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? — 508 Comments

  1. Hi Al! Ive been reading your articles for years now, some of it becoming a constant guideline – more than just my reading material. I was just wondering though. Do you have anything that says losing your temper? The thing is. My husband and I are on the rocks right now. I was suppose to throw him a party for his birthday. But seeing your other articles, I can say that he is a certified avoider (not talking, usually just plain, getting angry when you ask too much – the asking being an effect of him not really answering the question.) He was a bit off a day before his birthday. And I, planning the surprise was busy getting the cake, the chairs, the invites etc. He was occasionally teasing me but I know his mood was off. A trip to the grocery was a trip of total silence, even during the grocery shopping itself. He asked if I was ok because I wasnt speaking but was doing my usual thing. I answered yes and he got mad, went ballistic, cancelled the party and acted afterwards as if cancelling it 3 days before with everything prepared is no big deal. We got into a fight and to be honest I lost it, I threw things, I shouted, I was very mad. He kept saying we are going nowhere and all those things like I was the greatest mistake of his life. And out of defence, I think, I recoiled “Because I dont love you anymore.” and thats when it hit me, i shut up staring at his back while he went out of the car. I got mad, went and packed my things kinda like threatening to leave. But when I was about to, I approached him, apologized and asked what is really wrong. Reasoned that Ive planned the party for a month for him because I know it would make him happy. He was mad still, said awful things, we ended up belittling each other, upbraiding each other, hurtful words. Until he said I was a cheap-ass-low-type-woman. It was when I heard that, I slapped him, even tried to choke him. And he kept on continuing, calling me crazy even though I told him to stop, he continued saying the worst kinds of things which made me more and more angry and violent – all on the line of I am a lonely person, my friends hate me, that no one would love me because Im crazy, and that Im nothing. Basically it made me feel like I was worthless. I stepped back after crying and hitting, and went out of the room shouting and instructing my maid to get out of the house, he was throwing me, the maid, and our son out. Then he went off. I took some time, cried, and when he returned, I said sorry and asked if I he really thinks I am a worthless woman. He was calm and said he didnt want anything to do with me anymore, although he did say he was not asking me to leave the house, he said he would leave. When he didnt want to talk things through, I left and went home to my parents. I had nowhere to go. He was mad, blaming me solely, then asking me to come home, then if I cant go home, say I cant go back home to our house which is a 2 hour drive late at night, he would get mad and blame me again. And hearing everything I went on to get some space, he would say sorry occasionally, I would continually ask that we fprgove each other then all of a sudden he wouldnt respond and just leave me hanging there. And now, I came to talk to him only to find out all of my things put out of our room, all family pictures taken down, and that he wants divorce. Im not sure. I feel like I failed as a wife and as a mother, I shouldnt have lost my temper, I shouldnt have. He says it was all my fault, our failure was my own doing. I know Im in no position to get mad at him for whatever he said. But it hurts to much…… I am the mother of his child. I did have a couple of past relationships when we were together but I never cheated on him. I dont think the past has to determine who I am with him. Now I dont know if Im suppose to woo him and just ask for forgiveness. Im not even sure if Im in the right position to feel sad about what he said because I did hit him after. The guilt is killing me. Have I done nothing right??? Was the party a bad idea? He says im just trying to impress people. Was I so wrong?

    • Well, Beverly, It sure sounds as if you two are deeply in what I call the Power Struggle. Check out my Map of Relationships.) And generally it sounds as if you are both into using Temper. True the Clinger Avoider problem is there but Master/Slave sounds like the primary problem. Just a guess.

      I’ve written a lot about temper as it was one of the problems I had to solve myself. In general there are two issues: bullying, as in using displays of temper to threaten the other person into pretending to agree; and physical violence. Let me set aside the first issue of bullying as I cover that rather thoroughly in the Master/Slave paper. Physical Violence I think of as the criminal form of arguing. And I believe it should be handled in its context of criminal behavior. This that serious.

      My wife and I agreed that if either of us threatened physical violence or if either of us used physical violence then one of use would call 911 and the police. Part of the idea is that the person who gets hit and doesn’t turn their partner in, that person could be considered an accessory to the crime. That agreement moved us to force ourselves to solve those high energy moments in other ways. Our most common solution was the use of TimeOuts. I’m serious in saying that I think you should both become experts at TimeOuts, beginning right now. Only one needs to be expert at first.

      Once you’ve gotten a handle on physical violence, next I would solve the arguing problem by learning to become dialogical.

      Good luck.

  2. Hello, Al. Eric again.

    I’ve been reading more and more of your papers and I’m learning quite a lot. I’ve been meditating on everything and working to change. As I said before, I planned on starting the four-step-process–but I’m hesitating. As you know, she seems to be acting as if she doesn’t know me and as if this breakup is all cold business (boundary issues). Currertly, we have both moved out of the apartment (Well, I’m still I’m the process even though I’m no longer staying there) and she’s trying to find someone to take over the lease.

    So, here then is my question in how to navigate these waters: Should I begin that channel of communication with a card now (as described in ‘when to fold ’em’) or should I wait until she procures someone to take over the lease? My thinking is that she has become robotic and cold, single-minded in cutting me out of her life, as it was, in order to feel safe. Therefore, she is putting up an unfeeling front in order to feel safe. Perhaps the thought of allowing herself to be open emotionally during this process scares her and so she’s the ‘terminator’, going like hell to get to the ‘finish line’.

