“Out of the Blue” means “Read the Tea Leaves”

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Once you have figured out what to do when he or she leaves, and once you are into doing those four steps, what next?  The answer to this seems to me, once again, pretty simple.  I see it to be all about changing your habits of “keeping secrets” and “being blind.”

"Out of the Blue"

Hey, give me a break!  Whatever your partner did, it certainly did not come from nowhere.  Our partners always make sense.  Their behavior made sense.  We were surprised.  We didn’t see it coming, because we were not informed.  We were blind to what was going on in them.  We call it “odd” or “out of the blue” just cuz it surprises us.  The phrase “out of the blue” seems to signal the “blindness” of the person using the phrase. image

I remember being told that an Affair is in many ways a teaching experience, from which the affaired against can learn a) all about trust (which they won’t have for years to come) and b) about what was going on in their partner that they were blind to.  I think this is just as true for affairs as for “unexpected” departures.

Story excerpted from Part 5 of my Map of Relationships:

A man called our office on Sunday, saying he wanted to get his wife in to see me.  “She is going crazy,” he said.  “She wants a divorce after 23 happy years.  She says she doesn’t love me any more.”

He made the appointment and sent her in.  And, surprising me, she came.

I asked her what the problem was.  She said, “I don’t love him any more.”  I asked, “How long since you last loved him?”  She predictably responded, “22 years.”  So much for the “happy 23 years” idea.

 Seeking to find out the factor that had kept her from sharing this secret unhappiness with her partner for 22 years, I said, “Perhaps we should tell him.”  She almost jumped, “No, no!  We couldn’t do that. It would hurt him too much.”  And so I gathered his fragility and dramatized pain had kept her quiet all these years.

I asked, “Well, what makes you think of doing something about it now.”  And the predictable answer was, “Well, I met this guy who makes me feel like a real woman.”

By the way, she did tell her husband about being unhappy for 22 years.  They did get a divorce.  After a short happy 5 months, the woman and her new friend broke up.  She found the new guy worse than her ex-husband.  She decided to come back and try again.  Her ex-husband would have none of it.  “You lied to me for 22 years.  How can I ever trust you now?”

The experience of surprise, I think, is a cue to get to work becoming reliably aware of what is going on in your partner.  It is a cue to become aware of your own tendency to blindness and fix it once and for all.

Reading the Tea Leaves

Gosh this seems so simple.  Look down into that cup of tea at those leaves!  They are telling you something. Look into whatever your partner does or says, he/she is telling you something.  Don’t ignore it.

Malidoma Some told me about how stupid are westerners.  In his country, if your house burns down, you sit in the ashes for a couple of weeks in a deep effort to understand the message(s) in the fire.  In our country we use insurance to pay for fixing the problem and ignore the message.   In his country, if you break an arm, you get help reading the message in that fracture.  In our country we drop into the hospital, get the arm set, and ignore the message that was sent us.

When someone leaves you, they are telling you something.  One thing they are telling you is that it is not easy to get your attention and to get you to listen.  They have had to use very extreme methods – leaving you. 

I recall being in Glacier Park, Montana during the New York and Washington bombings on 9/11.  My friend brought me the news from the Ranger Station to our campsite.  During the time it took him to walk that 200 yards, he had time to think.  As he told me the news he said, “I wonder what message they were delivering and why they had to use such an extreme method.”

As I listen to people writing me about being left by their partner, their focus seems to rest more on the steps to do, than in “listening” to what their partner is “clumsily” telling them. 

So here are some steps:

  1. Go ahead and be surprised.
  2. Start reading the Tea Leaves.  Something “out of the blue” is a big “tea leaf.”  What is the message?
  3. First, read the message that he/she somehow didn’t let you know that this surprise was coming – you think it is out of the blue.  But they knew!
  4. Read the message they may have had difficulty getting your attention, getting you to listen.  They probably still have this problem.
  5. Read the message that they care enough about you to put up with your blindness and poor listening skills for a long time before they used the extreme way of sending their message.
  6. Read the message that you have probably learned to communicate in a way that is obnoxious to them.
  7. Read the message that they really want you to change, and they have some good ideas about what that change might look like.  They are not interested in destroying you, just “tuning” you.
  8. Read the message that they may not be very strong at getting your attention when they think you won’t listen.
  9. Start learning, and keep at it.  (I am still working on this 15 years after I did my first noticing.) I might suggest learning the Art of Pulling.
  10. Learn that if you aren’t hearing everything regularly from your partner, you are probably at risk!  You see, until then, until you are hearing regularly from them, your partner is living “in the Blue.”  Read those Tea Leaves!

