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? — 424 Comments

  1. me and my boyfriend we together for about a month and i found out i was pregnant on the 17 of september. i told him on the 19th but the following monday he left me. I’m like 5 weeks now but he says that he doesn’t believe me when i told him. he’s gonna get a test but when i asked him what he is gonna do when it says yes.. he says it won’t. i don’t think he is gonna stay but i need him to. any help on how i can get him back i still love him very much. i want to fix our relationship to where it was before.

  2. Hi. My husband of almost four years is getting ready to leave, to move to his own place. We both live and work under contract over seas and we just began a new set of contracts for a year. We have a daughter who is two and a half years old. This summer, we discussed having another baby, agreed on it, and started to try the very end of June. Well, a few weeks later…

    He became distant. Finally getting it out of him, he said he didn’t want another baby, but by that time it was maybe too late. I can say that there was relief when I wasn’t pregnant. I thought he’d become better, more like his old self. He didn’t. So last week he and I had a talk. He says he got scared when he thought I could be pregnant. He was so scared about it, he started questioning everything. So we decided that he needed some time and space to figure things out. I’d read a lot about not begging or crying, so I had been doing that. But seeing him, practically ignoring me, no longer sleeping in the same bed, no longer talking about anything, ignoring our daughter… I asked him today what exactly he was unsure of. He said it was the future. I asked what exactly it was about the future he was unsure of. He said it was me. He didn’t know if he could see himself with me in five years, if that was what he wanted. He needed time and space to figure it out. I couldn’t help it, I cried. I cried because I’ve lost someone very important to me. I didn’t tell him I loved him or push him in any way other than I wished he wouldn’t go, but I would support him in this and whatever decision he makes.

    He doesn’t talk to anyone here, he spends most of his day on the internet or sleeping or going to work. I’ve been pretty strong, only crying when I’m alone.

    I feel really set back because of this discussion tonight. He goes to see the landlord about his place on Thursday.

    I can only say I know I’m sometimes expressing that I would like more help around the house, or that he wouldn’t just bury himself in his computer all the time… but I’ve usually shouldered the burden of everything. I love him very much, and I just can’t turn it off. I wish I could. I would be able to get over this faster if it didn’t mean so much to me. I wouldn’t be hurting this much.

    I have no idea what to do beyond just giving up. Just letting him go and never contacting him again. I haven’t told anyone, not family, not friends. A few people we work with know, because he had to talk to someone to find a place. They say they want to help, but I think getting other people involved will just push him farther away.

    • Ow. Sounds rough. I’m glad you are here, Taren, looking for what to do, rather than “just giving up.” Read on – around this site.

      My guess is that it will be worth your time checking out the Clinger/Avoider stuff in the paper on Reliable Membership. Oh, in my personal experience the most common form of Pushing that a Clinger does is “asking questions”. An avoider can share, but frequently they completely overload when asked questions. And if you ask them to answer “exactly” or “precisely,” you usually get nothing of value. I used to do that. Very dumb.

      And take a look at the issue of balancing blame and responsibility.

      • I’m implementing a lot of the advice I found here. Maybe there’s not a lot happening on his end, but at least for me, I’m learning something. Even if this doesn’t work out, in the future I can be more aware of myself.

        He doesn’t seem to follow Avoider traits. Sure, he can be closed, but he is very charming and dominates conversations when we would go out. He has always needed self esteem boosts from me, at how he was the “best” at numerous things in our life. He seems to seek it from his friends on the internet. I guess I can see how seeking what he needs from someone online doesn’t come with a lot of pressure to reciprocate.

        Since last night’s talk, when he does talk to me, it feels like I’m just his friend. Which hurts a lot.

        He plans on signing his lease for a year… and I’m just devastated. Being where we are, we’re isolated from a lot of English speaking people. I can see how that would make me push him more and for him to feel trapped.

        I can survive on my own, even though this pain is probably going to last for a while. I feel really betrayed because he was the one to convince me to get married, convinced me to have our daughter. I feel really stupid, at the moment. Really, really stupid for loving him as much as I do.

        I am not worrying about myself, now, because I now know what I have to work on for me.

