Before we delve into the dynamics of this type of relationship, first let’s clarify what a push-pull relationship really is.
The psychology of it is intriguing.
The beginning stages are characterized by one partner seeking a deep, unwavering connection, and the other constantly trying to escape their attempts.
There is a clear fear of intimacy on behalf of the pusher, while the puller’s attachment style makes them likely to walk away when the push-pull dynamic becomes overly suffocating.
Unlike a healthy relationship, this one is ruled by a fear of abandonment, low self-esteem, and a subconscious fear of intimate relationships.
The pusher is a classic commitment-phobe whose relentless attempts to win over the puller lead to a push-pull dance that turns into a roller-coaster of suppressed emotions.
If any of this sounds familiar, keep reading. In this article, I look at the main stages of the push-pull relationship dynamic and offer foolproof ways to escape it.
7 Stages Of The Push-Pull Cycle
The pursuer identifies an individual they want to pursue, after which they work on overcoming their low-self esteem for that to happen.
They put on an immaculate show. They will present themselves as attentive, considerate, generous, and work their charm seamlessly.
They might even buy fancy gifts so as to win the puller over (who, in most cases, is the female partner).
The puller will be elusive and hesitant at first since their deeply-rooted fear of abandonment renders them reluctant to start an intimate relationship.
To them, being vulnerable isn’t an option so it takes some time before they let their guard down.
Eventually, they decide to let go and accept the advances of the other person as it starts to make them feel good about themselves.
The first time partners engage in a physical relationship, it is extremely likely everything will go well.
They are both blissfully happy, excited, and oblivious to the impending push-pull cycle.
At this time, there isn’t a clearly defined avoidant and pursuer, which makes it all so easy.
The time they spend together is filled with ecstasy, euphoria, intimacy, and characterized by little (if any) talk about serious topics.
They mostly discuss superficial things, subconsciously avoiding the deeper stuff, due to their issues that they still haven’t disclosed to each other.
After some time passes, the pursuer will start feeling suffocated by the increasing intimacy, as he believes that it will inevitably lead to enmeshment.
Enmeshment is a state in which the person is overwhelmed by feelings of restriction and confinement, which can all be traced back to their fears of abandonment.
At this point, they will try to get out the relationship, or in some cases – take the intensity down a notch. This makes them more distant and closed off.
And just like that, the emotional and physical intimacy that was starting to become something real is burst like a bubble.
Here’s a perfect analogy for what happens during this stage of this back-and-forth dynamic.
Let’s say you take two magnets and direct them both at each other. What inevitably happens? They repel one another, right?
Something along these lines takes place in the relationship and the puller now becomes the pusher.
Now, they are the ones craving the company of their partner.
And just like that, the tables have turned, and the roles are reversed. Only now, the pusher doesn’t want to feel attached any longer.
At this point, they just want to be left alone, which will be difficult considering the attempts of their partner to get their undivided attention.
Now, they will withdraw even more.
Hence the magnet analogy. The closer they are pointed at each other, the more they are repelled when they get too close.
One partner will be overly needy and incapable of being alone, which will make the other feel annoyed, smothered, or criticized.
The relationship pattern continues.
The newly-turned pursuer puts an end to their futile attempts to get closer to their partner and they start the process of detaching.
This is done out of a need for self-preservation.
Even though they are extremely fearful of abandonment, they will distance themselves so that the hurt they inevitably feel is reduced to a minimum.
This way, if the relationship reaches its end, they will be able to handle it better.
During this stage, the pursued partner is granted the space they so desperately wanted. But this, in turn, results in minimized intimacy.
Their unwavering fear of abandonment becomes the very reason for their will to give the relationship another go.
After experiencing a brief moment of being detached from their partner, they deem any type of intimacy better than none.
Now, they commence their pursuit once again. They are vocal about their willingness to try again, which is showcased in lavish gifts and apologies.
While the other partner is (understandably) hesitant to accept the olive branch, their need to feel desired, cared for, and not alone means they let their partner back in.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the basic human need for closeness.
As reluctant as one is to go back to a push-pull relationship, it’s more appealing than being alone.
Breaking up is seen as the worst option, so anything other than that is embraced in the hopes of being enough.
As can be expected, the relationship has finally reached a period of a reassuring calmness and joy.
The pusher is content that things are back to normal, without a high dose of suffocating intimacy that would push them away.
And the puller is ecstatic the relationship hasn’t reached its end. So right now, both partners have backed down a bit and have adequate room to breathe.
You may have noticed a peculiar thing. Stages 1 and 2 bear an incredible resemblance to stages 6 and 7.
Interestingly, they are practically one and the same with one (major) difference – the first two stages are connected to a brand-new relationship.
After a while, the cycle continues to go back and forth, until one partner grows weary of it and puts an end to the relationship.
If you wish to salvage your relationship face-to-face without having to resort to a psychotherapist, here’s what I suggest you do.
6 Steps To Overcome The Push-Pull Dynamic
Be more empathetic toward your partner
Right now, you’re probably feeling a sense of relief enmeshed with a sense of perplexity.
You understand the toxic nature of your relationship better than before, but how do you get out of this mess?
Simple. Whether you consider yourself the pusher or the pursuer, take baby steps.
First, welcome some much-needed empathy into your relationship. Seek to understand your partner and their suppressed issues instead of avoiding them.
Empathy is an essential factor in intimate relationships, and it’s the key to breaking free from a push-pull relationship.
Try to understand where your partner’s fears and issues are coming from and help them overcome it all.
This shouldn’t be difficult given that you’re dealing with your own issues as well.
