What to do when He/She Leaves?

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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? — 537 Comments

  1. Hi Al,

    I would have sent a test message earlier as the server/ Internet is giving problems.

    I have just read through your articles and it is great insight. I have so much to learn and have already started the work. Hope I can get it right someday. My boyfriend of four years and I had a falling out and argument three weeks ago and now he is not speaking and having no contact with me whatsoever. On april 13, I messaged and told him that I loved him and I am here for him and I will continue to pray for us and the relationship, which he responded dismissively and said OK COOL. After that, we have had no communication with each other and no he has not reached out since. His birthday is coming up next month, I wanted to know if that if this situations still persists, should I wish him happy birthday or should I just continue to leave him be. I will appreciate your response.

    • Hello Anonymous T. Glad you’ve dropped by and found some of my articles useful. Four years of being together seems about right for arriving at the tough transitionary time in a relationship.

      Somewhere along here you’ll probably get more and more aware that many things about relationships, that you were taught and have been using, will turn out to be unuseful. Looking back, some things I was taught were great, some were useless, and some quite dangerous. Using the poor skills I was taught certainly lead to lots of troubles and to the breakup in my first marriage.

      Telling someone you “love them” when your behavior says the opposite is a particularly bad thing I did. I actually stopped using the phrase “I love you” for many years as I became more and more clear I had no idea what the phrase meant to me or to anyone else. Sad memories. Now I happily use it.

      I suggest you look into the many “why’s” of your falling out. I doubt it was either sudden or casual. Bet there’s a lot of wisdom buried there.

      I’ve become used to “Clingers” being very challenged by significant social events (birthdays, holidays, Xmas, etc) in their “Avoiding” partner. The Clingers seem very tempted to reach out at these times. I don’t have any fast rules, but in general haven’t seen significant value in special reaching out behaviors. As long as you keep a birthday greeting to one or two sentences in a card, I don’t see a problem. But I would suggest you focus on a) routine light contact – once a week or so, b) keeping yourself healthy, c) getting help in learning your part of the mistakes from the past, d) being prepared to deal calmly and lightly with any contact you do get. My four rules.

      If you are following my guidelines, I don’t think of you as “leaving him be.” On the other hand, if you used to push him a lot, then I would stop that forever.

      Without knowing more, I’m afraid I don’t know what else to share.

      Good luck.

  2. Marion, hello… I am sorry for your situation. I heard some sorry excuses when my husband left, and those of your wife are not a whole lot better. Real love is not contingent on ‘what-ifs” – real love is a choice to be there, to love, to participate in a relationship. At church just today I noticed several couples who were married many years, and were visibly older then when they were married, I caught myself being sad that their marriage thrived when mine did not, and they are there, in their relationships, because of a choice of both of them to be there, and their promises to each other to stay.

    The care in the beginning is often fueled with emotion, and when that runs out, the real person shows up.

    I am sorry for your pain, after awhile, the pain lessens, and you can see things more clearly.

    Take care of yourself, eat right, rest, and pray.

  3. Hello…my name is marion…how do you reconcile this?
    I’m 47 she’s 27…we’ve been married for 3yrs this coming may…everything is wonderful(i thought)…there’s not a day that goes by that she doesn’t love and care about me and visa versa…we enjoy our relationship and get along great…sure we had a few bumps but long been settled…then a week ago she tells me that she wants to end this relationship/marriage because i’m old…she doesn’t want to have to take care of me if i got ill in my later days…she still wants to have sex when she is older at which she thinks i wouldn’t be able to perform…and last…because i might not be attractive anymore…i’m blown away by this and don’t know what to say think or feel because as i’ve stated earlier in this letter that she’s consistent with her love and care…any suggestions if you got the time?…and thank you for your time and these helpful hints.

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