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.”  (I strongly suggest you don’t ask questions.  None, if you can.  Just gentle invitations.)
  • 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.”  
  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. 
 


Comments

When to Fold ’Em? — 245 Comments

  1. Do you have any articles for the one considering leaving? I’m married 18 years, in love with a friend for almost 3 years. A year ago I found out she is in love with me too. We haven’t cheated.

    I want to leave my wife who I am miserable with but we have 3 kids and I can’t stand to be away from then more than a day. My parents stayed in an unhappy marriage for our sake and I wish they didn’t. I don’t want to damage my kids the way I was damaged by their unhappy marriage.

    I don’t know what to do. I read a whole lot of your site but can’t find anything for the person considering leaving.

    • Hi Nick, Yeah I don’t think I wrote any article for you specifically. But most of my articles are on the topic and are there to give you help making your choices. Here are some thoughts.

      Map of Relationship is probably the best place to start. Figure out where you are, where your wife is, and where your potential partner is. Then decide which way you want to go. Sounds as if you have been deep in Door #2 for some time and are now back at what I call the Choice Point. Do you proceed to fix the relationship you have, the one that sucks, the one your parents taught you to have, and head for Vintage Love (Door #1, the cheapest and my preference)? Do you continue secretly with this potential partner until you get exposed (Door #2)? Do you give up on this relationship with your kid’s mom, go start a new relationship with this other gal (Door #3) which will eventually probably be as troubled at the one you are in?

      Of course this is your call. I can’t make that decision for you. But I sure don’t want you, or your wife or this other gal to be miserable. Nope, nope I want you on your way to what I call Vintage Love. (I suggest you don’t choose Door #2 as your parents did. Bad example for your kids.)

      How can I help? Questions?

  2. Al,
    I wasn’t sure if it was more appropriate to add a reply to my original comment from November 5th or to make a new one. Of course you can place this comment wherever you feel is best.

    An update on my situation with that gal from before–She has been mostly silent and still will not text me unless I initiate contact first. The exceptions being my birthday, which was early December, and on Christmas. A few weeks ago, however, she texted me (out of the blue–from my perspective ) and the floodgates opened, so to speak. She vented about a horrible ongoing fight with a friend of hers and troubles with her parents. I listened and validated to the best of my ability. After about a week, the silence came back.

    On December 7th, about a week before she opened up to me, I texted her and asked if she had any plans for New Year’s Eve and if she’d like to do something with me. She gave what I think was a vague response, saying that she didn’t know if she had plans and would have to find out first. I told her there was no pressure and she responded with “I’ll let you know when I find out”. Well, New Year’s Eve has gone and gone and I did not hear from her at all. I have not contacted her since Christmas and don’t plan to contact her now since I honestly don’t know the best way to handle this.

    Of course, my feelings are hurt and I’m a bit irritated that she didn’t get back to me (on top of the general silence.) I’m trying to keep an open mind and not to jump to conclusions since I don’t know what’s going on with her–and that’s the problem. I would like her to open up to me and get clarity on why she suddenly started being so distant starting 3 months ago. My problem is almost any type of questioning would seem like pushing.

    I can’t text her and say,
    “You seem distant to me over the last 3 months. If you liked to share, I’d love to hear about it. But for now, let’s get dinner.”
    We aren’t getting dinner, obviously, or doing anything of the type to alleviate the expectation and pressure of a response because of the physical distance. And I believe that text messaging is ill suited to gently inviting to share (as I’ve also read from you)

    Do you have any ideas on what I can do to get clarity with this situation and encourage her to open up? This whiole thing is hurting me much more than I expected it would since I started developing feelings for her. I feel lost in a maze where every direction I think of turning to help everything ends in a roadblock.

