursuer is seeking connection or closeness or to feel seen or feel heard, feel connected with their partner. That's the core of where it's coming from.
Dedeker: Right. To give a real world example of this, and I'm sure all of us could share times where we felt like more of the pursuer, but an example of this that I've observed is for instance, you have a couple, and one person is really upset that, "Hey, I asked you weeks ago to put this back into the garage because it's too heavy for me to lift, and you still haven't done it." I'm like, "Why haven't you done this." There is a pursuit right there of already escalating and maybe going a little bit on the attack.
Even though we hear that and it's like that doesn't seem like that, a desire for connection or a desire for closeness, but it really can be. Because underneath it, it can be the sense of "I am really desiring to feel like you care about me and that you care about taking of the home that we're building together. That you care about helping me out when I can't take care of myself." It's this idea of, "I can still connect to you even when I'm mad at you essentially, and I can use that anger as the fuel that's driving my desire for connection." Does that all make sense?
Dedeker: What about the two of you? Have you had experience feeling like the more pursuing partner?
Jase: Of course, yes.
Emily: Yes definitely. This goes back to attachment sometimes as well. Just the idea that, I feel as though my partner is not wanting to engage with me or disconnecting in certain ways. That ramps up my anxiety and causes me to want to go after them. Even to say things like, "I really feel like you don't care about me right now," or, "You're acting as though you're not interested in me," or, "you are disengaging from me, you're not touching me as much as you usually do," or whatever. All of those things can cause you to want to go towards your partner and then sometimes feel like they're disengaging from you.
Jase: Yes, definitely. For me, it's often been the sense of, I feel like my partner is just self-absorbed, and they're not concerned about what my experience in this space is or that my experience in our life together is just like-- Then it can snowball into any little thing. It's like, if they don't grab two napkins when they go up to get one when we're at the restaurant or something, it's like "See, they just don't care. They're not even thinking about me. I don't matter to them at all." Then it can lead to that sort of--
Dedeker: Mad at me over napkins a number of times in the past.
Jase: I was trying to bring up some real life examples.
Dedeker: Some napkin triggers so you're--
Dedeker: It's funny talking about this. It reminds me of some comedian. I forget who. It was years ago, but some comedian was talking about his childhood, and he was saying like, "When I was growing up, my mom was a screamer. A screamer is someone that you don't pay any attention to." This idea of because the person who is raising their voice feels like they're not being heard, they feel compelled to raise their voice more, which probably compels the person who is listening to them to check out more, to protect themselves, and it just becomes this escalating pattern.
Emily: It goes round and round and round.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. That's pursuit, trivial pursuit as it were.
Jase: I would say it's not so trivial, Dedeker.
Dedeker: It's a very important pursuit definitely. Let's look--
Emily: What does trivial withdrawal look like?
Dedeker: Very important withdrawal? I don't know.
Dedeker: In contrast to the pursuer, on the other side, tends to be the partner who is more likely to withdraw. The common withdrawing behaviors include things like not listening or not responding. Becoming unresponsive, not talking, getting really, really quiet or just not saying anything at all. They may avoid eye contact, they withdraw, or may have more closed body language such as arms crossed across the chest, or legs crossed, or maybe even curled up, or maybe even just they're turned away from the person that's speaking to them.
They may straight-up, exit the room or the space, or they may just try to put distance between themselves and their partner. It could be as simple as just like physically they go to as far away in the room as they possibly can before they hit a wall or it can be they straight up leave. Like they're the person who just like leaves the house and it's gone for two hours or whatever, or the withdrawal may either shut down the conversation or put off the conversation.
Like we saw on our little radio drama, it could be things either shutting down of like, I don't think this is actually a problem. Your concerns are not real, or like, "What are you talking about? I'm with you all the time. It's not really a problem." Or putting it off. The sense of like, "Why do we have to talk about this now? Can we find a different time to talk about this?" " I don't want to spend my time talking about this right now."
