How to Stop Being the Pursuer in a Relationship: 10 Steps to Rebalance the Scale

by | Last updated Apr 4, 2024

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly reaching for your partner without them reaching back? Do you feel like the more you pursue a connection, the more distant your partner seems to become? If so, you may be the pursuer in the frustrating pattern called the pursuer-distancer cycle. And, you may be wondering how to stop behaving in a pursuing manner when in conflict.

Pursuers, often driven by anxiety and a deep-seated fear of being alone, escalate their efforts when their partner retreats, in the hope of bridging the emotional gap. This intensification, however, can provoke the distancer’s own fears of engulfment and loss of self, causing them to retreat further. Though well-intentioned, these actions may actually contribute to the very distance they aim to eliminate.

The journey to rebalancing the scale is not about placing blame or fundamentally changing who you are, but rather about evolving how you relate to your partner and more than anything how you respond in a state of conflict. To address this, I’ve created this guide specifically for the pursuers in relationships. If you’re ready to step into feeling more in control of yourself and your triggers and create a healthier, more fulfilling relationship, this 10-step guide on how to better self-soothe in conflict offer a great starting point.

10 steps on how to stop being the pursuer in a relationship

Step 1 – Recognize Signs of the Pursuer in a Relationship

It’s important to understand how the pursuer role manifests in a relationship. Here are some common behaviors pursuers in a relationship:

  • Constant Reassurance-Seeking: You might frequently ask for validation from your partner, confirmations of your partner’s love, whether it’s through questions like “Do you still care about me?” or needing repeated compliments.
  • Overanalyzing Communication: You scrutinize every text message, dwell on a partner’s tone of voice, or jump to conclusions if they don’t respond immediately. This analysis often leads to unhealthy worry.
  • The Chase: If your partner seems distant, your instinct is to amplify your efforts. You might try even harder to make plans, shower them with affection, or try to fix their problems to win them back.
  • Fear of Abandonment: Deep down, you may worry that if you’re not always actively working on the relationship, your partner might leave you. This fear can drive anxious behaviors.

Step 2 – Turn the Spotlight Inward

While it’s natural to feel hurt by a partner’s distance, it’s crucial to recognize the pursuer-distancer dynamic isn’t entirely one person’s fault. Long-term change starts with understanding your own behaviors, motivations, and expectations for the relationship.

Ask yourself: Where does this need for constant validation stem from? Were you made to feel unlovable or not good enough at some point in your past? Perhaps there were inconsistencies in the affection you received as a child. Identifying these root causes can help you break free from old insecurities.

Step 3 – The Power of a Conscious Pause

When your anxiety flares up and the instinct to chase is strong, take a deep breath. Rather than acting on impulse, try creating intentional space for yourself. This doesn’t mean giving your partner the cold shoulder or playing mind games. Instead, use this pause for mindful observation.

Notice the sensations in your body and the emotions swirling through you. Are you feeling panicky, hurt, or angry? Sit with these feelings without judgment, allowing them to simply be. Doing so lessens their grip on you and helps you make more conscious choices.

Step 4 – Own Your Worth

At the heart of the pursuer role is often a deep-rooted belief of not being good enough. Challenge this head-on! Regularly acknowledge your strengths, talents, and positive qualities. Write them down and read them often as affirmations.

Focus on activities that boost your confidence and well-being. Pursue hobbies that make you feel fulfilled, spend time with friends who value you, volunteer your time, or invest in personal growth. Building a strong sense of self-worth outside of your relationship will transform how you show up within it.

Step 5 – Cultivate Fulfillment on Your Own

Over-reliance on your partner for happiness sets you up for disappointment and fuels the pursuer pattern. Build a life that’s full and satisfying, independent of the relationship, which will help you bring a stronger, more fulfilled person into your connection!

  • Rediscover old hobbies and passions: What did you love before the relationship absorbed all your energy? Maybe it’s art, fitness, reading, whatever brings you joy outside of your partner.
  • Try something entirely new: Take that dance class, start learning a language – step outside your comfort zone. This builds confidence and combats that stagnant feeling we often get in the pursuer role.
  • Prioritize friendships and community: Strong social connections are crucial to our well-being. Don’t neglect friends and family, or opportunities to meet new people who share your interests.
  • Explore your solo time: Can you enjoy a coffee shop alone with a good book or podcast? Simple pleasures become special when they aren’t just a way to fill the gap between interactions with your partner.

