Fear of Loss: Boundary Setting and Enforcement
Reassurance leads to more manipulation and cake-eating. If you reassure well, your Clinging Boomerangs will feel secure that you’ll be there whenever they need you. This level of comfort gives them a license to commit adultery. They know you’ll take them back whenever they want. They know you’ll let them visit and hang out whenever they want. When you see an increase in cake-eating—it may come with a sense of entitlement or comments about how you won’t do anything to lose them—it is time to transition to the next phase: Boundary setting and enforcement. I’m talking about rule-boundaries; respect-boundaries are something that should always be in place whether an MLCer is being disrespectful or not.
The main boundary tool for this phase is No Contact.
Sure, you’ve been setting boundaries during the reassuring phase, but how was your enforcement? That was practice and sometimes you failed, sometimes you decided you were being too strict or not strict enough—you lacked consistency. The reassurance phase was like your Boundary Apprenticeship—practice. Now you get to apply those skills and all the testing you did with different boundaries or ways of applying and enforcing boundaries. You may now have a better idea what sets off Monster and what your MLCer will accept versus what they will resist and how to approach a situation from a place of strength and confidence. You accept that sometimes you won’t avoid Monster and you know how to deal with it.
The No Contact Boundary Conversation
Wrap the boundaries in reassurance.
- Start with your Big Goal: Reconciliation.
- Introduce the No Contact Boundary.
Repeat the Boundary
- Reiterate Benefits and Importance of No Contact
Big Goal: I want to remain married instead of I am uncertain.
Introduce No Contact
These are integrated and back-and-forth. Start with the Big Goal, introduce the boundary and then explain why the boundary is important in the context of the Big Goal.
You do not want your MLCer to think there is no way out and that they have lost you forever, rather you want them to think they can lose you—whereas when building reassurance you wanted them reassured that they would not lose you.
This is not yet an ultimatum in most situations; though it could get to that point. You are choosing to limit contact because of your goal for reconciliation; maintaining contact when your MLCer is cake-eating obstructs reconciliation and enables the abusive pattern of living in two worlds. It is counterintuitive and so your MLCer may be confused, believing that No Contact is a punishment and it means you are not only giving up on them, but you are disgusted with them. It may be true that you are disgusted with their behavior, but reserve that for behavior and not their character.
Put this in the context of your wanting to remain married and not wanting contact with them until they choose to be a full participant in the marriage as an appropriate spouse.
Your MLCer needs to understand how to end the No Contact boundary: they have the power to end it by choosing to be an appropriate spouse. Choosing to be an appropriate spouse means an end to No Contact, but it may not mean they are allowed to immediately move home. That step depends on the conditions and past return attempts.
Then validate. Your MLCer is cake-eating, but given their high-level of reassurance, they also feel safe with you and so they may have confided their feelings of ambivalence or fear about reconciliation or their continuing need for freedom—which they may verbalize as a desire to avoid rules or as feeling stifled or confined. Your MLCer may verbalize insights into their own negative behaviors and while simultaneously expressing the desire to continue them.
Ex: Your MLCer acknowledges they are seeking happiness externally; they are dating in search of an elusive soul mate. Validate their feelings. They may intellectually understand that the grass is not greener, but that rationale has not reached a level of acceptance yet.
Give Praise: I believe in you.
Highlight the benefits by telling your MLCer that you believe in them and that you trust them to work through this and come through and encourage them to get through in part by spending time alone or in some sort of reflective time that is conducive to them. I tend to lean towards recommending solitude because it’s what works for me as an introvert, but that may not be what works for everyone, so keep it general.
Then assure your MLCer that the outside world is not going anywhere. You are still here, your children are still here and you all believe in him or her.
The Benefits of the Boundary
Let your MLCer know that the No Contact boundary is for both of you. It is for you because it’s too hard for you to deal with the coming and going and without fully committing. It’s too hard emotionally and you need a break. You need time to heal because the frequent contact is like ripping off the scab—and usually a Clinging Boomerang doesn’t stay away long enough for a scab t even form.
But you don’t want them to focus on that as an excuse for the boundary without also accepting how it is a personal benefit. Talk to them about the positive benefit of that reflective time. Validate how their feelings are normal and that you understand or realize that sometimes they may be feeling depressed or uncertain. If they get defensive at that, apologize and tell them that you are not trying to diagnose, it just seems that way to you and then go on.
Choosing to be an Appropriate Spouse
The conversation where you introduced the No Contact Boundary was the easy part. Yes, it was! I know it was hard to get up the nerve up to say all that stuff, but maintaining the boundary is even harder! Your MLCer may choose to be an appropriate spouse the day after the conversation. Huh, that was fast. But is it real? The challenge becomes how do you respond? Do you encourage ending the boundary because they said the right words, or do you encourage giving it a few days or weeks of space just to consider? Or maybe there are some conditions they must meet as evidence or a show of faith?
In my situation we got to this place so many times that I knew the conditions had to be strict. They had to be a continuation of contact boundaries, but no longer strict No Contact. It was about respecting the state of marriage and not replacing one person with another—no bed-hopping. We needed a transition between infidelity and marriage and we had failed without a transition.
What can act as a transition for you?
Not all MLCers live with the alienator, so a transition may be more natural. Your MLCer breaks up with the alienator and continues living in their own place or with their parents or friend. Coming home is a stepped process. Start with counseling and discuss the process with your counselor. Also discuss set-backs—continuing infidelity—and how to return to the stricter boundaries. In my situation, Sweetheart had been living with the alienator, so we had no natural transition residence. When he ended the affair for the final time, I moved in with my mother (to help care for my grandma) because we could not afford a 2nd residence. I came home every few weeks for a few days and we went to counseling. Over the months I increased my time spent at home from 2 days to as many as 5 in a row. I returned home full time after having been gone for 8 months. This boundary worked in part because Sweetheart accepted that my grandma needed help and so he did not focus on it as a punishment for his actions.
These phases (Establishing Reassurance and Enforcing Boundaries) may look simple on a chart, but both are cycling processes of learning and applying what you have learned. Clinging Boomerangs may choose to be an appropriate spouse several times a week and choose to continue their affair between each time. Learn the difference between testing and genuine intentions as well as the difference between genuine verbal intentions without action and those with action.