        I worry about my daughter. We are supposed to split custody, she is to be with me for a week, and then with him for a week, Considering how everything is, and how angry he can get when she is a nuisance, as many almost 3 year olds are, will she also push his buttons? If he is an avoider and she needs attention, will that impact her negatively? She’s so young, but she can tell there’s something up.

        • Good to hear from you, Taren. Keep a going. Nice to know you are human and, like me, make (“stupid”) mistakes. Wait till you have a few more relationships under your belt. You’ll probably decide he was a perfectly good Imago Match, by then. Ah well.

          And as far as your daughter is concerned, having parents split is tough on them. But then all humans are built to recover. He’s her dad and will always be. General rule: don’t get between a daughter and her father. Let them work it out.

          Good luck.

  3. Hi All…my partner of 8yrs has left. We have a 7yr old son together and raising my 10 ur old son from a previous relationship. In a nutshell this situation had been stressful for years off and on. When we met I was married to my best gay friend. When I finally told him I was 7 or 8 months pregnant. Needless to say he was livid that was 2007. We continued the relationship after baby was born, June 2007 and I moved to my moms home an hour away from him. I found out in 2009 that he had a child with another woman…that child was born the summer of 2008. Also I thot he had made a choice when he moved to be with me after I had gotten a job 2hrs away from both our families in 2008 so again I moved for work and he came.
    Currently. What we have been dealing with is stress….he has been injured from his job for a year and has lived on a fixed income…. I work on a part time not so consistent basis.his other child and mother have come into his life again….I just recently gotten the full picture and has hit me hard that he has lied over the years about this child’s conception. He pays child support…and the other mother wants him to be heavily involved in the child’s life. They live 3hrs plus away from us. This situation is very stressful for me because I don’t know to what extent are the dealing with each other. So he tells me tonight that the relationship is killing him…he can’t live this lifestyle anymore…. We don’t have a big house and a big bank account together. He feels I am stressing him out and the best thing for him to do is leave cause he is sick…..high blood pressure… And his back the injury he sustained at his job. I think some of the issue is that I have begun to work full time and he is left home with limited money/resources with our boys day in and day out. Being with kids can be stressful I understand. Also this past weekend I went to see my friends left him home with our boys and didn’t return immediately Sunday morning. My thought is possibly he wanted to travel to see his other child before her first day of school or take her to school her first day…I don’t know he never communicated that. We had a few words tonight kept telling me I don’t get it…I don’t get it…that he thinks I should be s better mother… That I don’t pay attention to our boys…and that I just don’t understand him. And I bounce all over the place inconsistent…. And that I’m stressing him out making him sick cause I am argumentative… I have no consideration for him I only think of myself. So he packed most of his things in his trunk and left at 3am. He told me he spoke to his sister and his mom and they told him if I acted like I did and he felt the way he felt then he should leave me. Now what I have to report to work at 9 am. It’s gonna be hard to find a babysitter on such short notice….and not to mention. How do I break this to my boys…my 10 old was awake so he heard his dad leave. Needless to say he was very upset crying scared….my 7yr old slept thru it he will find out in the morning. This is such a sad situation… I wish I could call in sick but I can’t I have to manage things.
    So Al how do I cope he has left now what?

    • Wow, Vern, I read through your letter 4 times and decided I need a chart to figure out what is going on. Sounds like serious chaos. Breath, get sleep. Situation is sad, tragic, but that’s what makes like so great. From the chaos comes lots of learnings, darn it. If you have a more specific question, please share it. Sounds pretty bad.

      Good luck.

      • Al….hi it’s Vern again…. Let me simplify and tell you my concern in my relationship…

        My partner has returned..and there is lots of tension lingering. I have a huge issue with the fact that my partner had a child with another woman. The child is a year younger than our son. The child is 6 and the mother wants him to be involved.

        I have an issue cause I don’t trust the situation… In my head, if he lied in the past and was able to produce this child, then how can I trust that the texts,emails, and phone calls between he and the mother are only about the well being of the child. For my own sanity and the sanity of my household how do I handle this…

        I am the clinger in this relationship…. He has left for two days back in November, and then he bolted again last Monday night. He has said he will not tell me the truth because I don’t have his best interest at heart.

        Al, how do I make the relationship”safe” enough for him to trust and stop leaving…. so that we can grow as individuals and as a couple?