When partners are more understanding toward each other, they have the right state of mind to fix what needs fixing.
Allow for necessary distance when needed
At times, this dynamic will prove to be more than either of you bargained for. In these moments, time alone is crucial.
Allow your partner to take a portion of the day to themselves and recharge. And of course, seek the same in return.
While you’re doing this, take the time to get to the bottom of what’s bothering them. Fear of intimacy and abandonment isn’t a small issue.
Your partner could be reliving old wounds and their mental health could be deteriorating, and you’d be none the wiser.
It doesn’t take a relationship expert to know when to back off and when to reach out.
We all burn out sometimes, and it’s so important that partners are able to understand that and take a step back.
Give them your unwavering support from a distance and let them get their head in order.
Respect their personal space, and only when they’re ready, try to find a mutually-beneficial resolution to the issue.
Don’t see this brief time away as a sign of something being wrong. Instead, see it as a necessary coping mechanism that will allow your relationship to bloom.
For things to go back to the way they should be, you both need to work your own stuff individually.
Work against the problem, not each other
The most important bit of relationship advice I want you to take from all this is the following:
You are not the issue, and your partner is not the issue. It’s the toxic relationship dynamic you have created that’s the actual problem.
Start working as a team against the problem and stop going pointing fingers at each other.
You shouldn’t attempt to change your partner nor should they try to change you.
Any type of change needs to come from you. If it isn’t self-initiated, it’s never going to be what you need.
A relationship is a team effort. The burden should never lay with your partner or you.
It’s all about finding solutions that will make you both happy, without sacrificing personal happiness in the process.
Support your partner when they struggle. Offer them words of encouragement when they falter and hold their hand when they’re at a crossroads.
When they do something good, praise them and their efforts. Don’t let anything go unnoticed. The little things matter the most.
Your push-pull cycle will never be broken for as long as you keep seeing each other as the enemy. Your issues can be worked out.
You just both need to unite in your efforts to salvage something you both deeply want to enjoy for the foreseeable future.
Improve your self-confidence
In this case, both you and your partner are likely to suffer from low self-confidence.
You are both plagued by your own individual sets of issues that are rooted in low self-esteem. This makes your issues appear much grander than they actually are.
Due to this, the pusher tends to resort to big proclamations and grand gestures of affection, as they don’t consider themselves worthy of love.
As for their partner, it makes it challenging for them to accept their love because they know it’s only a matter of time before they pull away.
They take things to heart, which makes them feel much more hurt and jaded once the cycle starts again.
But if both partners choose to work on their self-confidence, the emotional turbulence in their relationship will wither momentarily.
Building your self-esteem doesn’t happen overnight, but if you truly want to improve and overcome your issues, it’s a journey you’re going to have to take.
Don’t run away from vulnerability
At this point, if one thing is evident, it’s that both of you suffer from severe and seemingly impenetrable intimacy issues.
And do you know what’s a major part of that? Emotional vulnerability (or lack thereof in your case).
Physical intimacy likely doesn’t present an issue for either of you, given that it doesn’t necessarily have to be about excessive emotional proclamations.
You can handle the physicality of it as it provides you with instant gratification without having to dig deeper (in your soul, of course).
But true emotional vulnerability presupposes opening your heart to someone and laying out all of your fears, thoughts, and feelings you normally keep hidden.
It means sharing things that aren’t easy, but you do it nevertheless because you know it’ll forge a stronger bond with your partner.
It’s about connecting on a soul level, which is not to be taken for granted. If your partner truly has your back, don’t run away from them.
Instead, practice being vulnerable with each other.
Share bits and pieces of your souls and uncover the depths of your love. Running away from what scares you is easy.
But sticking it out and being raw and authentic takes guts.
If you want to escape the never-ending cycle of your push-pull relationship, you can’t run away from this.
Eventually, it’ll catch up with you.
Accept their shortcomings and praise their strengths
Part of the reason your dynamic is so volatile is the desire your partner has to be flawless in your eyes.
Subconsciously, you expect your partner to read your mind and recognize exactly what you want and need at any particular time.
But what you fail to understand is that nobody is perfect. We all have our shortcomings and more importantly, nobody is telepathic.
So give up on your constant need for your partner to be perfect and learn to accept them just the way they are.
And how do you do that?
By being okay with their flaws. By having a healthy mindset that understands you’ll never find someone who is faultless and to your exact liking.
By supporting them in their difficult times and praising their good points. Instead of being focused on the negatives, choose to see their good points.
Choose to praise every good thing they do, without nagging, criticizing, and comparing them to anyone.
Your partner needs to feel accepted and appreciated by you no matter their good sides or the bad.
I bet you have your own set of flaws that your partner doesn’t rub in your face.
Do the same! Appreciation and not taking each other for granted will do wonders for your relationship.
Knowing that you’re good enough just the way that you are is beyond necessary.
Provide a healthy, encouraging environment in which both you and your partner can thrive, and things will start improving on all fronts.
A push-pull relationship is one characterized by a constant back-and-forth between partners who cannot find solid ground to stand on.
If you’ve recognized yourself and your partner in this, hopefully, now you see how relatively easy it is to break free and fix it.
It all comes down to empathy, acceptance, and allowing yourself the inevitable vulnerability.
To know where your partner is coming from, you need to try to stand in their shoes. Where is their fear of intimacy rooted?
How long have they been plagued by feelings of not being worthy?
Unless you work as a team against the problem, your chances of coming out the other end are slim to none.
Ask yourself this: Is your relationship worth fighting for and does it feel worth the struggle? If the answer is yes, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
No issue is insurmountable when your willpower is strong enough.