What to do when He/She Leaves?

Print Friendly

Assuming you want her (him) back.

People frequently come to me with this problem. Actually this is my most read article. To me that suggests that a whole pile of people only "really wake up" when their partner starts to pull away. And you are probably one of them, right now. I feel for you. You've probably done a whole bunch of things "wrong" and don't know what for sure. I am sorry it took you so long to wake up. A lot of my work, shared here on this website, is for you. Take your time, breathe and read on.  Take heart!  Waking up is always a good idea – at least in the long run. 

First job is to turn your partner around, or at least halt their moving away.  Some years ago, in 1998 I believe, I came up with a short set of answers to this situation and have not felt the need to change them since.  It works.  Follow the four steps.  Print this Article in PDF


This is very important.  Your partner is already moving away.  Anything you do to push them will tend to make them move away faster and further.  Stop anything that might be construed as pursuing or pressing them.  If your instinct is to call them twice a day, start calling them once a week.  If your instinct is to send them a gift, do it once a month.  If you are trying to find out what they are doing by asking other people, don’t.  Leave them alone – a lot, but not completely. (I do not recommend "no contact." (See my article When to Fold 'Em.)  Let your partner contact you when they are ready. (See Reliable Membership Article.)


Do not be surprised that you may feel awful, or sick, or depressed.  This is normal when you feel left behind, abandoned.  The feeling will go away – with a lot of time.  We all can live alone.  It's not good for us, but we can.  So, in the meantime, continue to live your life.  Go to work.  Eat well.  Sleep well.  Do more exercise.  (It will help you sleep.  It will help with any depression you may feel.)  Be among friends.  While you do this, you might consider staying away from friends of your partner's gender.  If you cannot sleep or seem very depressed, see your doctor.  Some medication may be helpful for a while.  If your partner speaks to you, don’t tell them how hard a time you are having.  That will probably not get you the sympathy you want. Just say something like, “Well, it is tough.”  And say no more.


See a counselor.  Read books.  Talk your problems over with friends, your pastor, your priest, your rabbi, etc.  Learn what you can.  Read my papers on Using Turtle Logic and The Two Walls.  Chances are there is a lot for you to learn.  Most often when a partner leaves, they have been planning it for a long time.  Most often they have felt terribly lonely with you. You, on the other hand may have been taken by surprise.  Ask yourself, what led you to be so unaware of your partner?  What led you to be so unaware that they were in distress enough to consider leaving you?  Try to not blame yourself too much.  All relationship trouble takes two.  And so, Get to Work. Work on yourself.

And do this work so that your partner knows.  The chances are one of the reasons they are leaving you is because they believe you will never change.  They have become hopeless about you ever changing for the better.  By visibly working on yourself, they have to wonder what you are doing and who you are becoming.  That is much better than their continuing to believe that you will never change.

When I say “visibly,” I mean that you take opportunities to let them know that you are doing something.  If they call, say you only have a little time as you have to get to your counseling appointment.  Say, “By the way, I’ve been reading a book on marriage.  It’s interesting.”  Remember to follow Rule #1, and not say much. Don't try to "teach them." 


It is reasonable that your partner will try to contact you.  They may ask for a chat.  Ask, “How long?”  Agree to give them half that time.  They may ask for dinner together.  Agree to give them a short one.  They may ask for you to spend the night.  Stay only through the evening.   Get used to this.  Think that you are trying to get a deer to come out of the forest and eat from your hand.  You have to earn (or in this case, re-earn) their trust and never lose it again.

Good luck.  

P.S. And when he/she stops the leaving and starts tentative connecting or checking you out, be ready.  For more on this subject, particularly once you have managed to get your partner to slow down their leaving, you might want to read “Out of the Blue” means “Read the Tea Leaves”.

You will probably also want to check out my Map of Relationships to put a clear framework around what is going on and what your choices are.  Being foolishly stubborn, i.e. doing what you have been doing, will probably lead back to the same "them-leaving" problem.  Being stubborn about "learning-to-do-new-things" seems to be the only path.


There are so many excellent comments submitted that I archived them in two PDF files.  Aug2007–July2008 and July2008–April2010.  These are good.