I think that gets a little bit tricky because the fact that, of course, we encourage people to halt, we encourage people to have radars. We encourage people to be intentional about how and when and what context they choose to have difficult conversations in. It can be tricky to tell the difference between what is trying to be intentional and being like, "Hey, right now and we're really sleepy and maybe we've been drinking and retired is not the best time to talk about this," versus, what is the withdrawal tactic of just really trying to perpetually put off or avoid having some kind of uncomfortable conversation.
Emily: There are many reasons why we withdraw. It's interesting because I do think that sometimes we go back and forth in these two roles, even within the same relationship. I feel like I tend towards one over the other but I definitely know that I've done both. Your internal model with withdrawing might be that if you put yourself out there, or if I show myself, my partner is going to blame, criticize or abandon me.
You might rather be alone than being in pain. You might say to yourself if my partner were more calm and safe, then I could connect and get close but they seem to blow up every time we talk about something so I'm just not even going to go there. You might tell yourself like, "Even when I tried to get closer to my partner, it's never enough." They seem to have this insatiable desire or need for something that I just clearly can't get them.
Honestly, withdrawal is often cared quite a bit but they shut down in order to preserve the relationship, or you do even self-preservation at that point. Ultimately, the withdrawer wants to feel safe and stable and withdraws in order to preserve the stability of the relationship.
Jase: To the two of you, do you feel like, I guess Emily was kind of saying that. That there have been times where you've been the withdrawal person?
Emily: I do think so. I think especially in moments where I'm a little caught off guard by my partner saying, "Well, I feel as though I'm not getting as much time with you as I want," or, "I feel as though there's an issue right now that's happening." Then I'm like, "Wait, what?" Sometimes in those instances, I'll be like, "Calm down. What is going on?" Instead of actually saying, "What do you actually think the problem is? Let's talk about this thing." I know that in the past and something that I need to work on and look at is that I will at times deflect if that isn't my idea of what the situation actually is.
Dedeker: For me, this is definitely me at least 90% of the time. I'm very sure. It's pretty much my MO and most of my life, is a lot of withdrawal and avoidance. I'm really going to hang out just in the back corner of my little cave bite, and that's my survival tactic for everything. Withdrawal, it's interesting because a lot of people where withdrawal is their fallback, there is this sense of like if I stick around and if I actually show my partner who I am and what my feelings are, they're going to reject me, or attack me, or criticize me, or whatever.
It's often the sense of I can't really open up here because you would see that I'm really unlovable and really not worthy of you and then the relationship would fall apart. I need to retreat before you get a chance to see that. That can be so frustrating for the pursuing partner because that can look like, you don't actually care, you're not actually invested. Whether that's retreating, or if it's even something like the avoiding eye contact or not being really emotional that it can seem like, this person really doesn't care when maybe on the inside the withdrawer does. They're just like scared, shitless to actually show it.
Jase: I think part of what's so interesting about this, and like we were talking about before with, it's not about a good guy and a bad guy type of thing. Here is just pointing out that the withdrawing party also can care a lot, usually does care a lot about the relationship but to them, withdrawing is the way to preserve it. Again, to go back to our little radio drama from earlier that Emily's character is like, "Can we just use this time to relax?"
Essentially saying like, "Yes, time together is important. Let's spend it enjoying it, instead of having this conversation." To that person it is like, "Yes, I want the same thing. It feels like we want it in such different ways that like you can't reconcile that," and so it ends up leading to fights and things like that. It is really interesting because I know, for me, it's easier to put the withdrawing person into this like, "Oh, well, they're the one who cares less." Which then goes back to the idea we were talking about before about power. Where it's like whoever cares, less has more power.
Jase: It leads down this slippery slope. I really appreciate that part of this model is acknowledging the fact that both parties probably do care a lot.
