One of the most common couples dynamics that I see is the distancer-pursuer dynamic. What happens here is that one person regularly withdraws, while the other becomes demanding and angry as a result. This behavior then makes the first continue to withdraw, and thus the cycle continues. Usually, within the couple, each blames the other for this problem. The dynamics of who takes on each role can be fixed, or change places depending on how ingrained the pattern is.
The distancer or 'withdrawn' member of the duo feels the need to be separate and avoid connection because the other is 'too demanding', 'angry', 'nagging', etc. Even if the 'withdrawn' partner wants to connect, his or her attempts feel wooden because all the distancer can think of is how to avoid being suffocated with demands or barraged with blame. It is painful because the distancer may feel immobilized and full of guilt while not having a clue how to change this polarizing dynamic. It is understandable that the withdrawing partner feels the need to retreat from his or her partner's demands and growing anger - it can feel threatening, engulfing, and intimidating.
The typical 'pursuer' is bewildered and angry that his or her partner is emotionally unavailable. The pursuer feels left out, abandoned, and misunderstood. He hopes that his demands will eventually result in more contact with the distant partner. The only problem is that these exact efforts result in the distancer increasing his or her position and the polarity between the two increasing. The pursuer will often blame the other, arguing that pursuing is the only logical response because of the rejecting nature of the distancer. The feelings of rejection, abandonment, and the resulting emptiness brought on by withdrawal are powerful and painful, and it's understandable the pursuer will do anything to put an end to experiencing them.
What this leaves us with is a dynamic that both partners have created and continue to enact. The pursuer makes demands as a result of feeling rejected and abandoned; the distancer withdraws to avoid angry outbursts or demands made by the pursuer.
Since you can't change your partner or anybody else, you may feel a little desperate, continually trying to get your partner to be different. You may think: 'if only he would change, even admit to his part, I could change mine'. Even if it seems completely counter-intuitive, recognizing and taking responsibility for how you (not just your partner) behave is ultimately a relief. This is because it gives you some control over what is happening and what can be shifted in the relationship. By recognizing the negative cycles that you as a couple are setting up, you can understand what your part is in maintaining it, while gaining compassion for both you and your partner. You are trying your best - and ultimately want to feel happy and fulfilled in your relationship. By taking responsibility for your part, you have the power to begin to turn things around through awareness, which can result in effective behavioral adjustments.
This understanding and change of habit can have a big impact because it allows you to be the master of yourself by adjusting your end of the dynamic.
And here's the secret - once your end begins to shift, whether your partner wanted to or not, his or her end will need to change without you having to do or say anything to get it to happen. This is because once one part of a system has shifted, the other must adjust in order to remain a part of that system. Your relationship is that system and your partner may not be aware of it, but once you stop focusing on him or her, and start changing your approach, the entire relationship will naturally begin to get back on track.
Couples are complex and unique in the way that they function and what roles partners take on. Traditional couples therapy has generally focused on the Freudian model of how childhood issues affect each partner in the relationship. This methodology can be time-consuming, while leaving less room for the couple’s interactions based in the reality of every-day life.
When partners seek counseling, it is not only more effective, but more alive to focus on real-time discussion during therapy. As a result, each person in the relationship can express the nature of their needs and grievances while learning to listen to and understand the other. These may have been suppressed due to fear of conflict or other concerns. Couples can learn to become increasingly honest with one-another – this in itself creates intimacy and trust when done in the safe space of therapy. In other words, the therapist acts as a catalyst to careful discovery and real-time expression of subjects that may be unresolved in the relationship.
This doesn’t mean that childhood issues are never included. However, what is happening in the present time, how and why thoughts and feelings are not expressed, and assumptions made by each partner can often more efficiently be worked with in the present.
Because people are so unique, couples have their own dynamics that are best understood as their style of communication unfolds. These interactions are full of interest, life, and patterns to be understood and shifted. The focus on getting things done in therapy is often a relief to people, as it doesn’t need to take years to make lasting changes in communication and intimacy. This approach can be extremely effective, especially for highly motivated couples who are willing to look deeply and honestly at patterns and communication styles that may be hampering intimacy.
Have you ever told your child the same thing again and again, but haven't been able to get him or her to stop hitting a sibling, shouting at you, or ignoring your requests? Do you sometimes wish your child would listen or be more respectful? Do you ever wonder if and when the tantrums will stop?
Well, I think most parents face these and many more challenges with their kids. Often parents can feel helpless and alone when it comes to handling and correcting their children's behavior. Many people may not have learned how to parent effectively from their own parents, or there may just be so much conflicting information out there that it only produces more confusion.
There is, however, a place that you can reach, where you are "in-sync" with your kids. It springs from an intention to be with them in the moment as fully as possible, and leads to a more powerful and influential attachment. You can feel it in your bones, and suddenly you may have more of a sense of what is needed in the moment with your child; this incredibly challenging role of parenting becomes intuitive. Once the attachment is in place, we can tune into what our "gut" is saying. From this simple act we may know how to handle difficult situations that had earlier left us at a loss. Our children are also more likely to respond to us when they are feeling our loving attachment towards them. In order to come closer to this state of connection, we first and foremost need to practice self-love. From this will come an increased ability to both listen to ourselves and hear what our children need more clearly.
