The Boomerang Ex: Why Do They Keep Coming Back? (And What to Do When They Show Up)
The negotiations are made. The papers signed. If there are no kids, you’re assuming that you’ll never see your ex again. If there are children in the picture, you’re operating under the impression that the relationship will transition into a business-like one focused on transactions and consultation.
And all seems to be going to plan for a time. The interactions, if they happen at all, are either practical or still flavored from the bitter wash of divorce. Your ex is firmly your ex – over and done with.
And then you receive a text.
“Do you remember that time we rented that cabin up in the mountains? We never even made it into town, much less out of the bedroom. I miss you.”
And now you’re confused. This isn’t the same person that stonewalled you for years or seemed to be critical of your every move. This is the person you fell in love with.
Maybe the hurt and anger is still too strong and you refuse to reply to the foraging text. Or maybe the words bring up those early feelings for you as well and you text back, “I miss you too.” Only to berate yourself in the morning.
Once the divorce is final, some people embrace the role as ex, stepping back and staying back. While others, for a variety of reasons, are intent on coming back.
What makes these boomerang exes act the way they do? And how can you deal with their confusing and often unwanted attentions?
They Can’t Be Alone
Some exes hang around because they cannot stomach the thought of being alone. Maybe they’re insecure and gain confidence through their interactions with others or maybe they’re afraid to face the voices of truth that whisper to them at night. Regardless, you were their number one, their go-to and even after divorce, you still are.
This attention may feel flattering at first. Like they want you so much that they cannot let you go. But in time, it becomes stifling. Suffocating. Their need for attention speaking over your need to move on. You may even sense that it’s less about you and more about their fears. And you have no desire to continue to hold their hand when they’re frightened.
Before you can find distance from the ex who cannot be alone, you first have to accept that rescuing them is no longer your job (in fact, it never really was). They are an adult and are responsible for themselves and managing their own fears and challenges. Create boundaries, explicitly state the type and frequency of contact you are okay with. And then fill that line in the sand in with Quikrete.
Held By Habit
Even with the abrupt and brutal ending to my own marriage, I still had to fight the urge to call or text my ex impulsively when I saw or experienced something that I normally would have shared with him. Habit is a powerful force and when we’ve spent a large percentage of a lifetime with somebody, it takes time for those habits to be replaced.
I think we all have those natural impulses after the demise of a long relationship. Just some are better at resisting the call than others. If you suspect your ex is hanging around out of habit, try being patient. Time is really on your side here as new patterns emerge and become engrained.
If their impromptu communications unsettle you, do what you need to on your side to create a little distance – send their emails to the junk folder, silence their phone calls or hide behind the sofa when the doorbell rings. If their attempts at connection are not met, their habits will be unrewarded and they will soon move on.
Seeking to Control
Not all contact is as innocuous as that propelled by habit. Some exes stay in the picture because they cannot tolerate the idea that you will undertake a life without their influence. They attempt to stay in your circle so that they can continue to manipulate your surroundings.
These exes will probe you for information. They may deliver advice, pretending to be helpful, while steering you in a direction that is advantageous to them. They will try to impose limits and bans on your post-divorce life, painting the unreasonable as reasonable.
Dealing with the manipulative ex takes a firm and steady hand. Be resolute in your boundaries and be ready to take blocking them to the extreme. If needed, seek legal counsel about your rights and responsibilities so that you are not help hostage by your exes accusations and claims. And then go as “no contact” as you can.
Tempted by Curiosity
It’s strange when you go from knowing so much about someone to knowing so little. And it’s natural to be curious about what is happening in their world now that you are no longer a part of it. This ex approaches the periphery. They are not looking to become part of your life again, they simply want to see your Facebook feed.
If you’ve already found emotional distance, this ex is harmless. If, however, you’re still pulled emotionally by their presense, this contact can be an emotional roller coaster for you. If you can’t handle contact yet, let them know you need space. And then take it. No apologies needed.
They Want Action
It can be awkward (to say the least) to first get physically intimate with somebody other than your former spouse. And some choose to avoid this situation for as long as possible by viewing their former partner as an ex with benefits. It’s completely normal to still find yourself attracted to your ex and fall back into bed.
Yet just because it’s a normal impulse, doesn’t mean that it’s the best one for you. Continuing to have a physical relationship with your ex makes it more difficult to let go. Remind yourself of your big-picture goals. Is 20 minutes of pleasure really worth sacrificing what you really want?
Even worse is when the advances are unwanted, when your ex has become the creeper whose interest you’re trying to avoid. This is another case for distance and firm boudaries. Avoid being alone with your ex and limit your in-person contact.
Prompted by Change
Sometimes the boomerang ex only returns after a protacted time away. And sometimes this return is prompted by internal or external change. You hear of former spouses reconiling after one has learned of a fatal diagnosis. Or after some event occurs than affects – and reunites – them both.
Perhaps life has continued to be a learning process and they now have evolved to a place where they want to try again. Or maybe they’re finally realizing that they made a mistake and they’re looking to correct it.
Sometimes this return is welcomed and is the beginning of a second phase. And sometimes you’ve already moved on to the point of no return (and no interest). If this is the case, decide if you want to aim for friendship or if you would prefer for them to remain in your past. No matter your decision, be compassionate here. People change and the person approaching you now may no longer be the same one that hurt you all those years ago.
When you have a boomerang ex, there are two questions you must ask youself –
1 – What do they have to gain from the repeated bids for attention?
2 – What do you want to do about it?
Answer those two questions and you will either decide to hold them at arm’s length or welcome them back with open arms.