You are currently viewing Episode 225: De-escalating Conflicts

Episode 225: De-escalating Conflicts

The Pursuer – Withdrawer dance can escalate negative emotions and lead to misunderstanding what each partner is wanting, thinking, and feeling. Join sex therapist Laurie Watson and couples therapist George Faller as the talk about the process of escalation and de-escalation.


George Faller: Let’s talk about negative cycles.

Laurie Watson: Ooh, okay.

Laurie Watson: Welcome to Foreplay Radio, Couples and Sex Therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller: And I’m George Faller, your couples therapist.

Laurie Watson: And we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller: Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart, and the body. All right, so previous episodes, we’ve talked a lot about the world of a pursuer, and the world of a withdrawer in other episodes.

George Faller: Today we’re going to put the two together and talk about how they dance and step on each other’s toes and what they can do to get out of these negative feedback loops.

Laurie Watson: Okay.

George Faller: I got a feel in me and you can get into a couple of these dances with each other, Ms. Pursuer.

Laurie Watson: That is so true. As a person who thinks about it a lot, I think and it makes me crazy. It’s like, “Okay, I know George is more of a withdrawer.” So like all my moves, I still analyze them. I still analyze. Should I call him? Should I email him this? I emailed you something then I was telling you today it’s like, “Don’t worry, I’m not expecting anything for you to do anything about this. I just want to show you.”

Laurie Watson: Afraid, as a pursuer who is aware of how easy it is to push somebody away that I’ll push you away in some way. Or what was it? Last time we were setting up or something and he said, “We’ll meet at this time or something.” Oh, it was the morning one, right? We talked about that and I’m like, “George got back to me at seven, do you think…” I’m asking Derek because he’s a withdrawer or so I’m comparing like, “Okay, what am I doing here with this partner?” And I said, “Maybe he wants to podcast early. And he’s like, “Well just call him,” I’m like, “No, if you want it to podcast early, he’d say he does and if he wants to, I should wait for him to say that to me.” I mean it’s like knowing what I do know, makes me even more neurotic

George Faller: That’s a lot of work going on in that brain, that’s for sure.

Laurie Watson: It is so, so true.

George Faller: Those wheels are spinning.

Laurie Watson: So true.

George Faller: Sometimes-

Laurie Watson: I mean, I think, that is the difficulty with a little bit of knowledge is, at least for me, and I think for many pursuers you know there’s that joke and I don’t think it’s quite as gendered as the jokes are, but how a relationship between a man and a woman, the woman is just analyzing every last thing. And the guy’s like, “Well, I was just thinking about my tires.”

George Faller: Yeah. Exactly.

Laurie Watson: “I’m not thinking that hard.”

George Faller: Sometimes just not thinking at all, just taking a break from life, just sitting back and just unwinding, unplugging.

Laurie Watson: Okay. So, how do-

George Faller: You could see how that could work out real well. Your brain is analyzing, is this the right time? I don’t want to be at a wrong time. Wait, maybe it is, but we could get a chance to go early and we’d get more done but would, so those wheels are spinning and I’ll probably just sit back at my desk saying, ah, it’s just nothing going on. Just-

Laurie Watson: Saturday.

George Faller: I get out.

Laurie Watson: Well, how do we solve this? How does a pursuer-

George Faller: We’re going to talk about that.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. Okay, good.

George Faller: The first thing we’re going to do is, I don’t want people to get, feel like they’re just one or the other, right? I’ve never met a pursuer who sometimes doesn’t withdraw and protect-

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

George Faller: And never met a withdrawer who doesn’t pursue sometimes. It’s really just trying to get a, can we see interdependency? Can we see how, what we’re hoping for from our move? Does it actually work and get what we’re looking for or does it get the opposite? That’s how they really tell if you’re in a negative cycle or a positive cycle.

Laurie Watson: I always tell people, inside every pursuer is a little withdrawer and inside every withdrawer there’s a little pursuer.

George Faller: Sure.

Laurie Watson: I mean, we do switch off. That’s true.

George Faller: The keys in the results. So if you look at a pursuers moves, I push and poke and mobilize, turn up my energy in the hope that the withdrawer. is going to engage.

