Pursuers and Withdrawers: In Pursuit of Connection

Christie Kim, MHC

In romantic relationships we often fall into negative cycles of miscommunication, anger, defenses, and disconnection. One of the most common cycles is the Pursuer-Withdrawer dynamic. In the face of conflict the Pursuer often initiates communication and moves toward their partner, whereas the Withdrawer often avoids confrontation and seeks their own space. While we may pursue or withdraw at different times, many of us have a tendency toward one role over the other. 

In this article, we’ll explore the Pursuer -- their communication patterns, essential needs, fundamental fears, and common feelings. You may identify with the descriptions below, or you may realize you’re in a relationship with a Pursuer.

In a nutshell, the Pursuer is most likely to...

  • Talk more, especially about emotions, and seek a response

  • Initiate confrontation out of anxiety

  • Take control, manage self and others

  • Worry about being “too much”

  • Initiate and reach out for couples therapy

The Pursuer’s goal is to get closer. The Pursuer makes continuous efforts to check in and connect, seeking care and reassurance from their partner. When there’s an issue, the Pursuer most often seeks to work things out together, to communicate. The Pursuer would rather fight than suffer through silence. The Pursuer can feel like they’re putting in more work than their partner to maintain the relationship; however, this can lead to resentment or burnout if they perceive their partner to be consistently absent.

Common Pursuer phrases:

  • “I feel alone in this”

  • “I feel like I don’t matter”

  • “I can’t get through to them”

  • “I can’t rely on them”

The Pursuer’s greatest fear is rejection. The Pursuer constantly takes risks to share their feelings and needs, explore their partner’s experience, and address problems, so it is so painful for them to receive little or no response. Pursuing tendencies are born out of a history of abandonment, of one’s feelings not being heard, one’s needs not being met. For the Pursuer, anxiety thrives in distance and in attempts to reach out to their partner their anxiety and fear can be expressed as control, criticism or anger. There is more hope in anger and fighting than there is in silence. While the Pursuer’s actions can feel like overwhelming pressure for their partner, their intention is to reestablish safety and closeness.

When the Pursuer’s needs are being met -- when they feel heard, connected, seen -- their anxiety dissipates. They experience calm, warmth, and hope. They are energized to care for their partner and relax in the relationship.

In my next article I’ll explore the Withdrawer role. If this resonates with you and you want to explore more about the couples therapy I practice, Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT), take a look at Dr. Sue Johnson’s book Hold Me Tight.