A Trap for Clingers/Pursuers/Maximizers/the Needy – like me.

Now, reading Tea Leaves is not simple.  It takes lots of skill, and lots of practice.  And I’ve found a particular problem that hits most clingy, information-seeking people. I am assuming that you have come to this page partially cuz you have recovered a bit from “their walking away” situation.  You might call this article, “more reading for those who needed to read What to do when he/she leaves."  And so I am assuming that “you want to get a great relationship back” with someone who has demonstrated an ability to walk off.  I am also speaking to us, since I have faced the same problems.

I have often found it true that our partner’s, having lived with us for some time and having experienced people like us most of their lives, often a) give out with very small Tea Leaves and b) are often are pretty obscure with what they share – at first.  I believe that if you begin to play your cards well, this situation will improve, and will reach its completion with you needing to sometimes shut your partner up cuz they are talking too much, giving out too much data too fast. image Takes time.

Back to the Trap.  What to do with their tiny Tea Leaves?  Well, I believe that your mind will eagerly seek to “make sense” of their Leaves.  You will build a theory.  You may build many theories.  This, I think, is natural.  The reason you want information is because you seek “predictive information” in an attempt to feel relaxed with this person.  Predictive Information is often carried in the head as theories or models of how people behave, what they are up to, etc.  And so I think it normal to build theories.  And we would like our theories to be accurate, i.e. to be valuable in predicting what our partner will do next and thus valuable at keeping us from being surprised.

I think it is natural to want to check out your theory with your partner in an effort to make sure it is accurate.  DON’T DO IT!  While this checking out is natural in a relationship of equals (there it is called Validation), in a relationship recovering from Clinger/Avoider dynamics, I find it very dangerous.  I believe the checking out becomes part of the overwhelming behavior, the pushing behavior that you are learning to avoid.   When I would check out my theory, it seemed to crush my partner.  Not a desirable result. 

So here I am, reading my partner’s Tea Leaves, wanting to read accurately, wanting to be helpful, wanting say “did I get it right”, and this very behavior overwhelms my partner.  Ugly situation!  I was amazed by it.  No matter how carefully I shared my “theory,” it didn’t work for a long time.  

I think it is critical to let your partner share, and learn to share, themselves at their rate, and not feel pushed or “interpreted” or “analyzed.”   Your role is “to invite” only.  I think this is the difference between Pushing and Pulling

And so this means that for some time you are going to build theories about your partner, not share them, learn to improve those theories based on more Tea Leaves. Eventually your theories will become more and more accurate.  But then your partner’s understanding of their own behaviors will also be more accurate.

Good luck!


“Out of the Blue” means “Read the Tea Leaves” — 37 Comments

  1. Does any of this relate of the one you love was on drugs and left when confronted. He seems to have left after I told people that he was doing it as opposed to that I knew.

    He was a very good man and is a very good man but always had commitment issues in his past because he didn’t want married an Indian divorce and all the complications that come. I thought we were going to be together forever and didn’t know about the drug. I blamed the things I saw on myself but once his friend ratted him out about being on drugs and not showing up to work again I knew it wasn’t me.

    I do however know that some things are me and mine to fix. I can’t help how much I love him I really do give over my heart to him fully. I told him I would be here for him and I wanted him to get help to get off the drugs but would seem to bother him most that I took a picture of the drug test lid and send it to his friend and his sister in the hopes that they would give a s*** but neither did. He thinks these people are his friends and they’re not. He was to get off the drugs I would want to fix things with him.

    I’ve been going to Al-Anon meetings. But my heart is broken over the hat and a couple of other things and they only get me so far. Most people tell me that he’s on drugs and to be thankful he left but I always thought that we would try to solve any problem together. And I remember what I’ve been told is that drugs control the person.

    I haven’t looked through all of this website but so far I think might be the best website I have found to help address some of these issues. I certainly want to be the best I can be.

    If I had a question on the wall of it would be what should I say to him should I ask him or he thinks I need to change and when?

    • Thanks so much, Cindi, for reminding me this morning that once there was a time when I dreamed/thought I live happily ever after without learning all the lessons that were ahead of me. Gosh, things seemed simple.

      Well, welcome to the wonderful part of life where learning situations appear from left and right. Yup, this article applies. You think? I think.

      Sure glad you are in Alanon. It opens up the doors to lots of lessons such as “why you would fall for an addicted person”. If not this one, then what will the next person be like. What lessons hasn’t he learned that lead to his drug use and his living in fantasy about his sister etc. etc.