    Thanks,
    Eric

    • This is a fine place to add your comment, Eric. What can you that’s more? I hadn’t gotten the idea that you two had started much of a relationship. If so then this is a more “lite” situation. I think of the first few dates as kind of like fishing and seeing it you get a solid bite. That you are strongly attracted to her is not enough. She has to display, at some time, that she wants strongly to be with you. She can’t reach that point without being exposed to you a bit. Thus casual dating. But this sounds a bit as if she hasn’t yet come to feel strongly toward you. And you’ve done some “pushing” which has sent her into a) the hills, and b) at maximum being polite. Not very promising.

      I could be really wrong (often am) but if you have strong abandonment issues, you might want to chat with a professional about the things you bring to the party with anyone you date. I wish I have learned earlier about my own extreme neediness. Could have avoided years of trouble.

      I wish you well, Eric. (Lots of stuff on my website to read.)

      • Thanks for the reply and recommendation. I have been reading and re-reading lots of your articles and they are a help.
        We are not in a relationship, but are friends. However, that friendship seems to be tenuous given her recent silence. Given my situation, is there no course of action to take to see where her head is at that won’t seem like pusing?

        • Is there anything you can do that won’t seem pushing? You and me don’t know. If you had a mutual friend you might ask them what they think is going on. But I would stick to short emails maybe once a week or every two. Or less often until you get more clarity.

        • There is a mutual friend but I’m not sure how much help he would be. Do you think it would be wise to gently (or as gently as texting allows) ask her about why she’s been so distant? I suppose the reason this is such a blow to me is that I think I’m losing a friend and I do not understand why. It would be one thing to be rejected as a ‘romantic’ partner, but this seems strange. To be clear, we never openly described what we’ve done as ‘dates’–although that seems to be what they could be viewed as.

        • Biggest lesson to learn is about who you are. That’s all boundaries and boundary lessons. For instance you seem to be a guy who likes to understand how things work. Well, she is completely understandable within here context. So are you. She always makes sense – in her context. She hasn’t been distant. She’s doing things that make sense to her that you interpret as “being distant.” You ain’t losing a friend you never had while you thought you did. Life is a wonderful series of lessons. Could luck and good learning.

        • I have been thinkng the same thing. I believe she makes sense–I’ve just been trying to determine what that sense is. Hence me mentioning earlier that, even though I was hurt when she didn’t get back to me for New Year’s, I was trying to keep an open mind.

          Interesting that you say she isn’t being distant, but is doing things in her own sense that I interpret as her being distant. That sounds reasonable to and I suppose it’s about perspective as well.

          I had to laugh bitterly about your friend remark–even though I’m 95% sure you didn’t intend it to be funny. Somehow “not losing a friend I never had, but thought I did” is worse than ‘”losing a friend” to me.

          It is really in times of pain where introspection is important. I’m confident in saying that I’m familiar with a good deal of my flaws and shortcomings and I’m eager to get better and grow as a person. I’m a relatively patient person, but I’m sure there is room for improvement there as I have and continue to wait for clarity. IF it is the case that I did something that would cause her to ‘run for the hills’, I would like to know. Perhaps not just for the sake of our ‘friendship’ but also for my interactions with people in general moving forward–because this isn’t fun. Lately I have been feeling less willing to engage with friends and family for fear that 1.) I will drive them away somehow and 2.) They will not tell me why. Intellectually, I belive this is irrational, but at times my lizard is telling me otherwise.

          I know you described this as ‘lite’ and I understand why. I read many of the comments across your site and it is flush with decades-long marriages in the balance. However, it doesn’t feel lite to my lizard. I came to the surprising realization last week that this feels almost as bad as my ex of 6 years leaving me (of which you and I have chatted on the phone). I suppose to my lizard, everything is an “11 out of 10”.

        • I never thought you were experiencing something “lite,” Eric. The good-ole Lizard takes most every “threat” as a life-or-death issue. That’s even a way to identify that you Lizard is awake – you are thinking or dreaming about dying! Very heavy. You experience you “girl” vanishing and your Lizard thinks it’s dying – that’s pretty normal. That’s why we build up our Cortexes to remind it that we ain’t dying even when it feels like it. Tis tough, but good to know.