Here are four simple steps that lead to attaching and influencing behavior in the moment -
Touch and eye contact
When you are talking to your child and you feel they are not listening, bend down to their level, touch them gently on the arm, and look into their eyes as you speak to them. This is a formula for attaching in that moment where you need to quickly increase your influence in order to convey something important. That way, you will not have to say something five times before getting a response, and your child will feel the love and power of your words even when you are correcting behavior. It is so easy to forget this tiny action, but when we do it, it reminds us of how simple truly connecting to our little ones really is, and how much influence we can exert when needed.
Three compliments to every one behavior correction
When there are behavior problems, we can sometimes find ourselves correcting our children over and over again, and the attachment can feel tenuous because of it. But what else to do? Aren't we supposed to correct their behavior? Yes, and you can do it in a way that reminds the children how loved they are at the same time. Try to find as many times as possible throughout the day to make light of the things they are doing well. For example, if there are times where siblings are playing well together or someone is sharing easily, bring it up and let them know that you see this good behavior! If you notice that your child has done something to help you, no matter how small, or finished his snack, acknowledge this. When you then need to correct a behavior like hitting, whining, or not sharing, you can say: "Before I saw you being so careful with your hands and sharing so nicely, I would like you to continue showing the same gentleness as before." Your attachment will become stronger through the act of noticing when your child is doing it right because she will feel like you are seeing her, not just the disruptive but also the great behavior. He will feel more confident and aim to please you, to get the attention through increasing the attachment, and he will look eagerly to you for approval instead of seeking attention through difficult behavior.
Use your intuition
This is not an easy one. But the more you attach, the more loudly your intuition will guide you. Learn to tune in when you are confused about how to discipline the little ones, or how to handle a certain behavior. If you are angry, which we can often be as parents, take a time out for yourself, calm down, and tune in. This is a gift to yourself and your child and will teach her to take time alone when she is very angry. This becomes a way to relax and breathe before communicating rather than a punishment. In order to communicate effectively, and this goes for adults and children, we often need to calm down first, to breath a little - then we can talk effectively and resolve whatever is going on. We will also be more able to listen to our children empathically. During the quiet that you take for yourself, tune in to you, love yourself, and listen to what is best to do right now for your child. Sometimes the answer will be quite simple, such as, listen.
How can you be expected to parent effectively if you are not appreciating, loving, and nurturing yourself as well? This is one thing I find is often missing when we talk about parenting. You deserve to be loved just as much as your child does. When you take that quiet time for yourself, and you don't need to get upset to take it, love yourself. Take short breaks throughout the day to sit quietly and imagine a beautiful light surrounding you, loving and reviving you. Breathe it in, feel it giving to you. Then imagine yourself with your child and that light surrounding you both. Feel the healing and listen for anything you may need for yourself in order to maintain the immense energy it takes to be a parent. Appreciate yourself, because giving to yourself is just as important as giving to your children, believe me, they will thank you for it
Parenting is one of the most challenging but rewarding things that can happen to us. Giving birth is the start of this amazing journey into parenthood. Beginning even in the womb and as babies, our children are listening to us. They do not expect us to be perfect, but they do want us to love ourselves and them. They ask us to model the behaviors for them that we want them to emulate. And often that means forgiving ourselves when we make mistakes. The more you love yourself, the more you will be able to give to your children. And when you take the time daily to love yourself, that gut feeling will make itself increasingly known. Loving and nurturing yourself, and thereby listening to your inner guidance system, helps you to nurture yourself, maintain attachment with your child, and deal with challenging behaviors.
Incredibly, we sometimes think that we can control everything that happens in our world. We do the practical things like go to work, get the kids to school, create time for our partner, etc.. Often without knowing it, we believe that we can direct the outcome of events in our lives if we just try harder or come up with better solutions.
This attitude greatly contributes to stress, and contrary to popular belief, doesn't really help control the outcome of situations in our lives. There's an old saying about this - "We plan, God laughs". In other words, we are not really able to direct our lives, though we can exert some influence by doing what 12 step programs call "the footwork". But after that it's not really up to us.
So how to get things done and live life without twisting up into that stressful knot of control?
As different religions and spiritual philosophies often emphasize : "Surrender the outcome to a Higher Power". In other words - whatever "Higher Power" means to you - Jesus, Allah, the Buddha, Nature, or just a sweet quiet force in the universe - learning to surrender the outcome to that power can be very profound. When we surrender, it doesn't mean that we give up our personality or wants or needs, it just enables us to cultivate a connection to that "higher power".
This can be a huge relief, and ironically, will actually make more psychic room for our lives to go in the right direction. Because by surrendering and relaxing, we are creating a space for creativity and manifestation.
In our everyday lives, we still need to be responsible and do the footwork, but we don't need to go crazy trying to fix everything or worry so much. In fact it is a huge relief and a big step in the direction of balance and peace to let go. As it says in "A Course in Miracles", you never really know what the outcome of a situation really means, in other words, don't judge the outcome as "good" or "bad". A situation may seem "negative" or an outcome not one that you desired, but there is almost always a "silver lining" to every event. The initially unwanted result can turn out to have saved us money, time, our health, or even our life.
We can't really control the outcomes in life, only work towards them by doing the necessary and concrete footwork. By surrendering, we can relax, breathe, and thereby trust in the outcome.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT