When to Fold ’Em?

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Lots of people have asked me this over the past year.  “If my partner is moving away, is leaving me, when should I give up?  How do I make that decision?”   I did write one article on how to get ‘em to make a decision about joining you in a relationship.  This article is based on the same principle involving a person who maybe acting passively at a time when you want some decision.  And remember this is all based on your continued wish to reconnect.

The decision you want is a) that your partner decides to come back toward you or b) that you reasonably get to stop waiting for them. 

Here is the setup.  They have moved out, either physically or emotionally or both.  Their actions have led you to understand that the previous relationship you had with them somehow “sucked” – enough for them to leave.  So now you don’t want the old relationship back, but do want to make a new and better relationship with them.  You have read my article on What to do when he/she leaves and are trying to follow the four steps. 

So the question is, “How long do you wait?”  The current wisdom out on the internet seems to be to not contact them at all.  I do not think that a wise course.  No contact may make them become aware of their “loneliness,” but also may communicate that you don’t care – that you want them to go away.

So here is my suggestion.  Modify this as you chose.  In its pure form it takes 5 months.

  1. Establish a contact channel: email, or cards are ideal.  It should be cheap and easily permit the sending of a very limited amount of information.  I find text messaging is not very suited to this, nor is voice mail, but you choose.  You want them to receive your contact and have perfect freedom about what they do with it: read it, trash it, etc. 
  2. Plan a message that you are going to send.  You may have to send as many as 10, so make this simple.  The message should contain a “greeting,” an optional bit of news, a clue to your work on yourself, a gentle invitation for more contact.
  • The greeting can be nothing more complex than “Hi,” or “Dear Mike,” etc.  Keep this light. 
  • Optional newsy bit is just something like “It’s raining hard,”  “The lilacs are out,”  “Broke my leg the other day.  Doing ok, tho.”   Don’t mention anything awful that they might feel obliged to fix.  Don’t ever say, “I’m miserable without you,” or the like.
  • The clue to your work on yourself is part of my instruction to “3: Work on yourself visibly.”   This should be different in each note, and I think these should be pretty abstract.  You want your partner to be curious for more.  Some examples are, “Seeing my counselor weekly and I am sure learning a lot,”  “Wow am I learning about how pushy I used to be.”   “Boy, I am getting it that I have been asleep for years.”  Etc.  Anything you are learning that might involve some subject of their past “complaints” might be good.  An example could be that if they complained about your temper, you say, “I am working really hard on getting rid of my anger.  I realized it’s been a problem to me for years.”
  • Lastly you include a gentle invitation (not a push) to more contact.  “Love to hear from you any time you feel like it,”  “It’d be fun to hear your voice.”  “If you ever feel like contacting me, feel free.” 
  • Then sign it, bluntly or not at all.  “Dave,”  “Yours,” etc.  Do not say, “Your most obedient and humble servant, begging for your orders, please, please.”   J
  1. Send one message only, once a week for one month. (4 messages)  Send one message, once every other week for two months. (4 messages)  Send one message, once a month for two months. (2 messages)  STOP.

That’s it. 

If at any time he/she re-contacts you, follow my rule #4 and respond minimally.  Oh, if their contact is neutral or simply newsy, read it and ignore it.  The contact you are looking for is some request to connect to you coming from them.  Example: if they say, “Life is crazy here,” you might feel an impulse to write back something like, “What’s going on?”   Don’t do it!  It’s a trap.  If they say, “Tell me more about what you are learning,” that’s a move to reconnect.  Respond minimally to that.  Wait for them to be explicit. 

Do not be surprised too much if he/she contacts you after the five months of this process.  Your partner is leaving that period with a memory of your wanting them, but not pushing.  That, I think, is the best you can do.
Good luck. 


