The Pursuer/Avoider cycle:
and what you can do to break it…
There is a very common cycle that develops when there are differing levels of desire for sex in a relationship. Does this sound familiar- going to bed early and being asleep before your partner arrives? Or staying up late so they are asleep when you come in? Doing everything right in the hopes of getting a yes to sex? Finding important work you have to finish if your partner suggests making love? Suggesting sex and slinking into a corner to lick your wounds of rejection? Even finding yourself starting an argument before bed to reduce the chances of intimacy arising? If this is you then you are not alone, these, and many similar scenarios are being acted out in homes across the country.
Relationships are energy cycles….
and wherever there is an action there will be a corresponding reaction. It is common for partners to have differing sexual needs as we are all unique individuals with personal histories of how our desires have developed. How these needs are negotiated is one of the key markers for relationship success.
The cycle begins when the partner with the higher level of sexual desire (more commonly the man, although this is changing with more women finding themselves in the seeking sex category) finding their sexual needs unmet so they start pursuing the less interested partner. The more the pursuer chases the more the other starts to avoid, becoming more and more emotionally and sexually unavailable which results in the pursuer becoming more needy, unhappy and focussed on getting what they want, manipulating every situation into a potential ploy for sex. This frustration leads them to become grumpy, irritable and fault finding with their avoidant partner, making them wrong for not wanting sex, and even withholding affection and intimacy in all areas of the relationship as a payback.
The avoidant partner will do anything to avoid having sex,
or to having to say no to sex as they often feel in the wrong and seek to avoid feeling guilty. They do this by avoiding any type of physical touch or affection, often keeping themselves too busy to be approached, creating physical distance between themselves and their higher sexed partner, commonly focussing on the children or work as a distraction. They too make the other wrong for their desires, shaming them as being too sexual. They see the pursuer as focussed only on sex and find it easy to blame them for a lack of intimacy they deep down long for, but avoid in case it leads to potential sex. When the repercussions for avoiding sex get too high they will offer palliative sex to soothe their partner’s pain and get them off their back, but without joy for themselves or their partners.
Palliative sex isn’t good for either person,
both feel ripped off as there is no real satisfaction gained and is merely a temporary stop gap to a lethal relationship situation.
If you suspect this dynamic is happening in your relationship see the following suggestions, paying particular attention to no. 10:
1. Begin with understanding. The reason this scenario is SO painful on both sides is that both of you are caught in being controlled by something outside of you, even whilst still intensely seeking it- the underlying basis of relationship is the longing for love. The pursuer is missing it by seeking it through sex outside of themselves. The avoider is missing it by not seeing where it can most powerfully can be found- within sex.
2. Each person needs to stop making the other, and themselves wrong. Recognize that the behaviour cycle is likely to be making any underlying mismatch in desire more pronounced than it actually is. Develop compassion for where the other person is at by seeing how it really is for them.
3. Acknowledge the value of sex as a unique part of an intimate relationship, how it brings connection and contentment, it is a special activity you share in no other type of relationship. It offers deep connection and contentment, at the very least. Sexually active couples are surveyed as happier than those who aren’t.
4. Understand sex is also good for you as it reduces tensions and stress, produces chemicals that enhance bonding and wellbeing, boosts immunity, keeps you fit, stimulates hormonal balance, with pleasure reducing chronic inflammation- the source of many disease processes.
5. Recognize sex is an important human need. If you decide to withhold sex from your partner their options to deal with it have large consequences- either they suffer it by emotionally shutting down, with masturbation as a limited solution, finding another sexual partner or leaving the relationship. The two edged sword in this situation is often the person limiting sex still expects to receive all the other benefits of the relationship such as primacy, intimacy, affection, emotional and financial support etc, a very one sided energy exchange which would not be tolerated in many other life situations.
6. For this cycle to end BOTH must change. Agree to communicate about your situation and seek a workable solution, whilst acknowledging the challenge and vulnerability in doing so. Non judgementally listen to the other’s experience of how it is for them. Discuss what options for change are possible.
7. The Pursuer to:
– Seek greater connection with yourself, rather than seeking it through your partner. Learn self pleasuring techniques that circulates your sexual energy and deepens your connection to yourself rather than build up to frustration that seeks release. This will allow you to be less attached to getting sex which allows getting a ‘no’ to be less painful. Reducing your frustration, neediness and manipulations to create sex makes you paradoxically more attractive.
– Offer unconditionally nurturing touch outside of sex, to rebuild safe physical intimacy.
– Assess what is the kind of sex you are offering? Look at whether you are seeking heart connected, intimate, potent lovemaking? Or are you focussed on performance and outcome, release of tension rather than creating intimacy, connection and spontaneity, even nurturing? This is not about letting go of hot sex, just approaching it from a different perspective- being connected to yourself, open and vulnerable creates dynamite sex.
– Build communication between you and ask the other what kinds of touch etc they could be open to.
8. The Avoider:
– Look at ways sex might be of value to you, as a way of nurturing and connecting yourself, rather than something you have to “give”, developing a pro sex attitude.
– Make an effort to re establish emotional closeness by not withdrawing from emotional intimacy.
– See what may be limiting your desire that you can change, as often as an avoider you build walls around your heart, as well as your sexuality to protect yourself- these walls can become a prison.
– Seek to meet your partner in the emotional vulnerability of connecting sex to the heart, rediscovering making love, rather than having sex.
– As you learn to rediscover this part of you be willing to negotiate levels of sexual participation. Eg. Holding your partner whilst they self pleasure, or to be willing to go into sex without needing the desire to be there if you know it will build once you begin. This is not about forcing yourself to have sex you don’t want (in fact it is important to give up palliative sex) but creating an openness to the possibilities in sex.
9. If this is impossible at the least negotiate a way for the Pursuer to get their needs met outside the relationship without shame or judgement, keeping a path of emotional connection open between you.
10. If you have difficulties in exploring the above territory you are not alone. Seek outside professional help, someone who can guide and support you in finding a way out of the maze and into a new place of self awareness, loving understanding, connection and pleasure.