          I think a relationship-lite is a brief one of less than a couple of years. During that time (see my Map of Relationships) people can breakup for very simple reasons. Remember that during that Romantic Period a whole lot of brain power goes into establishing Imago connections (thousands of em) from both sides. And part of that stuff is “negative stuff.” (e.g. “One reason I love her is cuz her behavior reminds me of my grandma’s hateful behavior.”) The attraction of stuff is pretty tricky. So breakups during that phase can simply be that the two of you or even one of you doesn’t find enough Imago connection. It might be nice to know what things she sees in you that she doesn’t like, but in a lite relationship I wouldn’t mess with it.

          Now, in a 5 year or longer relationship, I think it’s a different story. Dig into it.

          Of course in your sitch you may have to dig into why she pulls away from your digging, and solve that problem. It’s not easy. Keep a going.

        • Thanks for the explanation of how you view relationships–I understand now. I would like to do some digging about why she pulls away to my digging but this is of course is a catch 22 situation. What does a gentle invite look like here?

        • Gentle invites? Probably my article on the Gentle Art of Pulling gives the theory and examples. Anything that doesn’t come across to this person as demanding/pushy but does come across curious and inviting. So I avoid questions, but convert them to statements. Probably anything of the form “I am curious (a statement about you) about any thoughts (open ended, looking for anything) you have about how I might be difficult to talk to. If you ever think of anything, I’d love to hear it. (Get’s rid of the rush to respond.)”

  3. Hi Al,
    So, my question is what if I never want to give up hope? If I do the steps above and I still don’t here from him in a year from now, can I reach out to him once every 6 months or so? Is that totally crazy? I mean, how long is too long to wait? I love him.

    • Hi Rebekah, Good question. Only you know how long is too long. I’ve met a couple who married, and divorced each other twice, and were working on marrying a third time. My guideline is just my answer to your question. I support you making your decision.

      • Oh my gosh Al thank you so much for your reply. Your words mean so much to me. I value and respect your understandings so very much. I am so overjoyed and relived to hear you say that it’s up to me. I hear God telling me the same thing. Hearing your guideline fills my heart with so much hope and strength.

  4. Once a week?! For real!!??? Ok, I’m definitely the clinging-panicking girlfriend right now. First, he broke up with me, via text. He told me “couldn’t be in a romantic relationship right now,” but immediately after, told me that he loved me too. Then, I dropped off his things, which included the surprise present for his birthday– tomorrow– and then he thanked me and told me he really appreciated the present. We broke up on Tuesday. It’s Saturday. I’ve been crying every day since then… Talking to other people, trying to do things I like, but not finding much use in it. I don’t know if I’m waiting or if I’m really, getting left behind, and I don’t know what to do. Either way, I don’t know how to “live alone” or get LU’s from anywhere else that are the same, level off good LU’s. Please, please help. He said not to talk to him, so I tried really really hard not to, and when I had to give him his stuff, he thanked me for not talking. I said I’d let him reach out to me when it was convenient, (*panicking because what if that is never*) but now, 25 hours later, I literally feel like I’m dying. Like, literally dying. I was alone during Thanksgiving, and all my other friends for college were gone and at home. Tomorrow is his birthday… would it be the wrong idea to tell him anything, in any way? Would an email, like at night be ok? I just want to email him now and tell him everything is going to be okay, but I know he’ll just freeze. I don’t know if he will ever “unfreeze,” and I can’t gauge what amount of space is appropriate. Once a week literally sounds insane and entirely undo-able and I don’t know how to help me or him and please help.

    Please help your 21 yr college kid– I gotta get through next semester and write my theses (one is on Buddhism, which I apparently do not know how to use in practice), so that I can get a job and live in financial security. But now, I’m not secure at all and I don’t even feel like eating or sleeping, much less, writing my finals or a thesis.