Dedeker: Yes. Most definitely. Also, I think, acknowledging the way that it's so easy to write it off. The withdrawing partner, it'd be so easy to write off is like, "They're checked out," or," They don't care," or, "They're not invested." I think with the pursuing partner, it's really easy to write them off as just like, "Oh, they're really needy," or, "They're really confrontational," or, "They just need to chill, or whatever. I've definitely, good Lord, in my relationships, apply that kind of judgment to my partner, regardless of which side of the fence I was on, that it's really easy to write someone off in that way.
Looking at this pattern, I want to zoom out a little bit and get a little bit of more of a bigger picture view on what's going on here. First of all, just to clarify, this pattern can be something that shows up in very subtle minuscule ways or it can be something that you get stuck in your entire relationship for several years. This just dominates the way that you relate to each other. There's a general like meta pattern or there's major steps to how this pattern happens over time in relationships and why it can be something that gets so sticky essentially over time.
Jase: Step one is, we want connection, acceptance, affection, love and fulfillment. It's great.
Dedeker: Yes, that's great.
Jase: We both want that.
Dedeker: Why else would you be in a relationship?
Dedeker: That's what you're here for? We start out from this very positive place of wanting to connect to each other, and then we get afraid in some way. Either there's some kind of past trauma that something reminds us of, or our partner does something that makes us feel a little bit less likely to be vulnerable, makes us feel a little bit more insecure, or any other emotional roadblock. Basically something happens where we don't feel totally secure reaching out to our partner for connection, acceptance, affection, love, fulfillment, all those things.
Emily: Then we withdraw or we pursue to try to seek comfort or to preserve the peace.
Jase: Then step four, we get stuck in the pattern and we just see past each other or hear past each other. This is the switch tracking nickelbacking that we talked about before. It becomes easier to focus on the slammed door, or the passive-aggressive comment, or the way you walked away from me, or the way you yelled at me about this thing I don't know where, that it becomes easier to focus on those things instead of on the connection. That's where you started this from.
Emily: Sounds like a country song, The way you walked away from me.
Dedeker: I like that.
Jase: It's good. We should write that one.
Dedeker: It's good. It's dramatic.
Emily: You're the composer.
Jase: No boy. I'll get on that.
Dedeker: You've been in some country bands.
Jase: I've been in a lot of country bands.
Dedeker: You're the most qualified of all of us to write this country song.
Jase: Okay. All right. I'll get to work on it.
Dedeker: Ultimately, where this leaves us is we end up not seeing the actual problems in the relationship. We lose sight of the fact that these all started because we wanted to feel safe with each other, we wanted to feel connected with each other. Now we've completely lost focus of what's actually going on and we are stuck in this dance that neither of us can get out of. Because the withdrawer triggers the pursuer and the pursuer triggers the withdrawer and then we are just stuck in there, and then things don't actually get resolved.
Jase: Yes. Boy oh boy.
Emily: When all of these happens, what the hell to do you do? You need to break the cycle, you need to burst that cyclee wide open. As, Dedeker, said before, there really is no good or bad here. Honestly, the pursuer will be pursuing because the partner withdraws and the Withdrawer withdraws because their partner pursues. It's just a cyclical sad pattern circle that we get into and often it's really hard to disengage ourselves from that.
Dedeker: It's the kind of thing that's so important to see because it's so easy to only see your partner's side of it. It's so easy to just end up in this place of like, "Well, my partner is just constantly haranguing me and he's so needy. He doesn't see the things that I do for the relationship." He doesn't see the effort that I do make, and so it's not worth it for me to make the effort. It can be really easy to just focus on like, "Oh the problem is because my partner is a pursuer," or, "The problem is because my partner just withdraws from me and just retreats and just runs away from conflict." When it's like, "No, it really is a situation of it takes two to tango."
Jase This reminds me of just a really, in my opinion, a very sad story that I witnessed with some people close to me. Where there was definitely this dynamic of the pursuer and the withdrawn one for many years. Where she would reach out wanting to do things that to her work connection, activities to do together things like that. He tended to be like, "No, let's just enjoy our time now." Just like, "Oh, let's not talk about this," or like, "Why are trying to rock the boat? Why are you trying to change things."