Click here for “all” my articles on ClingersAvoiders.

Remember, this is just one (Reliable Membership) of the several major problems in relationships.  When you solve this one, when  your partner turns around and decides to consider staying with you, there are the other problems in front of you.  Take a look at How to Use this Website, or Using my logic on relationships, or Where to Start. The most comprehensive place to start is always my Map of Relationships.

Good luck.

Download an audio file of me sharing 26 minutes of further discussion for $5.00. 



By © Al Turtle 2002



What to do when He/She Leaves? — 476 Comments

  1. Hi, I recently broke up with my boyfriend who I was with for 30 months. In them 30 months we were happy yes, we argued but we always found our way back to each other. I spoke to my ex and told him I still had feelings for him but I merely meant that I care but my bf took it the wrong way and left. Since then we got back together and we tried but he just couldn’t forget what I did. We tried and failed but I still want him as much as I did when I first met him. He said he still loves me but there is no more us. He’s trying to keep himself busy to not think of me and he told me to move on and that I would find someone. I feel like the reason he is saying move on is so that it is easier for him to move on but I know it would kill him if he saw me with another guy. It’s been 6 weeks and he is still willing to be friends but nothing more but he still loves me very much. We did everything together and we were so happy and deep inside I know he wants me and I believe that he is the one for me and we are meant to be. Help what do I do????

    • Dear Sarah, You seem to be wandering though the “normal” early part of a great relationship. (See my Map of Relationships for more.) Building a good couples communication system takes quite a bit of time, and that “misunderstanding” about talking with your ex sounds normal.

      One thing to remember is that humans can’t forget anything. We’re not built to do that But we can clear up misunderstandings very easily. My guess is that there is much more to the story of his pulling way than just ‘you spoke to your ex’.

      From the sound of it, he’s certainly not being straight with you and maybe you with him. In non-deep-couple relationships that is ok. But if you want Vintage Love, and I think you do based on that idea “we are meant to be” with each other, then you communication and understanding of each other has to go much much deeper. Check out To Be Save You Must Share EVERYTHING. Got to eventually get rid of anything that blocks that level of sharing.

      Since you have an “ex”, I’m assuming you have some experience with things falling apart. The more experience with the rough side of things, the better for building your own wisdom. (Some Greek philosopher said something like that. :) )

      But I think you’ll figure this out over time. I wish you good luck.

  2. Hello Al,

    My boyfriend (now ex boyfriend) broke up with me 2.5 months ago, and even after I have been feeling really hurt all this time (I think this is the lowest I have felt in my life) I would consider getting back together with him if he changed his mind. In the last weeks I have slowly lost any hope I had and starting to accept he most likely will never come back. It breaks my heart.

    We were together for 9 years, 3 of them in long distance. During our time together I can say we had a very deep connection, a great communication, we always had many dreams and plans of the things we wanted to do and achieve. I always felt alive with him, always with new things to do and to learn. He knows about everything and I really admire that. I think the only small thing I was not sure of was that he didn’t completely physically attract me. But this was never a big deal to me. From his point of view, he always told me how attracted to me he always felt and that I was the one for him.

    The reason we were apart the last years is because after I graduated from university I got tempting job offer that meant working abroad (in Malaysia and UK). So now he is in Mexico and I am in UK (I have Mexican/English nationalities). The plan was that he would come over to UK when I would arrive here, but it didn’t happen. While I was away, he started studying a masters but failed twice in 2 different universities. He had trouble keeping up with the courses and he would tell me he struggled with procrastination. All this affected his confidence. He paused his studies and started working at a company as an intern, in a job he really enjoys. He is now working full time there.

    I am feeling regretful of the things I did wrong and that led him to leave. He originally suggested that we either got married or apply for fiancee visa to come over more easily. But at that time I was not feeling ready to get married and I said he should try applying for jobs first :( (I feel really stupid now that I think what I did). He had one job interview in September 2014 and came to UK, but unfortunately they didn’t call him back. So this is when I agreed on applying for the fiancee visa. However, I started to see that slowly he lost interest. So I said I would go to Mexico and get married there, but it was already too late.

