Are You in a Push-Me-Pull-Me Relationship?

by | Mar 7, 2018

What, you may ask, is a push-me-pull-me relationship? Answer: Where one partner pushes the other away and the other keeps trying to pull her partner closer. It’s a destructive dynamic, especially when couples get stuck in this mode. The more she pursues the more he distances himself. The more he distances, the more she feels the need to pursue. It’s a vicious circle.

Are You In A Push-Me-Pull-Me Relationship? Nancy'S Counseling Corner

Take Laura and Todd for example. She feels their relationship is out of sync—that there’s too much distance between her and Todd. Her natural instinct is to try and fix it by getting closer to her partner. She tries to pull Todd into more togetherness, more intimacy, more long talks together. In fact, she’s a little demanding and anxious about it. She wants to make their relationship perfect and she feels Todd is emotionally unavailable.

Todd, on the other hand, responds to this relationship stress by pushing away from the problem physically and emotionally. He is, after all, a private person who can take care of himself. He doesn’t like being pressured and it only makes him distance himself from Laura even more. In fact, he feels he’s the self-reliant type, and he doesn’t understand why Laura is so needy all the time. The more she tries to pull him in the more he pushes away and the vicious circle begins.

Both Laura and Todd feel pretty self-righteous. After all, Laura is doing her best to improve their relationship. If only Todd would open up a little more, show his vulnerable side so they can share a bond together. But he’s so stubborn, he won’t budge. It’s so frustrating! No wonder she can’t help but criticize him every once and awhile.

Now Todd is feeling defensive. He doesn’t understand what he needs to open up about and he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing wrong. He really doesn’t think he is doing anything wrong and Laura should just get off his case. In fact, she’s a downright nag, and he doesn’t like it. It makes him feel like staying away even more.

And there you have it. Two entrenched people in a no-win situation. That is, until the puller, Laura, lightens up. She needs to give Todd a chance to feel some relief from the pressure. When Laura becomes less judgmental and less angry, Todd can catch his breath. Then he can move toward her, putting their relationship on a more even keel.

But sometimes, after years of this push-me-pull-me dynamic, the person who is constantly trying to pull her partner into the relationship will finally be exhausted. Laura has tried and tried, but to no avail. She feels alone and completely unheard. She may decide to leave the relationship and then the dynamic shifts. Suddenly Todd realizes that she may actually walk out and he is in the opposite position of pursuing Laura. The power in this relationship has flipped entirely.

Laura and Todd have a decision to make. Will they turn toward each other and stop playing push-me-pull-me? Or will Laura foment fear and insecurity in Todd by threatening to leave? Or will Todd have given up long before because he felt nagged to death. This couple has a chance of a rewarding relationship if they break the cycle and choose to work to bring balance to their relationship.


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here:


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