The Dance of Connection

Rescuing women and men from the quicksand of difficult relationships.

How to Connect with a Distant Partner

Ratchet Down the Intensity and Call Off the Chase!

Paired up with a distancer?  Many distancers are viscerally allergic to intensity, and become more so with time. They may say, “I don’t like to talk,” but they’ve actually stopped talking because they fear getting trapped in a conversation that feels awful to them.

If your complaint is “He won’t talk" or “She won’t talk,” check yourself on the intensity meter. Remember that even positive intensity can also lead to more distance once the pursuit-distance dynamic is in place.

Being intensely generous or solicitous (frequently asking if your partner is okay, showering him or her with praise, wanting a “real kiss” while your partner is cooking dinner rather than a peck on the cheek) is unhelpful when a distancer is feeling crowded. Lowering intensity doesn’t mean shifting it from negative to positive—it means turning it off.

Getting out of pursuit mode may mean ratcheting down your level of intensity—which includes loud, fast-paced speech, interruption, over-talking and offering help or advice that isn’t asked for. This is not to suggest that these are neurotic traits or that you have some kind of personality disorder. A different partner, with a different cultural background, personal history, sibling constellation, and temperament might enjoy these very same qualities. He might view himself as lucky to have found such an articulate, impassioned, energetic partner.

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Experiment with a low intensity style for a couple of weeks. Talk more slowly and less often, say it shorter, lower the volume, refrain from any interruption, avoid criticism, and leave more physical space.

You can aim to do this in all conversations, or, alternatively, only around a particular hot issue that you and your partner can’t talk about for 90 seconds without getting polarized. See what you learn about yourself or your partner if you damp down all communication from say, an eight to a two on a ten-point scale.

Sometimes you have to pretend to be less intense in order to become less intense. It may feel phony to pretend to be calm when you're not, or to stop pursuing a distancing partner you believe needs to be confronted. But as I explain in Marriage Rules, you can't know what's true or possible in your relationship (or in yourself) until after you shift your automatic ways of moving in a relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., is best known for her work on marriage and family relationships and the psychology of women. Her book The Dance of Anger has recently been reissued.

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