    My concern is that even such a gentile invitation card containing a greeting, what I am actively working on, etc., will be seen as an attack to her safety and will thus do more harm than good.

    Also if I do send such a card, I do predict a response–albeit one that has nothing to do with opening up in any way–only trying to shut me down in that same business-type way. And I wouldn’t know how to proceed from that either.

    This comment was WAY longer than intended. As always, thanks for taking the time and listening.


  3. I actually do have a list of things to work on that I know are sticking points for her–I’m trying. There is something that happened right before she left that was the catalyst for the final argument. It’s complex and so I chose to leave it out since that argument devolved into a discussion about communication anyway.

    I have decided to follow your process and send her a little card and see how things play out. I’m open to speaking to you on the phone at your convieniece. I’m just trying to work on myself and see where she is at emotionally.

    Thanks again,


    • Hello Eric,

      Boy! do I think you are lucky. You’ve got a starting list. That’s great. Now to look through it and find the wisdom in it.

      There’s an additional clue, you gave me. The word is “argument.” Now remember I’ve seen probably 3000 couples and have seen a lot on their way to a Great Marriage. So I am speaking from that vantage. I often think we are dealing with two cultures colliding. One contains average/normal marriages. The other is full of amazingly wonderful marriages. The former is normal and seems to account for, oh, 90% of relationships. That’s almost everyone. The latter is a small, but growing, group. These people are not “normal”. They are exceptional, and weird. In between these two groups are youngish people trying to decide which group to head for. Most people, of course, head for the “normal” group – like their parents. But, I believe that when you fall in love, you are solidly thinking and wanting to be in the “exceptional” group.

      Now group standards are very different. I have created one way of understanding these differences and have been teaching ’em since about 1995. (Biological Dream)

      I sure can recognize members of the two groups quickly. One clue is “argument.” While most people think argument is “normal”, the exceptional group don’t argue. They tend to think of argument as disrespect-in-practice. So what happens if you fall for a gal who wants an “exceptional” relationship and you argue with her. She resists, she tries to change you, she pulls back, she leaves you – all cuz she wants an exceptional relationship and you appear to want to be “normal” – something she’s avoiding.

      I haven’t written this stuff up before and so may be sloppy. Sorry. I have been sharing my understanding of this for a long time.

      But yesterday I read a report that a police union admitted that one of the problems with their troubles with Black Lives Matter is that police are often trained to escalate toward argument and violence rather than to de-escalate. And they are often surrounded by other police who do the same – lean toward escalation. In a great marriage, people are really good at de-escalating skills. Arguments don’t happen. Respect is maintained.

      I think the culture-of-conflict-escalation is confronting the culture of respect in the world, and in marriage. Who will win? Well, as you’ve seen, the partner who can walk away has all the power. You want her back. I hear you. You will probably have to learn the things on her list that involve coming across respectful.

      Just a guess.

      I’d be happy to chat with you if you want. http://www.alturtle.com/chat-with-al

  4. Thank you for the articles, I will be sure to read them.

    I’m sure me letting my resentment over not being able to talk to he caused her to be unhappy for some time now. I mention blame in regards to myself. I regret the way I’ve handled things. I find myself feeling angry over the way she is acting as if she doesn’t even know me–like we are simple strangers. It feels fake and dishonest. However, I’m trying to not let myself go to that resentful place.

    I’ve read your articles about “knowing when to fold ’em”/”what to do when…” but I’m struggling to know how to approach the situation in hopes of reconnecting with her. How can I follow the steps when she won’t allow herself to emotionally let me in? I don’t know how to slow her process of moving away when it seems she is all ready gone and determined to forget about me.

    Thanks again for taking the time. I really do appreciate it. I also appreciate that you took the time to make this site with all this insight. I’m sure it’s helped a lot of people.


    • Ok Eric, I’m with you that it is only getting a little clearer. Very confusing. I see lots of situations and this sounds more and more like a particular one. For you the missing elements seem to be those that she could provide – if she felt inclined to share, and safe enough to do it. She probably has a nice list of the “things about Eric” that she is getting away from. And as long as she has no contact with you, that list will stay the same. You have to change yourself somewhat and she has to see those changes in action. (Back to my list of What to Do When She Leaves – work on self visibly.)

      Now her list includes the various things about you that stop her from sharing with you. Of course you want her to share so you’ll have to figure out what she uses to stop herself. I hear that you think she doesn’t listen to you and you have lots of evidence. But I think it is even more critical why she wouldn’t share with you. I have my guesses, of course.

      You see, since there are “good reasons” why this gal won’t share with you, it’s probable those “good reasons,” if you knew them, that would provide you some very useful things to work on in yourself. If you don’t work on those issues, this gal would never come back. She probably believes (foolishly) that you will never change on these things – whatever they are. The usual reason a person leaves is they have become hopeless in waiting for their partner to change. (See my Map of Relationship.) And since that list is important to her, she next gal may have troubles with them also. You really want that list, I think, so you can ponder it and take advantage of the lessons you can learn. That list has “gold” in it, I think.

      If I ran into her I would show her I was curious about why she didn’t share with you. I might ask “What happens, when you share with Eric, that isn’t much fun?” I believe you really want her to enjoy talking with you. If she did, she’d tell you why sometimes she listens and sometimes she doesn’t. And you might get really good ideas of what to do differently.

      I’d love to help.

      Well, good luck.

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