    • Oh Wow, that sounds like a whole pile of panic. Very scary. So if you can head over to my article on the Lizard and Safety. My guess that you’re going to have to become an expert on Panic. How to recognize it in yourself and others and what to do about it. The lizard is always and only thinking about death and thus when it isn’t taken care of you’ll find thoughts of dying in your thinking. I suggest you quickly make friends with your Lizard. It responds well to slow breathing, structure, predictive information. I think Buddhism is great for this too.

      Great list of things your lizard is panicked about. The theme suggests you have in the past depended on other too much – are used to it. So when you’re on your own you feel helpless. That sounds to me like the Great Theme we all face in growing up – in developing self-reliance and self-responsibility. I think humans are designed to face this.

      And while your Lizard thinks it’s gonna die, your cortex has to learn to remind that it won’t.

      Good luck, and breathe!

  5. Al, I found your website through someone elses who was talking about imago theory. The reason i was interested is that i keep attracting the same type of situation in partnerships- the runner or one who won’t work on themselves. After this past relationship ended abruptly in Sept. I was left in a tailspin. I am part of a forum for borderline personality and all recommendations from people on there and my counselor were to go NO Contact. Despite this, it has not sit well with me. Part of the reason i suppose is that i’m naturally the “connector” and I just adored this woman despite her exhibiting NPD signs. What i really think is challenging is that she got off Anit-depresants and then started taking advise from the dysfunctional people in her life. Her Mom is super narcissistic and controlling her emotionally and psychologically. My gal is very oppositional behavior oriented. Since i had been in these types of relationships before I felt this time i was proud of how i handled myself. I was very calm and present with her. She liked that about me too. However, after getting of the AD’s her battlecry was: “I was married for 20 years and don’t know who I am and just want to date other men.” The first time I heard this it was a shock. I pulled back from the relationship and kept in contact minimally like you suggest. We would run into each other at parties etc. at friends and she wanted to touch me and be physical. I put up a boundary for this and said, “since you don’t want to be in a relationship with me I can’t do that with you.” She respected this and we started to see less and less of each other.

    In July, we went 3 weeks without talking and then she sent me a text. It was a flirty text with a pic of herself (not sexual). I responded but since i had considered the r/s over, i took a job out of town. I told her that. She said she would like to meet me to say goodbye. 2 days later she had a heart attack. I found out and went to the hospital. We spent time together that week and she invited me to her house to stay with her(she was scared). As i went away for work we kept in touch through skype/phone/text etc. In the beginning she was flirty with me and almost like she had been when we first met. Then it started to taper off but still staying in communication. When she found out i was coming back into town for my next work assignment, she was happy (said so in her texts).

    That last week that i spent time with her was interesting. We spent time together but she was not affectionate with me in front of anyone and in fact was more touchy/feely with other men that she was friends with. We went out on dates and then after having sex the first night the next day she told me she wanted to date other guys again (same old story). I figured she was doing it for shock value and dismissed it. Anyway, she called me a couple of nights later and basically pushed me away. I took the bait and said, “listen i’m not going to contact you then until you’re ready. Since you want this, then you contact me when you’re ready to talk more about us.” Her sisters wedding was approaching and she hadn’t invited me as partner/date (i knew this was a bad sign). I felt rejected for sure! Especially since i was the one who visited her in the hospital, cared about her etc and now this is how she handles things?

    now to my question: she contacted me earlier this month through social media messaging (not my personal number) and gave me a news update. Didn’t indicate that she wanted to talk. Am I doing the wrong thing by not responding? I felt that by responding that i would keep allowing her to re-wound me. The thought of her being with someone else really traumatizes me. How does the imago theory come into play if someone has bpd or npd? wondering what your thoughts are on that? and my conflict about contacting her?
    I still feel clingy because she is a runner.

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