When to Fold ’Em? — 216 Comments

  1. Hi Al, I’m only young but my partner of five years left me about six weeks ago. We have not had the easiest relationship with various stints of long distance due to study and work with the final long distance period leading to my partner being emotionally exhausted and telling me he did not have the strength to go on. For me it was out of the blue. I’ve tried to look back over it read the signs but I haven’t got much. I can’t even work out who is the clinger and who is the avoider though it is abundantly clear to me that right now I’m the clinger.
    At first he said nothing had changed between us, he just didn’t want to move from our hometown and his family and the life he had built there (which was the plan due to my profession required me to move from my hometown), and couldn’t keep doing long distance. In coming conversations this has evolved to I don’t know if I see a future with you anymore and I don’t love you the way you love me. I know he’s scared about moving but I think a future without him scares me more than almost anything else, so his sense isn’t the same as mine. Having said that I am still trying to work my sense out.
    We were planning on buying a house (in our new city), getting married and having kids together mere weeks before this. I had never doubted that I was with the person I would grow old with. I’m a quirky partner for sure but I felt safe and loved in my relationship, and my partner made me very happy. It seemed I also made him very happy though being apart was hard. Though I am sorry as I must not have been making him happy of late.
    We have grown up together and he feels like family. I am struggling to cope with the grief of losing my best friend and a whole future I had hoped to share with them. He has just had some tragic news in his family and says he is struggling to work out who he is and where he is going and where I fit into it, if I fit into it at all. He says he doesn’t want me to reguret waiting around for him, when he doesn’t know if he wants me anymore. He is relieved to not have to face moving and to not have to miss me all the time.
    At first he didn’t want to talk to me at all. I was pathetic. I felt lost and scared and worthless. And I was all alone. Unfortunately, he had to deal with some of that largely because I didn’t have anyone else. Since then I’ve been trying to be kinder and stronger and be the friend he needs and allow him to reach out as he likes. Mostly he doesn’t reach out, which hurts but I gather it must make sense to him in a way it does not to me. We have seen each other once since the break up and it was such a relief to see one another. It was like coming home. But then he was so upset and I was pushy and tried to make him laugh and pretend it was all ok. I know he knows I’m hurting and that hurts him but he can’t see a way forward, he just can’t.
    I understand that it is likely I have missed many signs due to not listening to my partner or making him feel like he couldn’t talk to me. I also understand that missing each other was a kind of burden which we both dealt with differently. He tried to distract himself with sport and friends, but I didn’t make enough effort and was living my life waiting to see him, talk to him, waiting for him to move to me. And that made him feel scared and pressured and threatened. But I don’t know how learning about these problems can help me fix them based in the nature of the situation.
    I try to trust what I thought was a relationship on its way to achieving the biological dream, and be patient and wait for my partner to work things out and in the mean time try to better myself and learn and become stronger. Other times I wonder if that is unfair on he and I, and I should just love him from afar and allow all parties to move on in their own direction. I mean sometimes the love just isn’t right, right? It feels right, but maybe it just isn’t. Or maybe I’m not even ready to be a good partner. Maybe I have to do other things first. Maybe I’m not enough yet. I just want to do the right thing by this guy. I want to behave in a way that I can be proud of, and not diminish he or I or the love we share. Sorry this is an enormous comment, and sorry for my lack of maturity and self awareness (I’m trying). Any thoughts or just about anything would be appreciated. However, please don’t feel like you must respond.

  2. Hello, so I been a relationship with my girlfriend for 5 years we just broke up about 2 weeks ago. I had the power in the relationship and would always be the one to leave and her come callin me back but after this fight and putting in a 30 day notice. this time around she said she was fed up and needed space and been thinking about the relationship. And now she has the power and I’m here trying to get her back. So for the past two weeks I been trying to get her back and begging the whole 9 yards but obviously that’s not the answer.shes telling me to just give her space and if and when she wants me back she’ll let me know she turned really cold on me the tables have really turned. I understand and learned my lesson she has deserced much more outnif me then and now..really want her back and she tells me she loves me and misses me but we can’t be together right now. What do i do just leave her alone and just wait and see if she comes back to me?
    Lost and confused -bill

    • Hello Bill, and welcome to the world of lots of new discoveries – about relationships. Most of us “students” started this journey by panicking when our partner broke up with us in some way. So my first suggestion is to breathe.

      As far as “power” goes, a) “the one who can leave has all the power”, b) and solving the issue of making both partners feel powerful, but not more powerful is central to a successful relationship. I often call this “the who is the boss” problem, and until you two solve this, I fear there will be troubles.

      I’ve faced this, too, and I think your idea of wait and see is not a good idea. I’ve written a lot on this. If you want her back, then don’t give up. Get to work learning. A whole bunch of to do things are around this website. Your question reminds me of an answer I once gave was in the radical paper “It takes one to make a marriage, two to make a split.”

      You’d better check out my Map of Relationships, too.

      Good luck.

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