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? — 365 Comments

  1. Hi Al, what would recommend if the fianc√© leaves (financial troubles and I only work part time) when she is 3 months pregnant and has broken nearly all contact (told me she doesn’t want me at scan or birth). That happened to me two months ago. My story is long but I would love your advice should you want to hear my woes :) thanks for your article!!!

  2. Hi Al, I am so glad to find your website. I am at a loss and am not sure what to do, if anything is possible.
    I have been married to my wife for 4yrs and together for 5. I met her 6yrs prior to that and we fell in love when I was in a truly miserable marriage but it ended shortly after it began because my current wife, now ex, got pregnant. I ended up with two kids out of my first marriage and my current wife had married and has one child.
    I lived single with my two kids until my current wife and I hit it off again, she was in a very abusive and controlling marriage. We fell in love again and were best friends. We did everything together and talked all the time, even when we were at work. We bought a new home that was awesome since we both never came from money families.
    Then things started going downhill and to be honest, I didn’t see it happening.
    She has a big heart for dogs and wanted to start doing something to help, she wasn’t even allowed to let her dogs inside her old marriage and he made her leave two of them when they got married. I was all for it, very supportive. Then it started to get out hand. More dogs, more damage to the house, dog fights and even dogs killing dogs at times if they were left together including my boys dog. She got a rescue license with the state and is now actually a 501c3 rescue.
    I had no say in the dogs. I tried to tell her it was to much and it would just be a fight and I would just give up.
    I started building a huge water feature in the backyard and spent all my spare time on it. It became my crutch for putting up with the dogs and my wife spending all her time with the rescue.
    I looked back at old emails to each other and I see some where she hinted that I needed to spend more time with her but didn’t always give it to her.
    Then her world collapsed. Her brother was accused of sexual assault of a minor and committed suicide. Her other brother just afterwards also got charged with similar charges and went to prison.
    We moved to the country on her family farm in her late brothers house and was ok with the change even though we were going from a huge house to a single wide trailer that was run down. We are both from farm/ranch background so it was nice. something happened when we moved though. I stopped helping out doing everything like I used to and started another huge pond. I did put down new flooring in the living room but stopped doing any other repairs.
    The dogs, about 10-15 were tearing up walls and doors, we bought cheap furniture because they always ate it. All this was terrible but I mostly quit fighting about them. I just didn’t have any desire to work my ass of fixing everything the dogs destroyed.
    Instead I spent my time building the pond and drinking. Every day, pond and drinking, soon I found myself an alcoholic. I was never abusive, just some button pushing about the dogs if we did fight. For a year I was an alcoholic, had to have it and could not stop, even though I knew I needed to.
    Even through this, I thought that we were good. I would even ask her sometimes.
    Then, what I thought at time was the worst happened. I got tipped off that she was cheating on me. I followed her to work early in the morning and sure enough, caught her. I was heart broken and furious, more at myself than her.
    I vowed that we would get through this and I meant it. This happened last December and I never touched another beer. I had beer sitting in the fridge and never even craved it. For over 4months I never drank a drop, didn’t want to. I bought her a promise ring that I would be the man I used to be and we seemed good. I was doing everything I used to do, helping out doing everything, because this is what I like doing.
    Then, January 1, I changed jobs. I bought a truck and started hauling cattle. My intention was to be local but I had to get started and that meant being gone for a week at a time most weeks. I hated it but worse, she hated it. Not as much as me being gone but that she was left at home with my two kids that I have full custody of. She never wanted kids, not even her own, although she loves her boy with all her heart. I never asked her to be “the kids mom” but treat them good and she did.
    The problem is, and perhaps the biggest issue between us is my 9 yr old daughter. She is impossible. We asked very little of them, do your homework, pickup after yourselves, keep your rooms picked up, put your dirty clothes in the laundry room and each had a small chore, trash and load the dishwasher. My daughter is bull headed and stubborn. She would hide her homework all the time, failing fourth grade, hide her clothes in her room, trash her room and had to be told over and over to pickup her things and do her chore. My wife did try, but eventually gave up. It was too much for her with me gone. All of this happening but I still did not think things were that bad.
    nbNow that you have the basics, here is where things go to hell. I came back and was going to leave early in the morning. I wanted to watch tv with her, something we used to do together and I am being my old self again. She got a call from one of her friends and had talked for 20 minutes and I, angry, got up and told the kids I was leaving. She hung up and followed me to the truck. We started talking and she said we should consider a divorce. I would not hear of it. I was devastated.
    I did leave that night but called her that night and early in the morning and thought that we had gotten through it. I came back for the weekend and was being great. Things seemed ok then as we were walking she brought it up again and I asked her if their was someone else and she replied “since you asked. I’ve always said that no one leaves one relationship without first having one to go to”.
    I was again devastated. She is my best friend, so much alike, worked so hard to be together and never thought that we would spit up. We talked and talked, I begged and begged. I had to leave that night but called her in the middle of the night and in the morning. I kept pleading my case to make it right, I wasn’t drinking anymore, I was me again and helping out, spending valuable time with her, I didn’t even gripe about the dogs much anymore. The kids could go to their moms half the time, giving her joint custody like she had with her boy and it would be less burden on her and we could have the valuable time of each other. Everything that went wrong in our marriage can easily be fixed, allowing us to get close again and do it right. I would either sell the truck or do something with it local. By Wednesday, she agreed to work it out.
    We were making plans to go somewhere for the weekend. Friday as I was getting close to home, she called and said that she didn’t want to try anymore and she wouldn’t be there when I got home. Again I was devastated. She came home Sunday morning and we talked. I showed her how it used to be and how it would be again. She started to cave. She was tired so I let her go sleep and played with her son for hours. When she got up, he had contacted her and she told him she was considering working it out. We talked some more and she agreed but said she had to tell him goodby. I begged her not to go but she said she had to. When she returned, she acted like nothing was wrong and when I finally was able to ask, she said that she hadn’t up her mind.
    The next day we spent together doing stuff, all the time I was trying to convince her to stay. The next morning I sent her a heart felt text, outlining how easy to make it right and it would be great, and then went to see her. She didn’t say she had made a choice but it was pretty obviouis what she wanted. I went home and packed all my stuff, not taking anything more that just my stuff alone. I didn’t contact her for a couple of days then we text back and forth. It started causual but ended up with me pressuring her to come back.
    This went on for a couple of weeks. She says she is happy, no burdens, can do whatever she wants. Her boyfriend and her post back and forth publicly on facebook telling each other they love. After advice from my pastor, I told her I was done pushing and was getting my life in order but asked her to let her guard down and just think about it.
    That is what she does, she puts up a guard and refuses to let herself think about her decisions, only what is in front of her. She has always been this way. She has been in overlapping relationships since she was 14yrs old. Not any of them lasting more than 5 yeas and most only short lived. I never knew until when we first broke up but, she had been used for sex for a year or more when she was young, I am assuming 12-14 years old.
    I want her back. I will not neglect the intimacy she needs again. I am giving her space, I haven’t talked to her in days. I sent my first letter like you advised and will send another next week. Please give me guideance as to do the right thing. I can forgive her, already have for the affair since I feel I was not doing my part, just angry she will throw it all away without both of us trying.
    Thank you, Mitch