Over many years this got to the point where she was just so sick of feeling like he didn't care that then she checked out. As soon as that happened he started to be the one who pursued because he did want connection all along, but by that point now she was completely shutting him down because she didn't care anymore.
Now at this point not because she is withdrawing in this way, but because she's actually just, "No, but I'm checked out of this."
Jase: It just felt like such a switch for all of a sudden he'd be the one coming with like, "What if we did this thing or did that?" She's just like why would we do that? It was just really honestly really sad to watch because this took place over 20 something years too, so that's a lot of someone's life to go through that kind of thing.
Dedeker: Yes, and that's something that they do point out, like books about EFT and stuff like that and researchers in the EFT do point out that. Often, that is something that happens that when this pattern goes unchecked for long enough, that eventually the pursuer will get burned out and will give up. Then you're stuck in something that is arguably worse which is just both of you withdrawing essentially.
There's actually this phenomenon where it's you don't have a tone of conflict, but it's because you both withdraw from conflict right away. You just don't end up communicating, because both of you have given up on the sense of being able to actually connect and actually resolve things.
Especially the pursuer, if they're really burned and always being the one who is carrying the burden of rolling the conversation forward and making sure we are talking about things, and they were the one always trying to pursue this connection with their partner, after that's not met for long enough then they just run out of gas. Usually, that's imminent that the relationship is going to be dead on arrival and not too much time. I definitely seen relationships like that and it is very sad.
Jase: Also, just to clarify that this has nothing to do with extraversion and introversion. That you can be extraverted and still be the one who is withdrawing and you can be introverted and still be a pursuer that it's not about an energy level or a general personality trait. I think that's why we each have experienced being in one role or the other. I definitely know in some relationships I've been more one or more the other, but even within the same relationship it definitely can switch back and forth.
Dedeker: Here is my question for you, because we talked about chewing and spewing earlier in the episode. As I have been researching all of this, I have heard that question I'm like, "Huh, is it related to chewing and spewing? For those of you who have not been with us from the very ancient beginnings of Multiamory, just a quick explanation of chewing and spewing. The chewers are people who tend to do more internal processing. As in, if something upsetting happens or disagreement happens, and yes, Emily is pointing to me, it is me. I am a chewer and proud, so don't give me no guff.
Emily: Chewing since 1987.
Dedeker: Exactly, choppily chewing. Someone who is more of an internal processor they really need time to think over things. They really want time to be able to process internally. Before they say something, for instance, they want to make sure that they're saying exactly the right thing, versus spewers who are people to people who tend to do more extra little processing. I'm pointing at both Emily and Jase right now.
Well, part of how they understand what happened is to talk through it and to think out loud and have that processing happen maybe with their partner there, or with someone listening to them. I'm wondering, do you think it's related, or do you think that could you be a spewer but then still be a withdrawer? Could you be a chewer but then also pursuer? Do you think that there will be one more likely than the other?
Emily: I definitely tend more towards being the pursuer, but there are moments where I have been not pursuant and where I have decided to withdraw, even though I do chew a lot. I think that the withdrawing tends to come sometimes when as you just said, when there's a sense of being fed up, or a sense even sometimes of feeling like, "Oh, the relationship is going in the direction that I want. I don't need to pursue." Then all of a sudden my partner pursues and I am like, "I thought everything was fine. What's happening now?" I don't know, yes I think it's self-preservation model this pattern clearly.
Jase: Yes, it's interesting because I feel like-- I definitely identify as a spewer, where it's like if I am trying to figure out how I feel about something I would rather talk about it out loud than just sit by myself and maul it over. I feel like I can think of a lot of times where I have been more in the withdrawn role here, I don't know if that has been just at certain points, or if that's ever defined a whole relationship. I feel like I can relate to it strongly to both sides of this that it makes me think that it must not be something where it's like, "No I am clearly just a pursuer because I am a spewer."