        Also I have to make a decision because it is effecting our male children…. The instability…. The tension… The inconsistency….

        We had words today because the mother of his child called him while we were at lunch together and I became quiet….cause I just don’t know how to process my pain or hide the fact that I am mad as hell that this situation exists and that it happened on my watch….I am angry that I feel that we have never been without the other mother in our relationship…. Their kid is 6 our kid together is 7…I’m frustrated…. Help! Hope this is clearer. :-) thanks so much!


        • Ah, Vern, much clearer, thanks. If I have it right #1 trust/reliability with this guy is big issue. Probably the second issue is “control” and the third is some sort of reliability. The fix to all those things involves communication. How do you trust someone who has at least one kid with a different woman? How do you trust someone, at this point, period?

          Here’s the deal. If he had told you everything, kept you up to date, and it was his habit to share everything, you could easily predict what he would do next and thus be relaxed. I’ve learned that trust is a simple state of having a relaxed (Play Mate Nurture Creative-Work) lizard. To get that would need a lot of what is called predictive information – data about what he is going to do next, how he operates, what makes sense to him.

          Anything that goes on that keeps him from sharing, thus, is a threat. His comment about not telling you is a comment about his logic/sense to do things that are in his interest (safety) but are threats to you. That’s not good. Gotta fix that. If I’m reading that correctly he sees you as a threat to him. Hmm Why? And, of course, you see his silence as a threat to you. Gotta fix that. You want to move in the direction of him chattering with you about any and everything. That way you know what is going on and can relax – trust.

          So I would start with collecting information about what you do/have done that makes it unsafe for him to share with you. I’d start there. He’s probably told you this many times, but you’ve not paid enough attention to it.

          My guess. Build safety by building safe communication.

  4. Al, you’ve heard the story before. My partner of 5 years has ended our relationship. I could see him withdrawing for a couple of months, but I did everything I could to try to hold on….showered him with love, tried to organise things to do to try and remind him how great we are and made all the mistakes a clinger makes (cried, pleaded, etc). We’ve had a great relationship for the most part, we rarely fought, the sex was always great. But it seems that he doesn’t believe he’s “in love” with me, even though he cares deeply for me, and he admits he always felt loved by me….he said I made him feel on the top of the world. My age is a problem too….I’m a few years older than he and by the time he’d be looking to have a family, I wouldn’t be capable of children. We’ve tried no contact, but the most we can last is a few weeks before the missing of each other becomes unbearable. We’re as sexually connected as ever. But despite missing me and the physical attraction, he sees no future. I think he does need to see the world, I’m his first long term relationship (he’s 37) and he once said that he thought he’d have dated many more women before settling down with “the one”. Am I wasting my time? Where do I go from here?

    • I don’t think you are wasting time as long as you are learning from all this, Samantha. Seeing him withdraw and not knowing how to fix it always seems to me to point toward new skills you need to learn that you don’t have. I don’t think the age difference is more than a red herring. My guess is your communication system stinks. You need an excellent communication system to a) recover from what you’ve done to each other and b) to solve the problems. So, as usual, it is “wake-up” time. Check out my Map of Relationship to figure out where you are. Good luck.

      • You’re so deadly accurate there, Al. Our communication is the pits…that is, it doesn’t happen. He’s not a communicator at all and I don’t know how to deal with it. In the end, I was afraid to communicate because of what I thought was going to hear. I’ll take your advice and see how I go. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

      • Hi Al. I am trying to follow your advice in trying to stop my now former partner from fully leaving my life, though he has left the relationship. He’s receptive to contact, our relationship never ended on bad terms which I suppose is a good thing? But last night he propositioned me with sex. I don’t want to be used for sex, I want my relationship back. Or a better version of it! :) How can I say no to sex in a constructive way, that isn’t seen to be pushing/pulling and yet still inviting for him to reconnect?

        • Good question, Samantha. Two thoughts. If you want a new and healthier relationship you are going to end up doing all sorts of things that others might question. However, be sure you only do what you choose to do. Don’t let yourself be pushed. As my wife says, there is nothing wrong with “friends with benefits.”

          Second thought. Never never ever allow yourself to be used for sex. If you did in the past, stop it. If this is a confusing principle, talk it over with him.

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