Have you ever noticed that in your romantic relationships that one person usually plays the more active role and one plays the more passive role? Have you ever noticed that one person seems to be the “pursuer” and the other, the “pursued”? And have you noticed that you may play a different role in different relationships, at different times?
Each relationship seems to have a polarity between the two partners, a yin and a yang. We can call it the pursuer and the pursued or to generalize even more, in Imago Relationships Therapy, we call these positions the “maximizer” and the “minimizer.”
In each relationship there is generally a maximizer and a minimizer, which corresponds in some ways to the two basic options of our “fight or flight” survival mechanism. In the primitive part of our brain, what I’ve called before our “lizard brain” we confuse psychological distress with physical survival. This then triggers our fight or flight mechanism. Generally the two partners complement each other and one tends to fight and one tends to run, which is flight.
The maximizer when feeling threatened emotionally, will externalize their energy, exaggerating it and exploding it outward. The minimizer will diminish or constrict their energy. Both are unconscious survival skills that are activated when the emotional context of the relationship feels threatening.
And the truth is, that we come together in relationship to help each other to grow and heal. That means that it is perfect that there is a maximizer and a minimizer. It is perfect that there is one who initiates emotional connection and one who withdraws and needs space. Both are critical abilities to have in a balanced life.
In a previous Ezine Article, I’ve written about the concept of the “Power Struggle” which represents the conflict between the maximizer and the minimizer. The antidote to the Power Struggle is for each partner in the relationship to “stretch” to give each other what they need. Of course, this is easier said than done, which is why Couples Counselors like myself exist, to support this process in relationships.
To summarize, below are the qualities of the maximizer and the minimizer:
- Explode feelings outward
- Exaggerate feelings
- Depend on others
- Mostly exaggerate needs
- Are compulsively open
- Are excessively generous
- Ask direction of others
- Think mainly of others
- Act impulsively
- Implode feelings inward
- Diminish feelings
- Deny dependency
- Mostly deny their needs
- Share little of inner world
- Withhold feelings, thoughts, behaviors
- Take direction from themselves
- Think mainly about themselves
- Act and think compulsively
- Passive aggressive
Which seems to describe your experience of yourself in relationships? Have you felt like the maximizer in some relationships and the minimizer in others? I would love your comments and feedback on this topic.
Thank you so much,
Dr. Adam Sheck