Dedeker: That leads us to the next point which is the fact that it's really helpful to first of all, in order to be able to break out of this pattern is to first to be aware of it and identify what role you tend to play. That may change for you over time or it can change based on the relationship, it can change depending on who your partner is, it can change with different topics. I think that was the big thing that I realized-
Dedeker: -I'm like, "Yes, I think most of the time I'm a withdrawer," but then when I was reading through pursuing behaviors I was like, "Oh, I've definitely done this to partners in the past." That was interesting to take this mental inventory of like, "What was the topic about? What was going on? I totally have been a pursuer many times in the past," it just depends on what the topic is actually about.
Jase: Can you think of any examples of that of certain topics that have been really different from others? I'm trying to rack my brain right now to see if I can identify any patterns to myself.
Dedeker: Yes, for sure. The most recent example I can think of was an argument that I had with my partner, Alex, when I was in Singapore a few months back. I won't get into the details of it, but I think what the trigger for me was, was that I was worried that he was upset with me for some reason. I went into full pursuit mode, like full pursuit of reassurance that, either that he's not mad or reassurance that, "I can do something about it."
Or even trying to get him to tell me, "Is there a problem?If you think there's a problem what should I do about it? If you think I should do something about it, what can I try?" Just full pursuit mode there and I think that that's happened to me also before with partners of like, if I suspected that someone's mad at me and maybe they're not telling me that seems to be the deadly combo that really triggers my pursuits demons. I don't want to call it demons, my pursuits' instincts, I suppose.
Jase: Yes. No, that's a really interesting example.
Emily: Yes, for sure.
Dedeker: What about you?
Emily: Do you have any that-- I know I can't specifically think of them, except for--
Dedeker: You mean like when you would have withdrawn?
Emily: The withdrawing comes when I feel like we've talked about an issue and it goes well, we speak about it. I feel like we've had a meeting in the minds, and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, it comes back up like a week or two weeks later. Then I'm just like, "Okay. Why are we still talking about this?" I think that that tends to be when I withdraw, because I want to have an emotional experience and then move on, instead of holding on to that intense emotion for a long period of time.
Dedeker: Yes. I think that can be related too, because with withdrawers, there can be this sense of like, "Whatever I do is not enough," or a sense of like, "This is coming back up again? That means they're going to be disappointed in me again." It's just going to be painful to have to sit through this again so it's easier to withdraw. I wonder if it's like that for you, Emily.
Emily: Maybe, yes. I guess also reliving the things that I did wrong or the things that happened, and just being like, "I really thought that we were done here," and then yet it's coming up again, and having to relive that is challenging.
Jase: As I'm thinking through this, I feel like I'm actually coming up with a better example of how it can really vary by the circumstances of a relationship. I'm thinking specifically of, when it comes to being social or doing social events. That as a form of connecting to each other, when I'm with Dedeker, who's like the most introverted of introverts, that I feel like sometimes I'm the one like, "Hey, let's do social things. Let's be out in the world together. That's a cool way to connect and experience to have and we can make friends together," and things like that that I'm kind of--"
Dedeker: Then like .
Jase: Pursuing, or at least feels like I'm pursuing, even if maybe I actually only suggest that once every two months. Compared to Dedeker, that feels like a lot. Whereas in my relationship with, Caitlyn, who's a very extroverted and very social person, I feel like sometimes I'm the one who's like, "But, can't we just enjoy the time that we have? It's more fun just hanging out and watching Netflix." Right?
Jase: It has been really interesting for me to observe myself in that. Luckily, I think I'm aware enough of that that I'm not just super-withdrawing or super-pursuing, but have tried to meet both of you where you are. It has been really interesting to see how different at least that first reaction that I have is, just because of that, like how I fall someone in the middle between the introversion and extroversion of the two of you.
