“[My wife] says that she no longer loves me, does not trust me, and does not want to be around me. It is under these conditions that I am trying to salvage the marriage,” writes a reader from rural Wisconsin. “I have made what I feel are positive steps toward our future together, [and] I stopped drinking beer, [but] it does not appear to matter what I do. The children and I do not want a divorce. Do you have any suggestions? Do I have any hope of reconciling our marriage?”
“I have complained about not being a priority in [my husband’s] life,” writes Connie from Milwaukee. “For about five years he has seemed very critical of me, conditional in his acceptance. He gives the impression he doesn’t need me. If I said ‘let’s call it quits,’ he would. I wish I could start all over when we were crazy about each other. Any suggestions?”
Both of these letters are asking the same essential question: How can I make my relationship work with a partner who is less involved and less committed to the relationship than I am?
Whether between husband and wife, lovers, parents and children, friends, boss and employee, or siblings, every relationship has the roles of “seeker” and “sought.”
“Seekers” display accepting, committed, “I want you” behavior. They court, are continuously giving, initiating and inviting. “Soughts” distance themselves from seekers, and act disconnected, busy, critical, indecisive, rejecting and superior.
Seekers are the people who are in pursuit, and are able and willing to commit, while soughts are withdrawn and uncommitted. “Most of us have played both roles in our lives,” writes Eileen McCann in the book The Two-Step. “You may be a seeker with your lover, and a sought with your kids. Maybe you’re a sought with your best friend, and a seeker with your boss. But chances are you have played the same role in relationship, after relationship, after relationship.”
Seekers are afraid that if they stopped seeking, no one would seek them; that they are unwanted. Soughts are afraid of being controlled, manipulated and suffocated, and fear surrender. Soughts have learned how to say “no,” but unfortunately, “no” is sometimes all they are able to say. There are also variations: seekers who only seek from a distance, soughts who are able to be close before they withdraw, soughts who only need to distance a little, and so on.
You cannot do a relationship alone. Seekers cannot have a relationship unless soughts want one also. It requires two people to create a relationship, and it only takes one person to end the relationship. For things to work, the roles need to be open and pliable so that the sought is able to seek closeness, and the seeker is also able to distance and say “no.”
Switching roles can be scary for both parties. Seekers may feel uncomfortable allowing themselves to be sought, and soughts may find it threatening to risk the vulnerability of seeking. It only takes one person to initiate a switch in roles. The fear is that our partner won’t switch with us, and that we will, therefore, unilaterally surrender, risk being rejected, and feel very vulnerable and exposed.
Intimacy is when we let go of our old patterns of pursuit and rejection, and we give up the power we hold over each other. Only when we do that can we find out if we are truly wanted.
In both letters quoted above, it would be useful to openly discuss with the other person what it is you need or want from them. There is nothing you can do to save a relationship that the other person doesn’t want.