      As to your question(s), I think I’d get rid of the either/or and replace it with both/and. What do you need to focus on changing. And how can you support him in asking the same question of himself. And the big one, How do I go about changing? We humans are built to change, thank goodness. I think your future is bright. Go 4 it.

  2. dear al
    i came back after 21/2 months away working out the country i came back 2 days early and i never told my wife i wanted to surprise her but i got the surprise that night when she told me that she was leaving me . i had the biggest wake up call ever in my life . we when thru some tough times with ivf but we never got the child that we wanted i close my self in and she when to help her self to let go off all this emotion . i know that it takes time to heal she told that she need her space and the door is not closed i don’t know how to take that does she still want to work on it or she is letting me down easy

    • What a heck of a “wake up call”! How are you doing? Wow!

      Don’t know much of what she is doing. Be nice to know why she kept so many secrets from you. These big “surprises” are always the result of lousy communication. Here’s a link.

      Waking up is always a good idea. Anything you can do to learn more about relationship skills and about her is worth it and will cut down on the pain. I got lots of papers on the website written just for you. Seems very good news that she says the door is open.

      Let me know how I can help.

      • dear al
        over the last 8 years we have been trying to have children and in the last 5 years we have done 3 ivf cycles which none them work so far. we still have 1 frozen embryo that can go in but now she doesn’t want to put in because of the drugs that they put in her they really mess her up. She has been doing lot of meditation and yoga which it help her thru her pain of not having kids. i know that i wasn’t there for her emotionally and i just let her go thru this pain all alone all i did i hid just working all the time and never dealt with the pain of being a failure. i know that now she open her self to become a better person and i never did. its only been a week since this happen but i know that now i feel more pain that i ever felt and i been writing stuff on paper for hours on end. i want to change for me and to be a worthy person . we talked last night and she told me that she needs time ? i open up to her and told her how now i feel the pain that she went thru. i hope just me working on myself for me to change that one day she will come back ?

        • Ah Sergio, the distance from the “wake-up” call to that partnership that both of you badly desire can be years long. You can make it shorter by learning as fast as you can. Sounds as if you both are now moving forward. I think you are both worth it.

        • thank you for getting back to me
          i saw her last night we talk again i am still confused she told me that i wasn’t supportive her in what she when thru with the ifv and she has been feeling this way for 5 years and then i asked her why she wanted to try to have a child again this year and she said that was to save the marriage? she told me that she doesn’t want to come back here and can get close to me in a romantic way which it really hurt inside when i heard that . and after all that she said that she needs a month to be left alone but the door it might still be open ?
          and before she left we had this really nice soft hug and a kiss
          I feel that she is not ready to let go yet of what we had and maybe we can work it thru ?
          This is biggest wake-up call in my life

        • Well, Sergio, I think you are on the right track. But you might learn to move faster. Everything you tell me sounds like clues she’s giving you to what is going on, has been going on, inside her that you’ve been “blind too.” And thus you feel it as a “wake up” cus kinda you’ve been asleep with her.

          Here’s a little story. One March my girlfriend (now my wife) did something I thought was really weird. In September she told me something about herself that made her actions in March make lots and lot of sense to me. Wow – only 6 months later.

          Then in that very month she did another thing that seemed weird. Two months later in November she told me something that took all the feeling of “weirdness” away. I realize her two month old behavior was perfectly sensible but that seemed weird at the time cuz I was so unaware.

          Then she did a “weird” think on Monday of a week and something she said on Friday helped me see her sense. I was learning and improving. A) If I thought her “weird”, I was just uninformed and B) I could get quicker (6 months, to 2 months, to 4 days) at finding out what was going on inside her.

          Then I shifted to anticipating her explanation. If she did something weird, I told myself “she’s making sense even if to me she looks weird and it’s a matter of time till she tells me, so maybe I can ask and speed this whole thing up faster.” Maybe I can wake myself up to the awareness that she makes sense all the time and “weirdness” is just a feeling I have when I’m uninformed.

          I’ve done it. I believe all people make sense all the time, and if they seem weird they are not. I’m just uninformed.

          Hope this helps. It sure helped me.

        • Hey Al
          Its sergio
          I finally saw my wife last night after 2 weeks and she told me that is over and she is moving into a new direction I try to fight for us to go counselling but she didn’t want anything to do with that she then told me that she would lied to her self if she when there that is over now
          So the only thing that must have happen she must found some one new ?
          I still love her and I want her back but I don’t know how to get her back

        • Hello Sergio, whether she found someone “new” or is just thinking of being on her own for a while, I imagine she thinks she finally got you to wake up. That thought suggests she thinks you are a slow waker-upper and might think if she reconnected to you, you would go back to sleep. Prove her wrong by really waking up. I think it’s good for you no matter what. And if you don’t wake up, you can pretty much guarantee, she won’t return. My website is full of notes and papers I wrote for myself in waking up and for many people like you. Good luck.

