How do I know when he is returning “for real” as opposed to returning only temporarily in order to leave again?
You don’t and neither does your MLCer. Oh, sometimes they will know he doesn’t mean it and that he’s planning to continue an affair in secret while living at home. But there are attempts where his intention is to end the affair and come home for good. If this happens in the beginning he will refuse to cut-off contact with the alienator because he believes they can be just friends. At later returns he will agree to end it and fail—since one little email couldn’t hurt. Or he will fail because the withdrawal from the alienator addiction is too great. The alienator will likely refuse to abide by a No-Contact. He may intend to stay away, but she refuses and the relationship continues since temptation is a constant presence rather than a constant memory.
Can you tell me what it’s like when they come out of it?
It’s difficult to give information about coming out of the MLC fog because unlike the beginning, MLCers vary as the crisis proceeds and there are many variations on the exit. But it is even more difficult because of the cycling. MLCers cycle the most in the beginning and at the end when the lights at the tunnel’s entrance and exit are most visible—as they disconnect and then reconnect. They may change their mind more frequently and come home and move out again as they face their fears. But since cycling is subjective and their fears may yield mood swing cycles throughout the crisis it can be difficult to know if what you are seeing is the start of the end and if that is indeed what you are seeing, your MLCer at this point may run back into earlier stages when they face their fears. But if your MLCer has not gone through Liminality, what seems like a Reconnection is more likely a Touch-n-Go and thus not yet real; MLCers do not reconnect in Replay or go directly from Replay to Reconnection.
Consider your MLCers contact type.
Because of their constant presence and desire for reassurance it may seem as though your MLCer is reconnecting from the beginning. Though there may be an alienator—and he may be living with her—your MLCer is constantly sending what seems to be positive messages. He doesn’t want a divorce, she’s only temporary, he’s afraid of losing you. He moved out while professing love for you and saying he doesn’t want to do it and that maybe he will be back by the end of the weekend. You may spend days and even evenings together; for some of you physical activity will continue. MLCers do that in the beginning when cycling; Clinging Boomerangs may do it throughout the crisis.
But looking at all of those things and interpreting them as good signs is like looking at a chocolate bar and seeing calories—overkill. By interpreting these normalcies with a positive value judgment you are showing expectation. You are interpreting them as signs of progress in the MLC tunnel.
That is the challenge with a Clinging Boomerang. They dump cookie crumbs on you all the time. Now find the needle in the cookie crumb stack. It is much more difficult to determine if something is progress when similar things are occurring on a regular basis. Best to let-go of the analysis. I spent Sweetheart’s crisis thinking he was coming out or already out of Replay because of all of those good things. I fell into the trap of thinking he was farther ahead in the tunnel.
Most MLCers are Boomerangs—Clinging Boomerangs are a subset. Boomerangs are a regular presence in your life Contact with a Boomerang is regular—daily, every few days, weekly… It may vary from positive and even cordial to Monster, with some MLCers being consistently positive or Monster, while others cycle. The difference is that those who are not clinging are not seeking reassurance—at least not to the same degree as a Clinging Boomerang. Their interactions may feel neutral or indifferent. You may notice changes in the quality of caring within your communications as they progress through MLC and from touch-n-goes to reconnections. But those changes may not always be positive—so an MLCer might go from neutral indifference to Monster. Why? They are feeling their progress and they become scared, so they test you or even try to scare you off. Some will shift toward positive interest and some will start cycling in both directions. There is no sure indicator, but change in the qualities of their behavior is the main clue. Some may become a Clinging Boomerang during touch-n-go or reconnective phases. Look for an increase in cake-eating changes in the quality of interactions with you and the children and changes in family and friendship patterns. Are they reconnecting with friends, are they disconnecting with new MLC-friends? Are they showing indirect positive interest in you? Ex. Offering assistance with a chore or household task. Remember that these signs may start as part of touch-n-goes and will become more pronounced or last longer as the MLCer progresses.
Off-n-On & Vanisher
This situation may be clearer than in the more common situation with a Boomerang. MLCers disconnect first from the spouse and other friends and family after the spouse; reconnections are in reverse of that order with the spouse being last—though some MLCers will not follow this pattern. You may first hear that your MLCer has contacted preMLC friends and then connecting more with your kids; contacts to you may become more frequent. But that does not mean these communications will be more cordial, they may be pleasant or just as difficult since they will still be confused and frightened.
There may be Touch-n-Go or Reconnective periods where your MLCer seems like a Boomerang—a few weeks or even a couple of months in some cases. But they may withdraw again. These cycles are part of the process. This type of an MLCer is better at withdrawing into their cave where hopefully they are processing.