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Dr. Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, considers this pattern the most common marriage killer.  She describes this pattern as if one partner is banging on the door and the other partner is on the other side securing the locks.

E. Mavis Heatherington, in her study of 1,400 divorced individuals, found that couples who were stuck in this pattern were at the highest risk for divorce.

Researcher Dr. John Gottman  also noted that this destructive pattern is an extremely common cause of divorce. He states that the Pursuer-Distancer pattern will continue into a second marriage if left unresolved.

 It is difficult for couples to recognize this pattern, especially if they have been stuck in it for years.  They often need the assistance of a counsellor.   I help couples identify the Pursue-Withdraw pattern by facilitating discussions which do not lay blame or shame.  I believe the pursuer is not “wrong” neither is the withdrawer.  Both patterns are destructive to the relationship.

Through counseling I help the pursuer stop pursuing and the withdrawer stop withdrawing.

I explore with both partners the reasons for their communication style.  It may have originated from their family of origin or the fear of being abandoned or controlled.   Through counseling I have seen many couple relationships transformed by developing more constructive communication ways.  It’s never too late!  There is great hope for your relationship.  You can change this destructive communication pattern.

If you feel your relationship might be stuck in this pattern that I’ve described, please contact me.   I offer free 30 minute counseling consultations online, over the phone, or in person.

Gabrielle Wiebe, M.A.
Registered Therapeutic Counsellor
Calm in the Storm Counselling

Does your partner do something that really bugs you?
Admit it.  You know what it is. 
It probably took you just a few seconds and you pictured it in your mind. It might be something like…
Playing too many video games…
Being glued to the phone…
Spending too much money…
Talking a lot…
Talking too little…
The list goes on…

You know that if your partner stopped this behaviour their quality of life could be greatly improved.  So you’ve tried to help them by pointing out the error of their ways.   But time and again your communication goes nowhere. 

The conversation might go something like this….

Partner  1 - You are watching too many sports programs. 
Partner  2 – I’m not watching too much.
Partner   1 – You REALLY are watching too many!
Partner   2 –  Ugh.  I am NOT.  Why are you criticizing me so much?!
Partner   1 – I’m not criticizing you!   You need to spend more time with the kids!
Partner   2 – Silence and walks away.

This pattern of behaviour is so common among couples psychologists call it the Pursue-Withdraw Pattern or the Pursue-Distancer Pattern.

While one partner criticizes, the other partner shuts down or defends themselves.  Usually the more the pursuing partner attacks, the more the withdrawing partner defends or shuts down which leads the pursuing partner to attack even more to try to get their partner to change or address the issue.

To the pursuing partner, the withdrawing partner looks like they just don’t care or that their needs don’t matter or that they are unwilling to change.   Unfortunately the pursuing partner cannot see that the reason the withdrawing partner is withdrawing is often because they love their partner and want to keep the peace.    But in the midst of their attempts to keep the peace the withdrawing partner has no idea that they are actually provoking their partner to increasingly intense attacks.

The Number One Marriage Killer