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Reliable Membership: The Essay — 98 Comments

  1. I’m a Clinger dealing with an Avoider who was, in his previous relationship, a bully in a Master/Slave dynamic (the Slave eventually broke the cycle by calling 911 on him since he was threatening suicide to keep her from leaving). A lot of healing has occurred, and he feels a lot of shame and regret about the way he acted in that relationship.

    However, this makes it difficult for him to feel safe around me, because *I* am sometimes gutted by anger and fear about his previous behavior — as well as occasional fear that he will revert to it, or that his change is not permanent or real. My need to express those feelings sometimes explodes as accusation and shaming — “how could you treat her that way” — and is at direct crosspurposes with his need to feel safety or acceptance.

    In short, I’m holding my Avoider’s previous behavior against him, and because it sparks fear and rage in me, it endangers our ability to feel safe with each others. How can we work together so we are no longer controlled by his past behavior? As the Clinger and more proactive person, how can I help create an environment where we both heal from this?

    • Hi Jen, I wanna start by sharing that Clinger/Avoider stuff seems unconnected to Bully: Master/Slave stuff. In the former the dynamic is pretty simple and almost mechanical. Tis a matter of understanding it and the Clinger “doing the right thing.” For a Clinger the action is to work to keep your partner away from feeling overloaded from any source, or once they are overloaded do what you can to help the process of getting back from being overloaded.

      The Master/Slave dynamic is only solved by developing the habit of durably staying in a Friend/Friend mode no matter what your partner does. Eventually both learn that habit and both help each other while learning. So you are working on building all the skills of Friend/Friend that you both were not taught in your family or in previous relationships.

      My suggestion for you is to put up some signs to remind you (and him) that all people make sense all the time. He and you did make sense in the past. In the past he was doing his best even when acting like a bully – so was his partner when she let him act like a bully. No one can make anyone feel anything. Your stuff is never my fault, but I care about you, is there anything I can do to help. When my partner get’s angry it’s best to take a TimeOut and vice versa. Disagreement is normal. If two are agreeing, probably at least one is lying. If thinking of his past sparks fear in you, then learn the competence of dealing with it not avoiding it. If thinking of his past sparks anger in you, value your passion, get rid of your anger, and learn better to deal with it. Just some thoughts.

      These are all the little skills that untangle a Master/Slave relationship.

      Good luck.

  2. “Why would a person run toward something that is not running away?”
    I recall this sentence from your “Feelings and Emotions” article and I think it suits here as well.

  3. Dear Uncle Al, I feel that the love mismatch you talk about regarding the required love units is akin to any other relationship mismatch that eventually is more trouble than is worth and is better dealt with a finding another partner that suits your needs best. The mismatch will not go away, and I find it unfair that the clinger is the one that is always blamed for the failures of the relationship. The clinger is the one that is supposed to do the hard work and somehow have to deal with seeking the love units that the avoider cannot or will not provide ( and in a way that it does not threaten the avoider ) .Personally, I think one is better served with just finding someone who is able to provide roughly the same love units that you need.

    • Dear Piekko, So many people who arrive at my website seem to be clingers who naturally sympathize with the Clinger in my paper on Reliable Membership. And, of course, that is the space I come from. In the past most people who sought my work had been in a long term relationship that they want to “fix.” I was one of these (See my Map of Relationships for the whole story). And of course the core belief in the website, my core belief, is that we pick people that we are drawn to people who uniquely do not/cannot (without changing) meet our needs in specific ways.

      More and more people are coming from “just dipping their feet in the water of relationship”. A lot of people believe in compatibility and see differences as a problem to be avoided. I am certainly ok with seeking a better partnership, if you have that choice.

      I tend to see the phrase “finding another partner that suits your needs best” as based on an outmoded fantasy. For me the idea that people often chose an “ideal appearing” partner, who later turns out to be your “worst nightmare”, seems more practical and leads to better solutions. This, certainly exaggerated image, I think prepares people for the hard work of making a great relationship.

      Discovering that one is a clinger, with an avoider partner, whose clinging behavior is driving that avoider away, seems normal and common. To look for a solution to that problem is what I imagine most people who come to this article or who read “What to do when he/she leaves” are doing.

      It’s fun to review theories. Thanks for sharing yours.

  4. I absolutely love AND hate this article. I’ve been called clingy and after reading even such a short article, I feel I understand my girlfriend of 5 years and my breakdown. We recently separated and although she still lives with me, was talking to a “friend” for a while now even before the split. She assured me it was nothing until they “kissed” last night and she spent the night there. She states it shouldn’t matter because we “are not together” right now, but my clinginess is holding on because it has been not even 3 weeks yet.
    Anyway, I am developing an understanding because she is an avoider and potentially has less lu’s than your wife. I wish I had found this site sooner as it appears it is too late and since we’ve fought over this clingy issue in the past, she does not see the potential for my change.
    Overall though, i am appreciative of all your information and have been (and will continue to) learn all these techniques and identification methods in order to potentially understand and better myself in the future. Thank you

    • I hear you, Tim. Quite an article. Still stands up. I went over that LU part with my wife after reading your piece. She said, “Back then I didn’t have many Love Units. Now I’ve got a lot, sometimes more than you, Turkey.”

      Good luck, Tim. Keep a learning.

  5. One thing not mentioned, that I think is “unfair”. Avoiders throw themselves into work and social activities in their leaving – why not they have plentiful supply of LU. And often they make demands that clingers “get friends” or “other interests”.

    for the Clinger, getting jobs completed is hard to focus and keep motivated, and there is no interest in outside social interests and work seems pointless…. because I have a huge gaping hole torn in my life.

    • Doesn’t seem fair but not much in life is. People who contact me are usually the Clingers who’ve been left behind. I recall that “the one who can leave, has all the power.” But that one, the avoider, usually has felt powerless for a long time. It is, to my way of thinking, for the Clinger to ensure that their Avoider doesn’t feel powerless or overwhelmed – ever, in your presence.

      This may not seem “fair” as you have your need also. Just can’t use power to get em met. Good luck. Read on.

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