I fight with my wife from time to time. It happens because conflict happens. We disagree, but then we figure it out and move forward. Sounds easy, right? Not exactly, but it is easier now that she and I understand more about ourselves and our relationship.

See if this sounds familiar to you….

Every time they disagreed, they would find themselves frustrated and in this cycle. She’d move closer, he’d move farther away. Thinking he needed space, She’d reluctantly back off. He’d feel comfortable again and move closer. Just as She’d warm up to being close again, he’d start to retreat, needing more space. They stumbled in and out of this pattern for years. Not entirely understanding why, but understanding this was the cycle for them.

There is a helpful resource in navigating and discerning your own pattern and cycles of conflict in your marriage found in an anger management style guide developed by Dr. Harriet Lerner in which she defines five anger management styles: Pursuers, Distancers, Underfunctioners, Overfunctioners, and Blamers.

  • Pursuers seek to create connections so they can become more intimate and close. Talking and expressing feelings are important to pursuers, so they tend to feel rejected if their partner wants more space. When a partner withdraws, a pursuer pursues more intensely.
  • Distancers tend to be emotionally distant and have difficultly showing vulnerability and dependency. They are less likely to open up emotionally when they feel they are being pursued.
  • Underfunctioners have several areas in their life in which they just can’t seem to get organized. They tend to have difficulty displaying their strong and competent side in intimate relationships.
  • Overfunctioners are quick to advise and help others out. They seem to always know what is best for others and themselves. They often have difficulty showing their vulnerable, underfunctioning side.
  • Blamers tend to reach with emotional intensity and combative behavior. They like to try to change others and put others down in order to make themselves look good.


What helps is the ability to read through the defined styles and identify the way each partner in the marriage manages their anger in relation to one another.

Here are some tips to help if the example above between pursuer and distancer sounds all too familiar to you! Pursuers and distancers have a hard time finding a balance between separateness and togetherness.  The ebb and the flow of our anger management isn’t the worst thing for relationships. What’s important is to minimize the range of how extreme each ebb and flow is. And lastly,  taking time to work on understanding aspects of your relationship is a process and the process itself helps you identify more constructive ways to resolve future issues.

Which of these anger mangement styles do you relate most to? Do you see a pattern/cycle in your own relationship?



Source: Olson & Olson (2004). Empowering couples program workbook. Minneapolis: Life Innovations, Inc.