    Since January of this year he started having doubts about our relationship and told me to give him space. We called each other less as he was also very busy with work. So in April he told me he had decided to stay in Mexico and broke up with me. I could not believe it :'(
    The next day I took a flight to Mexico to try to fix things. I was there only 3 days, but I couldn’t change his mind.

    He said it was a very difficult decision for him to make. That he had spoken with many people and even friends in common. They obviously advised him to leave me. And I feel he got influenced by whatever it is they said. Later he told me I had been a bad girlfriend, that he was always looking for me, that I was egocentric and manipulative :(

    He told me he wanted to experience a different type of relationship, an easier one. That he was always feeling the pressure to come over to UK. That we were both complex and sensitive people, and we needed someone “lighter” to be with. He thought we were too much alike as well. That our dynamic in the relationship didn’t work for him because he thought we always did what I wanted. That he wanted to be in a relationship where he was more in control. I don’t feel this way about us, it took me by surprise because he never really mentioned it in the past. He also said he wanted to experience full passion and needed to meet more women. The truth is in the past I was the one saying this, I was the one who had doubts. But when he started showing doubts I became completely sure I wanted to be with him.

    Another issue we had is that even though we were together for long we didn’t have sex right away, because I didn’t feel prepared in the past. He waited for me to be ready, and when we did it, it wasn’t great. I can tell this was a demotivation for him.

    I notice he has changed. For some reason I have the impression that once he saw he had a job he liked over there, he decided to stay there. I also feel he was a bit frightened to come to UK and have to look for jobs.

    One week ago we spoke on the phone and I told him to forgive me for being difficult with him and telling him to try coming over with a work visa…putting the weight in his shoulders. To forgive me for not giving in to sex right away because I was not prepared. We both started crying. I also told him I will return to Mexico right away if he still wants me.

    I feel he is forcing himself to forget me. He has told me to move on. That he is 100% sure I will find a person that will make me very happy and the same for him. He actually started seeing a girl like 1 month after we broke up, because he posted a picture with her. I asked him about her, and he said he was seeing her but that he was taking things very slowly, but that it was non of my business and I should respect his privacy.

    He is also very stubborn and once he has made up his mind, he doesn’t change. i didn’t know he could have so much pride, but I am seeing it.

    We didn’t speak at all for the month after the break up (I read about NC). Then when he posted the picture of the girl it was really funny because it was on the exact same day I was planning to contact him again. But he said he just wants me as a friend. That he doesn’t want to lose our friendship, but that I need to move on. So now we are not speaking. I have texted him very little but the last 2 times he didn’t reply.

    All my body has felt in pain these last months, almost physically hurt. I have lost motivation in my life, and I feel alone in UK. Nobody from my family lives here. I do have some friends who advise me to move on.

    Wow.. long story.. I would really appreciate your feedback. As I said, I would still go back with him even though I have gone through hell. But I feel it might be too late for any chance.



    • Dear Brenda, these long distance or large-break early relationships (that’s what I call em), seem very very tough. A couple who wanders into the Power Struggle can spend much longer in that period. While “distance” can be a useful tool to reduce high impatient passion and to simulate patience, “distance” can also serve to put off facing the differences and developing empathy, understanding and good communication skills.

      At the same time your experience reminds me of how intense is the desire for Vintage Love. If your Lizard gets to think “this guy” is the way to Vintage Love and then he starts to slip away, that ole Lizard will produce thoughts of death and lots of feelings of pain. Of course the good news is “he” is “not” the only possibility of achieving Vintage Love, even though the Lizard thinks he is. And that ole Lizard creates all those painful feelings. (I’m assuming you’ve read my Map of Relationships and my paper on Safety.)

      There’s no way to “magically” recover this situation. But it is a great one for learning from. My best advice is in the paper you’ve posted your comment on. One the one hand I think it’s possible he may reach out to you, and so 1) no pushing, 2) survive, 3) work on yourself visibly, 4) be available to respond “litely.”

