Pacing and Spacing

Joe had a long history of one night stands, which his wife Claire discovered a couple of years ago. Joe has been in individual and group counseling for his sexual addiction since then. He was working on his self-centeredness since the discovery, but he regressed to being self-centered again this past year.

During that time, Claire caught up with a former boyfriend through Facebook and eventually had an emotional affair with him. Despite Claire’s affair, Joe was desperate to restore his marriage. Claire was more hesitant, concerned that Joe would become self-centered again—by focusing on his needs and neglecting the needs of Claire and the kids.

The harder Joe tried to win Claire back, the further he pushed her away. She appreciated his doing more than his fair share of household chores, but she wasn’t ready for his hugs and affection. I talked with Joe about pacing. The example I used was if he was going on a jog with Claire, it would be important for him to jog at the same pace as her. If his pace was faster, they wouldn’t be jogging together.

They were in a classic pursuer-distancer relationship, with Joe pursuing and Claire distancing. It was clear to Claire that Joe wanted to stay together. If Joe could stop pursuing and give Claire some space, the space would give Claire a chance to pursue him as she felt ready. Joe needs to trust the paradox of giving space to allow Claire the opportunity to eventually approach him.