  3. Hi Al, I’ve been with my wife for coming on 9 years now, she was the one that I waited for to be with for the rest of my life,(my first girlfriend) and we’ve been married for the past 5 years now.

    Our friendship has been deteriorating over the past 6 months, and we’ve lost that special bond that we once had, we’ve been fighting alot, don’t want to be in eachother space, can’t look at eachother and feel that love for eachother

    She had brought up divorce, and is now living with a family member for the past month now. I’ve told her how I feel and she took the ‘D’ word off the backburner for now. She wants us to be apart for a while, so we can see if we can regain that friendship we once had, then work up to being married again

    We’ve been seeing eachother atleast every 2nd day now, since splitting. And we’ve talked about our relationship and the good times of our past together alot (probably too much). I feel terrible for what has become of this. I’ve had time now to think about it and have truly woken up and realize

    Every time I bring up the things I’ll change, she would tell me that no matter what happens that we’ll still be friends after this, and she’s almost persistent enough in telling me this that this is truly what she wants! Do I just need to give her more space between us? I need guidance on what to do.

    • Hello Mike, I think you are in a good place. Ok, let’s get to work.

      You’ve been together long enough so that anything you say (promises) will probably backfire – not only not be believed, but will be taken as proof that you are not sincere in waking up and changing. So skip the promises.

      Let’s pretend there are 500 things you could change about yourself. You could spread your efforts out among those, but I think that would be a waste. You could start on one item, then do another, but that could be a horrible waste and exhaust you. The idea is to figure out what are her top items of that 500 list and work visibly on them. Top-items-work provides the biggest relationship bank for your sweat.

      Now the only one who knows the top items list is she. Probably she’s told you most of those items dozens if not hundreds of times. Her moving away is a telling. (See. One item is your being asleep/taking her for granted, and another probably is that you don’t give her the space she needs when she needs it.) You get to interpret and then check out the items. Over 6 months the list should become clearer. When she sees you really working on some (“Well it’s about time you did/stopped that!”) she will probably add more to the list in hope you’ll do the job well. Don’t get discouraged. In my experience, your list of 500 will end up her list of 40 or so. Probably lots of your own self-critical-changes, it will turn out, she doesn’t want you to change. Kind of paradoxical!

      I don’t think Divorce is a particularly good solution, but it often takes that level of threat to wake up your partner. Hint: plan to stay awake for the rest of your life; plan to keep your partner awake, too.

      By the way, you’ll probably have a list of items she “needs” to change. Don’t focus on that list. Learn good boundaries and leave her in responsibility for her stuff. Show her what self-responsibility looks like.

      Probably the most powerful fixer-upper-skill is communication. Your goal is that she feels relaxed and happy to share anything with you and you remain relaxed and curious – always. Look for what habits you have that are in the way of reaching that goal and replace ‘em.

      Good luck.

Leave a Reply