      As part of the working on yourself bit, take a look at his “complaints” and see what parts of them are instructive. Get a friend or a counselor to help. Remember you’ve done things that you have been taught are “ok”, which drive him away. Also you may want to look at what you do that contributes to his not sharing until you broke up a couple of months back. Why did he withhold that information for so long? How come you didn’t notice his secrecy? Lots of good stuff to work on. Go for it.

      • Hi Al,

        Thanks so much for your fast reply and your advice. As you say I have had feelings and dreams related to death. I was not aware this is actually a way the brain responds.

        I think I am a bit better now compared to how I originally felt. But it still doesn’t mean I am feeling good at all. One part of me feels betrayed. I guess this is because of how close we were to getting married and finally being together. I have a hard time everytime I see couples together, as well as families and babies. And all my friends getting married makes it worse. I feel like I have to start all over again.

        I do have a question about the idea of giving up all signs of pushing. I have texted him like once every week after the month of no contact because I wanted to make it clear to him I would return to Mexico to be together if this will help. He said it wouldn’t change. I don’t think I will contact him again, but the idea of leaving it like that and with all the distance in between doesn’t seem to me like he would consider being together again. I think it actually helps him forget everything faster as he sounds so decided.

        He did tell me once he might be doing a big mistake leaving, but he didn’t mind the risk. I don’t know from where came all this decision he has, and it has made me feel like I did something really bad. I don’t see how he ever would come back.

        Wouldn’t more time make it worse? I already feel him so distant. As if I was never his girlfriend. And the distance doesn’t help. Do you think me going back to Mexico would be a bad idea?



        • I do think going back to Mexico would not be a good use of money or your time. Do that after you’ve improved your communication system a lot. I was noting your feeling betrayed. That’s cuz you were believing stuff about him that wasn’t true. And he let you. That’s called lying, a sign of a terrible communication system, in my book, and leads to the feeling of betrayal.

          From Al’s Glossary: Lie – To knowing leave someone in a state of misunderstanding about something you believe is important to them. Active lying: to say that which is not so. Passive lying: to leave unsaid that which is important to someone.

          I would use the “When to Fold ’em” logic to determine when to move on.

          By the way, once you meet an Imago Match, (and you’ve done that with him) pretty much the only thing to get you to forget that Imago Match/”him” is a new Imago Match, I believe.

          Good luck.

        • Hi Al,

          Thanks again for your reply. Last week I spoke with my ex boyfriend once on the phone. He had agreed to call me as I mentioned I was thinking of the possibility of moving back to Mexico. The fact that he actually called me was a surprise, I thought he wouldn’t. So we started talking about non-relationship topics until we finally got to this one. He told me if I wanted to move that would be okay, and he even suggested I could find work with his current employer. However, he also mentioned not to move for him and (most important) the girl he posted a picture once is his girlfriend (I can’t find a heartbreak emoticon).

          He also told me to move on, to meet new people, to date somebody. That he knows I will be fine. Is he really the same man who once said I was the only one for him?

          I told him I felt our relationship had been like the idea of having a really beautiful cloth that you want to use for creating a dress. But since it’s the first time creating a dress you make mistakes. Or like having all the right ingredients for a recipe but then adding too much salt becausr it’s your first time.

          Then I mentioned I cared too much for him that if this girl really made him happy I can’t do anything. He said “Well…as you know she is 4 years older than me, so lets see”. He told me this girl has had difficult break ups in her past but he liked that she is really positive. I am actually quite frightened he will stay with her, specially him knowing she has had a difficult time I would think he doesn’t want her to go through it again. In my head I already see them married. And by the way the pic he posted of her reminded me about his sister! He even told me somebody had thought they were siblings. It just makes me think he could have found sort of like the Imago match you mentioned.

          I told him if he ever changed his mind to contact me as I love him. He said life always had surprises and he doesn’t know what will happen. However he did mention “when I broke up with you I thought about all the possibilities, even the idea that I would never see you again. I seriously broke up with you”.

          I know I have to move on. It’s just incredible how the person you have spent 9 years with can become so distant. He did say he doesn’t forget us, it can’t be erased. Also it would be better not to contact each other for some time.