        • Hi al
          Sergio again
          Been talking to my wife again I understand now that she doesn’t trust me because I didn’t know to support her when she need it me the most
          How can I get her to truss me again
          Thank you

        • A great, great question and a very important one. Once you realize that she doesn’t trust you it can be a major task to reverse the situation. It can be done! I had to take that task on.

          First thing I learned was “trust” and “feeling safe” are that same thing. So the task was to find out all about “safety” in people. Eventually I wrote my paper on Safety and used the friendly words “Lizard” to refer the topic. I needed to get all the principles in one place. Learn it all.

        • Hi al
          Thank you for getting back to me great read
          Thank you
          I saw my wife the other day at mall we were holding hands kissing spent about hour or so together and then I ask her what is happening then once again she told me that she wants to move I am so confused ?

        • Not easy, Sergio. But still there are two parts of your confusion, I’m guessing. Part One is that her behavior is making sense to her, even if not making sense to you. Part Two is that you are “uninformed” about her sense. She hasn’t told you about it. And she could tell you, but chooses not to tell. So you would be in confusion.

          The top level of this is that it makes sense for her to withhold information about her sense from you. Wonder what that is all about? A clue would be “what in the past have you done when she shares her sense?” Might be a place to start.

  3. Hi Al:

    I’m so glad I found your site – I have been learning so much about relationships and about myself.
    Add me to the list of people that were totally blind to their partner’s dissatisfaction in the relationship.
    About 4 months ago, I caught my husband and his coworker/ex-girlfriend in an affair. He said it was over when I discovered it and wanted to work on the marriage. I know I reacted “wrong” to this affair, it was so hurtful I felt like I had no control over my emotions. As soon as I got them under control, my husband seemed to be pulling away. He finally left about two weeks ago and returned a couple of days ago. I really want the relationship and have expressed as much but he seems very conflicted. I am unsure if the OW is still in the picture romantically (I know they still work together).
    Anyway, I have been reading everything I can and am going to counseling to understand what went wrong. I know the affair was not my fault, it was his choice, and that the problems in the marriage were 50% my responsibility. The problem is, I really didn’t know we had any problems big enough to elicit this type of betrayal and abandonment. We had faced some pretty heavy issues in the years leading up to this – we lost a business and quite a bit of money in the process and he almost died due to alcoholism. I know both of our reactions to this type of trauma weren’t perfect but I really feel that we handled these things the best we could and we were on the upswing – then the bomb dropped.
    From what I am reading here, they leave because they are not being heard and feel it’s their only choice to get out of their dissatisfaction. But are the “leavers” more predisposed to handling situations in this manner? There was a time when he was drinking and the business was failing and my needs were seriously not being met but I would have never dreamed of leaving. I stuck around, committed to working things out because I love him and believe in him. I guess that makes me a clinger? Ot maybe a doormat. In any case, it makes this whole thing sting so much more.
    Thanks for the opportunity to learn.
    – Abby

  4. I left my partner because I felt hopeless. He was surprised and angry and feels I have lied to him. I did out of fear of his anger. He has not responded to the two messages I have sent, one per week, checking to see if he is OK and apologizing for being so sudden in my departure. I am craving contact now. I want to “talk”. I only want him back if he wants to change, but his silence makes me feel like he doesn’t care about me at all any more; that he hates me. I can’t stand to have him hate me. I’ve read a lot of what you have on-line but I can’t see where it applies to this situation except that maybe he has left me, when I thought I was leaving him.

    • Hello Val,  Seems like I’ve written so much online that applies to you.   People lie cuz they don’t feel safe to tell the truth.  Lying is a kind of betrayal particularly when discovered.  Gotta rebuild trust (Lizard) with him.  Silence is easily misunderstood for not caring.  Relationships are all about changing and helping each other change. Apologizing generally doesn’t work.  Look at the topic Making Amends.   Read on.   

  5. Dear Al,
    Thank you so much for the time you have given me, to help me learn some things about myself. Your time has not been wasted, and I’m learning a lot, in a short space of time. I don’t understand everything I’ve read, some is a bit confusing, but all the same, I come back and re-read what doesn’t make sense yet, and, one day, it will. She is gone, and the way things have been done have torn me apart, not what, but how.
    Once again Al, thank you, I appreciate you help.

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