Laurie Watson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

George Faller: When you understand the withdrawer, that’s not really highly motivating to get them to engage with high degree of energies. So what you’re hoping to get from the push often produces the opposite.

Laurie Watson: Right.

George Faller: So for a withdrawer, I’m hoping, when I go away that you’re going to calm down because that’s the way I deal with emotion. I want to turn the temperature down. I’m doing to you what I do to myself all the time. But when you start to look at dynamics of a relationship, you start to recognize what I’m hoping for by going away doesn’t actually calm you down. It actually escalates you. So the first step in really getting couples to see is that the good reasons they do what they do because it works really well in their individual lives, doesn’t actually motivate their partner to do more of what they would want from it. It actually encourages the opposite of that.

Laurie Watson: Okay, so this is the part of the pursuer that doesn’t feel fair though because the pursuing partner, as they become aware that as they push it pushes somebody away. I mean, I’m like that with my husband, too. Just neurotic. I’m incredibly careful about bringing things up, how it’s said. I mean, even I was telling him the other day, with most people, I’m now so careful and the price on that I think in part is some spontaneity in me. When I was younger, I was just exuberant and enthusiastic and every friendship was like an opportunity. And now I feel this anxiety about new friendships and new relationships and for that matter, all the relationships, just I could, it up.

George Faller: Yeah. But you’re also starting to describe a little of a withdrawer’s moves, right? That caution, that carefulness not wanting things to go bad, right?It’s starting to make you take less risks. So when pursuers get burnt a lot, it starts to teach them to engage a little bit less and take less risks, which is showing, even pursuers do withdrawer moves. But look at what you’re saying, you’re saying we translate that-

Laurie Watson: Okay, now I have tears in my eyes. It’s like, “Okay, okay.” Yeah, you’re right. You’re right. Ihere is a withdrawing part for sure.

George Faller: Yeah. That’s good. I want to have withdrawers and pursuer parts in me. I don’t want to just be one thing all the time, but I appreciate your tears because you can relate to what it feels like. Why withdrawers go away? They don’t want to feel that. They’re just trying to not feel pain.

Laurie Watson: They don’t want to feel, they don’t want to make a mistake, right?

George Faller: Yeah. So it’s easy to not engage, rather than make a mistake.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

George Faller: But what they’re hoping in not making a mistake, will actually calm things down and stop the bad thing or they don’t recognize it, in doing that and not giving the other person anything to work with. And when you have nothing to work with and you want to engage, that is going to lead to protest. It’s going to lead to, so I’m always trying to get people to see that the behavior that they don’t like in their partner, they create. I don’t want to sit back and say to you, “Laurie, if we’re in a relationship, you have to stop pursuing.”

George Faller: I actually have to start taking ownership for how I put you in that position by going away all the time. Just like you would have to take ownership, most pursuers just take, we’ll just engage, Oh, I’m not going to engage if I don’t have success when I engage. So you can’t really change this without both people doing something differently.

Laurie Watson: Okay. So what-

George Faller: Don’t comment on that one. I’m waiting for the pursuer to come out and she was silent arrogant. You’re throwing me off with these withdrawer moves.

Laurie Watson: That’s true. That is so true. Yeah. I think that in my marriage, it was probably about year seven, and I didn’t know this theory, I’ve told you this before, but I realized all about the pushing in me. And for I would say two years I backed up. And I probably didn’t do it as smart as I could have. I mean, I didn’t grow cold or anything like that, but I told myself, okay, I’m going to have to get my needs by myself. And I really poured myself into other activities and creativity. I learned to play the piano. I did all kinds of stuff. My withdrawing partner definitely came forward. I feel he came forward in a way, in a greater way than what I was asking for in the beginning. He really did come forward.

Laurie Watson: But I think that in every relationship there’s that piece. And as I get older, I’m more and more aware of this between people, and I have girlfriends that I’m totally a withdrawer with and I still have people that I pursue. I’ve been having a lot of fun with the EFT gang on Facebook. You don’t play on Facebook, George, but we’ve all been having fun without you playing and enjoying each other and getting to know each other just in surface little ways, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, that still comes out, but I do think I’m just personally aware of the burden. What about for you with me? Do you feel yourself withdrawing? Do you feel like… Do you recognize it when I withdraw or pursue or…

George Faller: I think I can relate to the caution or the carefulness. So often as a withdrawer, I feel safe when I’m getting things right and I know what I’m speaking about and I’m contributing something. And that fear that’s lurking is, I’m going to say something stupid or get it wrong or mess something up, right? So that, a lot of times-

Laurie Watson: How could you think that?