Emily: Yes. In order to try to figure out what your role is in this pattern, it might be hopeful to literally write a script, like Dedeker did with us earlier. Maybe draw a diagram of the usual pattern that you and your partner take during arguments, and just try to talk about this pattern on a more meta level. Don't add a lot of emotions to it. Just feel like, "Hey, I see that I continually do this. I keep seeming to go towards you and I feel as though you're seeming to withdraw in this moment. Can we talk about that and maybe some other reasons just to why that is?"
Dedeker: Yes. I was reading an example, actually. I think this exercise is good in the context of a RADAR or something, like some time when you're not really emotionally caught up in the midst of this pattern where you can talk about it at this meta level. I was reading an example about a man and woman in a relationship together and they recognize like, "We have this pattern. She's the pursuer, he's the withdrawer."
They like literally rode out like, "Okay. What happens?" "She walks up to me and then she says something, and then I turn away. Then she follows me when I leave the room. Then I go out into the garage and I work on my car for a couple of hours." Doing that was really helpful because then the next time they are in a fight, for him it was like the trigger for remembering, "Oh my God. This is what's happening. This is the pattern," was he realized the minute that his hand touched the knob to the garage door.
Then he was like, "That's happening right now. I'm totally following the script. I'm totally following the choreography." Then he was aware and be like, "Okay, I can step back and I cannot withdraw the same way that I have." Just anything that you can do to give yourself those cues is super, super, mega helpful in order to be able to break out of it in the moment, or even be able to verbalize it in the moment to be able to say like, "Oh, my goodness. We're in our pattern right now. What do we need to do to actually connect here? What do we need to do to get to the heart of the matter?"
Jase: Yes, that's great. Another thing is to take a look at what are the needs underneath this, which is something we'd love talking about on this show is like what's really going on here though? What's causing this?
Emily: What's the vegan meat of the matter?
Jase: There you go. This is especially helpful to do when you're not right in the middle of the argument. Just to do this some time later.
Emily: Quite challenging to do in the middle.
Jase: Yes. Some common things that come up is just needing to feel loved, or needing to feel heard, or needing to feel like my thoughts or feelings or opinions matter to you, or needing to feel secure. I think there's a lot of wanting to feel desired sexually. There's a lot of different things this could be. This key part and I think that in emotionally-focused therapy, which is where this is talked about a lot, I think the big thing they're missing is RADAR. What I mean by that is I actually think that this pattern, for me, has happened a lot less in my relationships since doing RADAR.
Jase: Essentially, because it does exactly this step of like it gives a time to talk about those underlying needs and how you feel about how they are or aren't getting that, in a way where neither one is getting ambushed by it, neither one has to to feel like I'm nagging you to do this, because we set aside this time in advance.
We planned on it, we know we're going to have this time to do our RADAR, where we get to talk about how loved do I feel? How desired do I feel? What I like more of? For me, that's, I think in a big part of breaking that cycle or at least every month getting a little reset on it. Maybe we'll start to fall in on it then we have a RADAR and it's like, "Okay, we address that, we're not going to just keep cycling until we can't get out."
Dedeker: Right. Drilling down to the need, I think is so important because-- I think especially if you're getting into weird, nothing fights, or it's like not the fights that you're having when there's some deep fundamental disagreement about how your relationship functions, but it's like a fight about the dishes, or about the dog, or about planning things that I think surprisingly the stuff that we argue about at the most arbitrary and the most inane can have some of these really deep-seated needs underneath it.
I ran into this and I'll use my relationship with Alex as another example. I don't want anyone to think that we fight all the time or anything, but it's just the stuff that's the coming to mind. We got until a tiny little tiff around because he's traveling to the States soon. I was suggesting, I was like, "You'll have some time off work, maybe you could adjust, kind of start adjusting your sleep schedule to deal with the jet lag." He was like, "No, whatever, I'll be fine. You know I don't get sick on the plane or whatever."
