The Two Phases of Standing When Dealing with a Clinging Boomerang
- Establishing Reassurance
- Fear of Loss: Boundary Setting and Enforcement
I am going to start by pasting something Jim Conway repeated regularly to newcomers to his midlife chat group Since the group is made up mostly of women, he assumes that the LBS is female, so sorry for the gender specifics.
Tough & Tender
Working with a MLC man requires both toughness and tenderness. At the beginning be soft, conciliatory, flexible, and focus mostly on your changes. [Phase 1] After he starts saying he wants to come back that is the time to be tough by asking that you get counseling to make sure that the problem doesn’t reoccur. [Phase 2]
Most of the time when a woman is tough at the beginning it will guarantee that the husband will run – but because women are so hurt they often find it easy to be tough and angry. Most women also have trouble being tough as the relationship comes back together – because they’re so happy that he is wanting to move back – but now is the time to be tough and go to counseling to make sure that the problem won’t reoccur. Summary – flexible, soft, growing and changing at the beginning- firm and tough at the end.
Basically he was talking about two opposing methods for interacting and responding. The first serves to set up the situation so there is less resistance to the second. Jim’s words give no hint of how long to do the first before transitioning, other than to discuss to transition when the MLCer wants to come back. But what happens when they want to do that only a month or a few months after leaving? What about when they go away again? Jim’s words are spot on, but we need more guidance in how to know when to transition. And his words make it sound so simple—as though an MLCer’s attempt to return means they will agree to and be ready for counseling. His focus is on preventing another leave, but that distills down to attempting to prevent the continuation of MLC or it implies that the MLC is close to the end. Well that would be nice, but MLC is not that neat and simple; since in MLC a person must go all the way through, there is no stopping it early and MLCers—especially Clinging Boomerangs—may return (or attempt to return) multiple times.
Paving the Way is often thought of as the nice stuff—the reassurance and being cordial and conciliatory, working on your changes… Well, it’s that and it’s the strict boundary stuff that MLCer’s resist too. So let’s be clear, all of this is Paving the Way.
This phase is where you are in your newbies days as you go through the panic and anxiety and eventually learn to detach. Maybe that is why it takes a while to even get to the point where you can start reassuring.
Clinging Boomerangs maintain an emotional attachment and connection to their spouse. They may seek greater physical contact or show more needy behaviors and they may be quicker to exit Monster and more eager to make-up with you. This may include apologies, but their promises are often words without actions.
How do you establish reassurance?
Well sure, all that nicey-nice tenderness stuff may help, but then an MLCer may infer you are a Doormat if there’s too much of it while they are being abusive. So please understand, it does not mean that you forget about Respect-Boundaries and allow anything! It just means you are more flexible as you initiate the Paving of the Way. Establish reassurance by validating them and applying the Unconditionals.
Your MLCer has to test you. They test your reactions versus responses—can they bait you into going into your own Monster? When you respond rather than react and handle interactions with detachment, you are building reassurance. It will take time because you need practice learning how to respond and what works with your specific situation. Then you both need to process what you have learned.
Reassurance is something you do for your MLCer—part of Standing Actions. But your priority needs to be on your own healing and Mirror-Work. Your strength (detachment, confidence boundaries…) in conjunction with the Unconditionals are what enables Reassurance. Without focusing on you, it will not happen.
In the next post I will discuss how you know when you have established reassurance.