Why this is so powerful: When we have a full life, we bring more energy and presence to our relationships. Plus, you’ll be a bit less likely to overanalyze every text or silence because you have other exciting things in your world.

Step 6 – Set Those Boundaries (Kindly)

Learning to set boundaries is essential to stop being the pursuer. While it may sound contradictory, establishing limits actually fosters closeness and is the roadmap to healthy expectations in a relationship. Here’s how:

  • Know Your Limits: Identify behaviors that make you feel disrespected or taken for granted. These might be constantly canceling plans, always initiating dates, or being left on read for stretches of time. Be clear with yourself on what you won’t tolerate.
  • Communicate Calmly: Instead of accusations, express your boundaries in a clear, non-confrontational way. Use “I feel” statements like, “I feel overwhelmed when I’m always the one reaching out. I’d like us to find a better balance with communication.”
  • Follow Through: If a boundary is crossed, gently but firmly reiterate it. Don’t expect immediate change, but consistency is key in shifting the relationship dynamic. Showing your partner that you value your time and energy makes you more desirable.

Step 7 – Communicate Authentically, Not Critically

Instead of falling into criticism or blame, which can trigger defensiveness, focus on sharing how you feel and what you need. Here’s how to stop being the pursuer in the relationship through communication:

  • “I” Statements: Start sentences with “I feel…” rather than “You always…” or “You never…” This way, you can express the specific emotions you feel without attacking your partner.
  • Expressing Needs: Be direct but gentle. Instead of, “You don’t care about me,” try “I long for simple check-ins throughout the day. Even a quick message would make me feel more secure.”
  • Avoid Mind-Reading: It’s an unrealistic expectation to assume you know your partner’s motivations (and vice versa). If they’re distant, instead of deciding it’s disinterest, ask openly: “I’ve noticed you’re more quiet lately. Is everything okay?”

Step 8 – Embrace Vulnerability

Authenticity trumps perfection when trying to stop being the pursuer. Let your partner see your true self. Here’s why vulnerability matters:

  • Share Your Fears: Openly expressing underlying worries about your partner’s commitment or the relationship’s potential is far more effective than acting out of anxiety.
  • Be Honest About Needs: Instead of expecting your partner to automatically know your wants and needs, share them directly. This might feel uncomfortable at first, but it cuts through the pursuer-distancer game-playing.
  • Own Your Part: Acknowledge where you may contribute to the dynamic. Phrases like “I know sometimes I come on too strong,” shows self-awareness and disarms defensiveness.

Step 9 – Seek Support

Learning how to stop being the pursuer in your relationship can be emotionally challenging. Individual therapy for anxiety or therapy for attachment issues offers a safe space to unpack childhood patterns, learn emotional regulation, and build self-esteem. Couples’ counseling can also be helpful to address the pursuer-distancer dynamic with your partner.

You can also explore a list of couples therapy questions together at home for insight into the types of questions a couples therapist might ask to better understand your relationship dynamics.

Step 10 – Don’t Expect an Overnight Miracle

Sustainable change takes time and patience. There will be setbacks and moments when old habits creep in, but don’t give up on yourself! Here’s how to manage expectations:

  • Progress, Not Perfection: Every time you make a conscious choice instead of acting on impulse, it’s a victory. Celebrate small wins and be gentle with yourself on off-days.
  • Partner’s Response: You can’t control your partner’s behavior, only your own. Focus on your personal growth while also being observant of how they respond to the shifts you’re making.
  • Reassess: If, despite your efforts, your partner remains dismissive or your needs are consistently unmet, you may need to consider professional guidance in individual or couples therapy.

Final Thoughts

Breaking free from the pursuer role is a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. By understanding the roots of your behaviors, practicing new communication skills, and prioritizing your own needs, you can reclaim a sense of balance within your relationship.

It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen immediately. There will be moments of doubt and frustration, but with each step you take, you’ll chip away at old insecurities and gain more confidence.

Remember, being in a secure relationship doesn’t mean you never feel the need for reassurance or closeness. The difference is that you’ll learn to communicate those needs directly and trust that a loving partner will be receptive.

Ultimately, this work is about more than just transforming your relationship. It’s about becoming the most authentic, self-assured version of yourself – someone who values their time, energy, and the love they have to offer.

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