George Faller: Well-

Laurie Watson: I chose you. I wanted you to come and do this with me. I don’t think you even know this George, but when I found out Adam is leaving, I called you the next day. I’d seen your videos, I knew who you were and you were… I think I used the excuse and I said, I’m just looking for supervision because I didn’t know you. I couldn’t say like, “Well, Twitter podcast with me.” And you’re like, “Yeah, call me in three months.” I’m like, “Oh no.” I’m like, “Oh, shoot.”

George Faller: That’s a great example of looking at all the thought that goes into that email. And my brain just saying overwhelmed. Another, responsibility another this, just pause it. Give yourself some space, a couple of months that if she’s persistent, maybe something will happen. It’s funny how consistent these moves are.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

George Faller: I think what I’d like to do is come back from break and describe how do couples actually get out of this thing.

Laurie Watson: Okay.

Announcer: Speaking with certified sex therapist, Laurie Watson from awakening center for couples and intimacy. Laurie, what is an intensive?

Laurie Watson: An intensive is 12 to 14 hours of therapy all in one weekend and it’s a way to really make fast progress compared to weekly therapy. I mean, there’s just so much more you can get done when you have a chunk of time.

Announcer: Overcome the challenges in your relationship and your sex life. Learn more about intensives and awakening centers, other services at

Laurie Watson: Hey, I want to let you guys know all about George. He’s written and contributed to several books and I’d especially like to draw your attention to his book, Sacred Stress, a radically different approach to using life’s challenges for positive change. His book is about a mission on how you adopt new strategies and turn stresses into a positive force in your life. And who among us doesn’t live with a lot of stress these days. We’ll keep you posted as to all he’s doing, but George and other EFT therapists all around the country and the world hold couples retreats called Hold Me Tight, which is developed by Sue Johnson, and it helps secure your own relationship. If you’d like therapy with George, find him at

George Faller: How do we do more than just recognize our defenses on moves? And see our partners and see the setup to fall into these feedback loops where the more you push, the more I go away, the more I go away, the more you push, right? That’s the chicken and the egg. It’s classic been around since humans have been around. I think that first step we’re trying to get our listeners to see is, to recognize if you could name this cycle, then it’s a lot easier to start the first step of change in it. Pursuers have great reasons they’re pushing, it’s their hope for change. It’s their ability to be seen, be heard. It’s how they fight for the relationship. It’s coming from a beautiful place, which always have great reasons why they go away. They want to calm things down. They’re fighting for the relationship in just a different way.

George Faller: I think the first step is seeing that cycle and see the good reasons you do what you do. You got to understand your own moves before you can start understanding your partner’s moves, right? So, but then that next big step, that second step is, do you really get why your partner is doing what they’re doing? Can I walk in your shoes for a moment and get what it’s like to struggle on that before you make that phone call, right?

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

George Faller: Right?

Laurie Watson: Can you?

George Faller: I hope so. I did it at the moment, but that’s what time does, it just recognize how risky that is, right? It just put yourself out there to allow your heart to want something, to get excited, to think about possibilities. And that fear of being blown off or just not being responded to or being rejected. And then what that for most pursuers, that’s just the first start. Then comes the shame, their own self doubt and criticism at some that’s a vicious place.

Laurie Watson: That is so true. How can we get through the cycle and what are the steps that we need to see in order to get through the cycle? You told me just now that you’re part of the cycle is not being good enough, right? That, that’s your fear.

George Faller: Right. Coming up short. Do you get the good reasons if that’s my fear, why you’re reluctant to engage sometimes?

Laurie Watson: Why you’re reluctant to engage?

George Faller: Yeah.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

George Faller: Why most withdrawers, by actually going away is what makes them feel safe. This is hard for pursuers to relate to, because going away, leaving them alone actually makes them more anxious.

Laurie Watson: Right.

