We determine the possible masses and radii of the progenitors of white dwarfs in binaries from fits to detailed stellar evolution models and use these to reconstruct the mass-transfer phase in which the white dwarf was formed. We confirm the earlier finding that in the first phase of mass transfer in the binary evolution leading to a close pair of white dwarfs, the standard common-envelope formalism based on energy balance in the system, does not work. A formalism based on angular momentum balance can explain the observations. We extend our analysis to all close binaries with at least one white dwarf component. Comparing the two, we show that the formalism based on angular momentum balance can explain all observations at least as well as the energy formalism.