I was annoyed by that. I didn't examine it, but it was like, "No, really though. I've done this flight a lot of times. I think you're going to be really messed up. I really think you should consider trying to do something." He's like, "Yes, but I don't know. You know when I mess my sleep schedule it makes me cranky. I don't want to do that. I think I'm going to be fine." It just escalated in that way, until I realized I was, "Huh, I've been reading about this pursuit and withdrawal pattern recently."
Jase: Like, "Wait."
Dedeker: Yes. I realized and I was like, "What's the need here?" I'm like, "I don't think the need is just I need him to be not jet-lagged. That'd be nice, but that's not really the need now." I was like, "The reason why I'm pursuing and pushing this conversation is because I need to feel like he appreciates my care for him, and I need to feel like my opinions and my thoughts matter." I realized he probably wasn't intending to make me feel dismissed, but that's what happened. That's how I interpreted it.
When I was like, "That's interesting," that this like really inane nothing conversation about jet lag triggered something in me about not feeling appreciated, or not feeling seen, or not feeling heard. Then when I realized that, there were two things that happened. One of them was like, "I think I can adjust what I actually I'm asking for from him in this situation." Also, it became way less important to me to try to be right or dwinks. I was like, "I've connected such a small thing to such a deep need." That's kind of what it opened up for me.
Emily: Yes, that's great.
Dedeker: Yes. Something to think about next time you're having a weird inane argument about arbitrary things.
Jase: Yes, maybe you can catch it.
Dedeker: Yes, you can try to catch it.
Emily: Well, it very impressive that you were able to do that in the moment. I think something that happens in non-monogamous relationships too is that people just want to feel special. I think this is in any relationship, but sometimes in non-monogamy. Especially, it's just the need to feel like you're special, maybe in a way that other people are not. I think that can be a challenging thing to admit, in a lot of relationships, but something to think about, for sure, and be aware of.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. We really encourage you to, once you've drilled down, and if you've been able to figure out what actually is the need here, find ways to express the needs or the fear is connected to those needs underneath what's going on. What's especially important is also to not just putting in all the energy and effort into finding ways to express to your partner, but also really getting attuned for when your partner is expressing their vulnerability as well. Really taking care in those moments to avoid playing your role in the pursuit withdrawal pattern.
For instance, it's like, maybe you and your partner can acknowledge, "Oh, we're in this pattern, we're in the cycle, let's see if we can get out of it. Let's drill down and figure out what do we actually need here. Then if your partner opens up and starts to share your need, it's especially important to make sure that you don't hop right back into your pattern. Those are like the golden moments of- it's like, "The seal has broken, not to be super dramatic about it or anything.'
It's like your partners opened up, and they're sharing this, like, tender, vulnerable part of them, and the most important thing you can do is receive that. Even if it's something that still is upsetting or you disagree with or whatever, but just to receive that so you can start to build that sense of like, "It is safe for us to connect to each other, and it's safe for us to share with each other in this way." Over time, doing that is going to build a habit, and eventually, that's going to make it easier to not fall into this pattern every single time.
Dedeker: Well, what do you all think?
Emily: I think this is a great episode we can talk about it
Dedeker: Did we win Trivial Pursuit?
Emily: Yes, and thank you for bringing it to our attention. Yes, this is definitely like kind of a familiar trope, but not something that always be examined, so appreciate it.
Dedeker: Well, will the two of you play a little bit more with me.
Jase: Oh, okay.
Emily: Oh, all right, please.
Dedeker: If we go back to your character and the radio drama, how do you think they could express each other's needs to each other in this moment? Can you improvise?
Emily: I think I can do that on the fly.
Jase: Oh, I thought she meant like once we got to this point. You're saying just a totally different dialogue?
Dedeker: I don't know which one would be better.
Emily: Yes, let's have a better dialogue?
Jase: A better dialogue.