George Faller: For withdrawers, going away. They don’t want to live there, but it’s just a reset. So there’s calmness, there’s clearer thinking, it’s there. It’s actually my way of fighting for the relationship to be able to say, well, let me take a couple of days to figure out what’s the best way of responding to this.

Laurie Watson: Right. Uh-huh (affirmative).

George Faller: But the big thing is, because if you don’t understand your partner’s world, you’re left to your own assumptions. Pursuers start to think the reason withdrawers are going away is that they don’t care. They don’t want to engage. That’s not the withdrawers truth. They’re actually a bit anxious and they’re just trying to turn down the emotional heat. It Has nothing to do with not caring at all.

Laurie Watson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

George Faller: Most-

Laurie Watson: They’re trying to keep it calm because that’s maybe what they learned in childhood. Things were erratic or chaotic or-

George Faller: Absolutely.

Laurie Watson: Problematic in some way. And so if I just get smaller, don’t make any waves, maybe I won’t upset the people that I love. Yeah.

George Faller: Right. How does the pursuer start to see that and take it less personal? That the withdrawer does this all the time. Not for the pursuer, with their own in a world. This is the move that they make. Just like for me, the withdrawer, I have to see that your criticism or your pushing or your wanting to initiate isn’t trying to tell me I’m doing it wrong. It’s just your way of trying to deal with your emotions. You want to fix things, you want to understand things, you want to communicate them. You want a process that’s calling for my engagement. But if I don’t understand that, because my brain says, wait, it’s starting to get a little too hot here, get out. Why is this person not see that? Every withdrawer wants to turn a pursuer into a withdrawer. Every pursuer wants to turn a withdrawer into a pursuer, right?

Laurie Watson: Well, it’s worked really well.

George Faller: That’s not going to happen, right? Once we start recognizing that, we start taking a little less personal, the other person’s moves. Now we start to set the stage to start creating those negative moves with more positive moves. The way I like to test-

Laurie Watson: Okay, what’s the test?

George Faller: My couples is, the pursuer or withdrawer actually have to share with their partner. I’ll go first.

Laurie Watson: Okay. You go.

George Faller: I need to be able to tell you and just see what this is like. I used to think you’re pushing or your criticism was telling me I was doing it wrong, coming up short. Now I’m starting to recognize that, that pushing, that analyze and that work that you’re doing, that’s just how you deal with stress and emotion. It’s your way of fighting for the relationship for more connection, for more closeness. It’s your way of feeling safe or they just feel like you’re not alone. It’s your resilience to actually engage in this conversation.

George Faller: Right? You’re not trying to tell me I’m doing it wrong. It’s just kind of how you’re trying to make things happen. I still want you to work on it, I don’t like it all the time, but I do appreciate your way of fighting for us.

Laurie Watson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

George Faller: What’s that like to hear?

Laurie Watson: That’s nice. I mean, you can just tell I took a deep breath, right? That feels nice. And tried to see it from my perspective, trying to see that there’s a good in my motive.

George Faller: This is-

Laurie Watson: By the way, I’m not criticizing George for all those listeners out there.

George Faller: Well, I was taken on [crosstalk 00:18:36] for a little bit there.

Laurie Watson: That’s right, that’s right. Okay. So, then if I were to be the pursuing partner, trying to reassure you, I would say, I get it. You’re going to have to coach me on this, George so I do it right.

George Faller: Well, you used to take my going away meant what?

Laurie Watson: So used to think that you’re going away meant you didn’t care about what was important to me or what was important to the family, that you saw me as a bother and that my needs and things were too much, that I was too much. But now, I see that one of the messages that you get from me when I’m coming at you is that you think I’m telling you that you’re not good enough, that you don’t do enough, that you’re not helpful enough or whatever I need from you. And that feels bad to you.

Laurie Watson: So being quiet, I mean, I know that, that’s how you survived in your childhood. Your mom and dad, they fought all the time and it just was like you just going away to your room was the way you survived and calm things down and so it makes sense to me now that you just shut down because you’re like, “I want to fix it. Maybe I’ll just go off and fix it and then she’ll be happy.” And that calming down is really a way that you’re trying to keep us together.