          Time has passed but the pain is still present. I feel dizzy sometimes about the situation and the distance in between not helping at all. Sometimes I become angry at what he did and I wonder if he would ever repent. The silence shows me how much he doesn’t care. I have lost faith in love and men. I don’t think I could ever do this to someone.


  3. Hi Al,

    I came across your site searching the web for help. Thought I would share my story.

    My same sex partner of nearly 10 years moved out in April. We met when we were 19 and have been together ever since. Aside from an occasional rut here or there we really had/have a great relationship. No intimacy issues, no trust issues, we have always been able to confide and rely on one another. He returned to graduate school 2 years ago and with my job we really began to be able to spend less time together. Additionally he was surrounded by people a lot younger than us. He began acting differently and I was slow to react.

    By the time he brought it to my attention it seemed beyond repairing in our current state and we came to mutual agreement that he move out. Someone else did enter the picture. I won’t say I didn’t cry, or ask questions but generally despite the circumstances I’ve just tried to be as supportive as possible while giving him the space he needed. So, he went about his business for the next several months dating and so on – each time he would confide in me about how this person made him realize this and that about our relationship and we seemed to be getting into a really good place.

    He shows up at my house 2 weeks ago saying he made a huge mistake, and that he was “getting there” – in terms of working through things. I was happy, didn’t over analyze and just went about enjoying his company. Then, yesterday I asked him how we should move forward and he snapped. Said he was dating another person still and didn’t have an answer for me. That it wasn’t serious but he needed to experience dating other people so he didn’t regret in his old age that he missed out on it.

    I know this sounds terrible but he is not a bad person. I tried giving him the benefit of the doubt. I even tried to just say to him that we move our separate ways. I feel like I am in a terrible state of limbo and I just don’t understand what he is searching for. We have an annual vacation that we take in August and it was and still is my hope that this would be the end of it because we always return from this trip very centered. He is excited to go and we talk about it all the time.

    What do I do between now and then, let him just do what he feels like he needs? I am just so lost.

    • Well, Thomas, another fine mess you have us in. Seriously, sounds painful. Also sounds normal for a longterm relationship that went through a Romantic period, plunged through a Power Struggle and found itself behind Door #2 (re: Map of Relationships). As you say, you don’t believe he is a bad person. I don’t either. But I think you are faced with a lot to learn.

      Ideally this would be a joint project, but so frequently it starts with just one of you who is the leader for a while. Where are you leading? Vintage Love through the University of Life, via first learning the tools of the Biological Dream. That’s a mouthful and it is an abstact summary the relates of hundreds of specific skills. Just one of those skills is you learning new, wiser ways of looking at what is going on. And example is in the learning phrase, “All people make sense all the time.” Every time he has approached you, he has been “making” sense. His behavior that “appears” contradictory is sensible to him. The only reason you’ve been surprised by his actions is that you did not have access to his logic at the time. If you had access, you could have predicted his behavior, and maybe taken action to avoid the trouble. Ah well.

      But, you make/made sense too, so your being “blind” to his sense, the factors driving his behavior, made sense. If you don’t change those “blind-making” habits of your, you’ll have the same trouble again.

      So what can you do? Start improving your skills of living in intimacy with him. Maybe find a friend or a counselor who is good at communication, who can review with you your current and past skill deficiencies, and give you practice developing new healthy communication tactics. A bottom line is he thinks you are willing and able to listen to “anything” he says and he believes you are interested to walk with him as he discovers himself. In the meantime he also feels comfortable to chat with you when he doesn’t yet know answers – because that’s the state he is in at that moment.

      You shared what sounded like beautiful Master statements about how wonderful your relationship was and has been. My “bullshit detector” was ringing as I read them and I became curious about what was like for him when this was going on for you. “No intimacy issues, no trust issues, always able to confide and rely on each other.” etc.

      Lots of places to look for areas to improve and to share improvements with him. Remember, a person pulls the plug because they sense their partner is “hopeless”. All you have to do is grasp the specifics of why they think this and prove by actions that you are learning and moving forward reliably and specifically in some of the areas that are important to them.

      Good luck.

Leave a Reply