Stuck Relationship Patterns

Untangling Relationship counselling patterns

relationship counselling patternsWhen you are in the thick of arguing or can’t talk issues through it can be hard to see what is going on. Relationship Counselling helps you step back and untangle the feelings.

Untangling allows you both to feel heard and to better understand each other. You discover how you have co-created an interactional pattern. Becoming aware of the pattern helps you to be less stuck in it. Rather than blaming each other, you start to work on the pattern together.

Relationship Patterns

Let’s put some words around what happens in arguments or when you avoid talking. Talking about  patterns helps us to understand what happens.

Distance /Pursuer Pattern

The most common pattern is a demanding spouse interacting with a distancing partner. We call this a distance/ pursuer pattern.
    Typically women want more affection, interaction and intimacy so they pursue their partner for more connection. They feel shut out and demand, complain, criticise in an attempt to connect to their partner. Typically men distance, shutdown and stonewall to avoid arguments and criticism. They distance partly because they fear being undermined and partly because they fear being close. The roles can be other way round. Same sex couples will also present in distance/pursue patterns.

Pursuers Often say:

“I am way down the list, after the kids, work, his family and then maybe there's some time me.”
“He’s always preoccupied. He is never there for me.”
“It’s like we are roommates. He just doesn’t want to make love to me.”
“I feel shut out.”
“He just watches TV. The only time he pays me attention is when he wants sex.”

Distancers often say:

“I don’t know what I feel. I am lost.”
“I never get it right for her.”
“She is never satisfied.”
“I can’t sit down for a moment with her having a go at me.”
“I feel numb.”
“She is asks me all the time what am I feeling. I don’t know what to say.”
“I feel like I am dangling from the end of thread and she is going to leave me at any moment.”

Distance / Distance Pattern

When a pursuer feels their efforts to connect are being rejected they may distance. This is the living like flatmates scenario where neither partner knows how to reconnect. It’s a limbo place of being too fearful to connect and too fearful to leave. If the pursuing partner does threaten to leave the relationship then often there is a change of roles where the distancing partner pursues to prevent their partner leaving.

Attack/ Attack Pattern

This pattern is a momentarily change from the distance/ pursuer basic pattern where the distancing partner feels so undermined that they attack to defend against feeling criticised. The result is an escalation of arguments.

Keys To Understanding Patterns

relationship counselling patterns

Patterns Manage Separation and Intimacy Fears

These patterns are attempts to manage fears of being too separate or too close. Both partners attempts to  control the interaction to manage their anxiety. Pursuing spouses feel controlled by their distancing partner, while distancing partners feel controlled by their nagging spouses.

Patterns Reinforce Positions

A wife may feel lonely and unimportant to her husband, who feeling a sense of inadequacy that ‘he can’t get it right for her’, distances. This makes her angry and she nags, criticises and demands. This confirms to the husband his belief that he is inadequate,”he feels whatever he does will be not enough” , so he distances further. Each person’s position in the cycle and reaction re-enforces the position of the other. His distance increases her pursuit and vice versa.

An Attack Is Often A Defence

Underneath the attack stances in arguments both partners feel vulnerable. Anger is often a secondary emotion that is felt to protect ourselves from feeling the primary emotions underneath. If each partner could see what the other is really feeling it would be easier to makes sense of their actions.

Distancers Often Feel:

  • Rejected
  • Inadequate,Shame,Not enough
  • Afraid of Failure,Scared
  • Overwhelmed,
  • Numb, frozen, Empty
  • Unloved, not wanted
  • Judged / criticised
  • Controlled

Pursuers Often Feel:

  • Hurt, rejected
  • Alone, unloved
  • Invisible, isolated, abandoned, taken for granted
  • desperate, disconnected
  • Deprived
  • Controlled.
  1. It helps if the distancing partner can see that their pursuing spouse is really feeling unloved and their criticism /demand is really a request for love.
  2. If helps if the pursuing partner can see that their distancing spouse underneath wants to connect too but is feeling too criticised or inadequate or fearful or too overwhelmed to respond. Distancing paradoxically might be an attempt to “protect the relationship” by preventing emotions overwhelming the relationship.
  3. Both partners with support can be guided to loosen and soften the interactional pattern to find ways to safely reconnect.

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