George Faller: And it feels good. It feels like you’re understanding me and in truer light. And my going away is not because I don’t care. My going away, it’s just, it feels safer. Right? Things are calmer when I go away and the world really reinforces this message, too, it’s not just about trying to hide and get away from bad things. I like being calm under pressure. I like that feeling of being able to think clearly and fix things. I get a lot of training to do that.

Laurie Watson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

George Faller: Right? So-

Laurie Watson: And some rewards, right? I mean, I think the world-

George Faller: A lot of rewards.

Laurie Watson: Rewards the withdrawing partner or any person when they can gather their resources and focus and put aside emotion and get stuff done, but that is more of the withdrawing partner’s strength. I used to focus on production and do.

George Faller: And I want to highlight how hard this is actually to do. That’s why this is a test. You’ve spent, if we were in a marriage, say for 20 years, you’ve spent 20 years-

Laurie Watson: 30, baby.

George Faller: Thousands upon thousands of times telling me, you hate my withdrawer. It is radically different to tell a withdrawer, I still don’t like it at times, but it makes sense. That is such a hard thing to do to look at this person you love. Your brain has looked at this so many times and said, I hate this. I hate this. Change it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. Change it. Right? When you can look at your partner and say, I still don’t like this thing, but I get it. I can keep my focus on you and I could see why you’re doing it. That’s a true sign that you’re deescalated. That this cycle doesn’t control you, that you’re starting to really unite against this cycle. Right?

George Faller: It’s so radical for me. So many times when I see your anger, my brain says, what is wrong with this lady? Why does she need to do this? Why can’t you just say this in a calmer way? How is this helpful? I don’t get it. I want you to change that. I am not really seeing the function of what you’re trying to do. So when I can sit back and say, this thing that I hate inside you, this thing that’s caused me so much misery, it makes sense. That’s a whole different way of me relating to your anger and your criticism. I hope my listeners this is going to be harder to do that it actually says because your brain has had lots of practice hating this move that your partner is doing.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

George Faller: Right now you’re saying-

Laurie Watson: And not seeing how it’s for them, survival and how it’s they’re-

George Faller: Exactly.

Laurie Watson: It’s how, it’s their gift to make the relationship better. Withdrawers are giving their partner calm and pursuers are giving their partner motive.

George Faller: Exactly. Both are fighting just in very different ways. They’ve been set up to miss each other here. And it’s one thing to recognize that negative pattern and say yes that’s us. It’s a whole another thing from the bottom up to sit in that pattern and say, wait a second, let me be my partner and start understanding their moves. First I have to understand my moves, why I go away, but once I feel safe in my own skin, then I could start experiments saying, and what is your anger about? And I know I really gotten to that point of understanding it when I could tell you it makes sense.

Laurie Watson: Yeah. When we reached that point where we can be curious, we are calm. I mean, I think that’s the beauty of deescalation is, your partner doesn’t get ramped up, they actually calm way down and then they can tell you why they did what they did-

George Faller: Well that’s-

Laurie Watson: And they were feeling beneath it, right?

George Faller: And that the whole key of deescalation, is you want to calm that negative cycle down so you can then replace with a positive cycle. The positive cycle is letting each other in to those more vulnerable fears that are happening the moment right before you get angry or the moment right before I go away, right? As we start to put words to those places and let our partner in, it’s the connection in those vulnerable places that starts to create that positive cycle, which we’re going to talk more about in another episode.

Laurie Watson: Okay. Good. We need more of this.

George Faller: Does that sound good to anybody?

Laurie Watson: That sounds good to me.

George Faller: More deeper connection.

Laurie Watson: Yeah.

George Faller: It’s more vitality and energy.

Laurie Watson: Yeah, absolutely. Okay. You’re listening to Foreplay Radio. Keep it hot.

George Faller: And connected.

Laurie Watson: And Foreplay Family, I want you to know we had our highest download day ever thanks to you. Our downloads are just increasing by leaps and bounds. We are so grateful for your sharing. Thank you again. Definitely subscribe. That helps our rankings in iTunes, which is important for us.

Announcer: Call in your questions to the Foreplay question voicemail. Dial 833-MyForeplay. That’s 833-4Play and we’ll use the questions for our mailbag episodes. All content is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for therapy by a licensed clinician or as medical advice from a doctor.