The Push/Pull Relationship

My story

In the beginning of a push-pull relationship, there is a credible and unwavering pursuit by the man, typically a commitment phobe, who we will call the “pusher.” He relentlessly pursues the woman he has fixated on without pause. His “take no prisoners” approach to getting the girl is what gives him the high that he so desperately seeks. Eventually, the target female, we’ll call her the “puller,” tires and the eager charm of the lone and insistent prince wins her over. That is, until she turns to face him.

After the first few months or so of newfound relationship bliss, the pusher starts to slowly push away, leaving the innocent puller wondering where all of the love and affection has gone.

Feeling uneasy and clearly disturbed by the pusher’s sudden change, the woman begins to pull him back in by making herself more sexually desirable or in many cases, by simply acting aloof and uninterested, which sparks the pusher to think he is losing his prey or that she may have gotten over her pulling ways.

The push-pull starts off very slowly in the beginning. But as the relationship continues, the push and the pull can become a daily fixture in this already intense relationship or at least a regular occurrence for the once happy couple. One is always running while the other is always chasing. They go back and forth while narrowly coming face-to-face with one another. But it’s when they turn to see each other in between chases when the passion ignites and the world seems to stand still. The love they feel in these fleeting moments are what keep the relationship alive. Both the pusher and the puller believe that the love they feel in the interim is why they are “meant to be.” But it’s not long before the good times fade and the routine begins all over again.

The pulling away almost always happens when the relationship seems to be going exceptionally well—usually right after that interim of deep and meaningful connection. This occurs because the intimacy was getting too intense for the pusher, who may start a fight, seemingly out of nowhere, to get the push-pull started once again. This is the most confusing aspect of the dance for the puller, who is blindsided by this behavior because in her mind, everything was going so well and looking just like the beginning again! And in a way, it is…for now.

Both the pusher and the puller have the same fear, but they are actually in the reverse of each other—making it obvious that these two are bound for disaster. The common fears that the pusher and puller share are intimacy and abandonment.

The puller is very much aware of her deep feelings of abandonment—meaning she is conscious of this. Her subconscious fear is intimacy, even though she craves this particular thing the most. For the puller, intimacy is what leads to abandonment. When the connection is sparked, the puller goes into protection mode and pulls up a wall to keep safe.

The pusher’s conscious fear is intimacy as this is where he, too, faces possible rejection. In opposition of the puller, the pusher is conscious of this fear because he thinks that intimacy will lead to enmeshment, a feeling of confinement and restriction for him. It is his subconscious fear of abandonment that leads to his fear of enmeshment and eventual sabotage of the relationship.

Neither the pusher nor the puller really wants out of this otherwise tumultuous relationship. They are both gaining a great deal from this interaction by re-living old childhood traumas.

John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, calls this the “rubber band theory,” adding that men feel the need to fluctuate between autonomy and intimacy. And he is certainly right that men, as well as women, need their space and independence separate from the confines of a love relationship. It is when the push-pull is so extreme that it is painful for either one or both participants.

If the pusher and puller can realize what is actually going on here—two adults perpetuating old wounds—then they can work on the relationship together. Some couples will stay in these relationships for a lifetime, feeding off the love and connection they feel in between chases.

Relationships are not meant to cause us pain. Our relationships should feel supportive, honest and loving. Settling for less is not an option. However, if your partner makes great strides, both psychologically and emotionally, to heal his or her own wounds, the push-pull relationship can become a match made in heaven.

© 2020 Emily Wilcox