Dedeker: Okay, let's do a better dialogue. Can you hack it?
Jase: We still want to try to be true to what the characters are going for here.
Emily: Yes, but like what they actually need in the moment.
Jase: Hey, is it okay to talk about our relationship for a minute?
Emily: Yes, let's do that. Sure.
Jase: Okay. Done. That's it.
Emily: No, we're going to fucking talk about it common.
Jase: Okay, okay. Recently, I have been feeling kind of distant and maybe that's all on me, but I would love it if we could find some ways that work for both of us to have more connection, and just to feel like we're really having good quality time together.
Emily: Hah, I haven't been feeling that lately, but that's really interesting to point out. Are there specific things that you think I can be doing to help out with your feeling that way?
Jase: I don't know, I guess I was hoping that we could kind of collaborate on things together. I appreciate that we have this time right now where I'm playing the jewels and you're reading your book, but maybe we could, I don't know, come up with something that we do together. First, before we then go to our separate books or apps when we go to bed? I don't know, just as an example, does that sound fun at all?
Emily: Totally. Yes, I think that maybe we can try to figure out a way to like, connect every night without our devices, or without like, a phone or a book or something, and maybe just spend time with each other, like quietly, without any of those distractions by ourselves. How does that sound?
Jase: Like just sitting there staring at each other? I don't mean necessarily we have to do that.
Emily: Something like, I don't know, we could read a book together, or we could-
Jase: Oh, that's fun.
Emily: -watch a show together cuddle or do something along those lines, like, yes. That we're really like spending time with each other, as opposed to getting distracted by other random crap.
Jase: I know, it may be cheesy, but the idea of reading a book together, it's actually really sweet, and I really appreciate I hadn't even thought of that. I really appreciate that you came up with that. That's really cool. We don't have to read it for super long each night, but that could be fun. Maybe we could read something.
Emily: Yes, I'm sorry that you've been feeling that way, and thank you for bringing that to my attention. I really want to change how you see our relationship in this moment.
Jase: Thank you for listening and engaging with me when I had something important to say.
Emily: You're so welcome.
Jase: We going to end it with a little PSA at the end there.
Dedeker: I know.
Dedeker: I was going to say, I love that and I love the two of you. It's a really boring soap opera, but I love it.
Emily: You're welcome. So, there we are.
Dedeker: I certainly love it.
Jase: We can produce a series of the most boring radio dramas ever where there's no drama.
Dedeker: Well, okay, this is the interesting thing that I noticed as the observer, as the EFT therapist and trainer.
Emily: Exactly. I'm like, "Yes, we are just did couples therapy."
Dedeker: Yes, I know. It's more for that more successful version of the conversation, it required Emily to not withdraw. Emily had to consciously be like, oh, okay, yes, I will listen to what you have to say. Then when Emily expressed, I haven't really been feeling that way, but let's talk about it that it required Jason not be pursuing like, how could you not feel that way? How could you not see that there's a problem? It's all these things. These are the problem, and instead, we move to a place of like, "Let's just actually collaborate and figure out some actionable things."
Emily: Stop, collaborate and listen.
Dedeker: Exactly. That's why that's what it all boils down to really.
Jase: Maybe: stop, listen and collaborate, would be a more accurate order, Vanilla Ice.
Emily: That's true. I see, was it ICE-T?
Jase: Vanilla Ice.
Dedeker: Vanilla Ice. You're confusing your “I’s” before.
Emily: Different I’s.
Dedeker: Okay, well, listeners, we would love to hear from you. Which part of the pattern do you tend to fall into? Or do you switch with particular topics? Or if you have multiple partners, do you switch in different relationships?
Jase: Or do you want to write some new radio dramas for us to act out?
Emily: Oh, yes, shout.
Dedeker: Do you want us to turn into a very boring soap opera podcast, because be careful what you wish for. Anyway, the best place to switch--
Jase: Don't give Jase any more ideas?