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? — 675 Comments

  1. Thank you for your thoughts Al. I know it may sound that I am pointing towards my husband having some personality disorder. Well, I don’t mean to put him down saying he needs to be fixed. All people make sense all the time:)… It’s just that during therapy there were some pointers shared by my therapist which said that my husband is battered, sad and anxious overall in life. He comes from a dysfunctional household (and once again, please don’t get me wrong at me trying to make him the problem) and is also going through some family betrayal issues(finances). At this point, he is in no shape to have any relationship with any human soul, let alone himself. My heart reaches out to my husband on hearing this, and I did tell my therapist that if suitable, in his given condition, please let him know that he was heard and respected for what he wants. My therapist did say that this message will help in his overall healing.

    On my part, I do agree ‘crazy finds equal crazy,’ but what then? No one wants to accept this in their ‘normal’ life, and I got dismissed when I said it to my husband in a validating manner. I also tried telling him about power struggle, and the vintage love you mention, but he says – ‘I have always listened to you, but I should feel the love for you to make things work, and that part of me is dead. It takes two to make a relationship, and I haven’t been in love for a long time.’ To this I gave validation a try, and heard his reply of the early hurt I have caused him. I don’t know anymore on how to make a connection, except for the occasional visit to the therapist, which also ended last after he announced the divorce.

    I would love to chat with you over the phone Al, but my separation has left me with no earning/savings. I am on my own right now, with not much support coming from him, and every penny is getting used to making ends meet (sorry, a bit embarrassed to share this.) My best help has been your Website, and whatever little therapy that my husband was paying for.

    • I hear you, Alicia, and I really encourage you to watch you spending.

      Looking at what you’ve shared reminds me of how familiar your situations are. And the ways out are just time and work. Sometimes in a first session I could spot areas where focusing might yield benefits. Here are a couple more thoughts.

      The comment about his dysfunctional childhood just reminds me of that idea that current “crazy” is often the sensible remainder, left-overs, of stuff that wasn’t addressed during a troubled childhood. So “interestingly difficult” behaviors show, and show more to the partner living with you and can best be addressed with the partner living with you. Thus it’s often easy to see their stuff, but you can’t do much about it. You can learn to assist them. However, since you carry an equal dose of dysfunction, you can work on that and thus set a standard for both of working.

      So I tend to think of your side of this stuff which you can work on, if you can recognize it. “Recognizing” being the first step. So I would look for what was there about your dysfunctional upbringing that kept you from noticing your partner’s dysfunctional stuff until a therapist pointed out. What kept you from addressing this years ago? Whatever that “blindness” is it will still be with you in the future until addressed and re-mediated. Nothing wrong with beginning to identify your husband’s troubles, but what about your training lead you to pick him, what lesson was there for you?

      This is Imago stuff.

      If my guess is right, your skills at listening, being a safe witness are being challenged. (The complete fix for this is to become an expert at Validating.) For instance, he expresses that “love has gone for a long time.” A) that ending of “feeling love” always happens, B) it takes a lot of work to recover love, and build mature love and those original feelings of in-love are based on delusions and hopefully you won’t go back to being delusion-ed. And how do you go about Validating his distress at the “feeling being gone.”

      I encourage you to keep going. I think you are on the right track.

      • Thank you for your encouragement Al.

        I did get to explore my side of the story, and I understood that I usually pick emotionally distant men in my life(family history.) So my husband is no exception. Other than that, not much was identified while working with the therapist.

        Ya, I am usually optimistic, and hopeful, so may be the difference between hope and illusion does get merged at times.

        My husband says, he does not have the bandwidth to listen and honor my emotions. I try to keep it in check, but there were times where I also wanted to be validated for who I am, and that may have led to being reactive sometimes getting him further disconnected from me.

        Being married, it was not so important to be ‘right’ about a situation, but then every attempt I took to appease the situation was usually met with little acknowledgement no matter how much I gave in to what he desired. It would only make sense if he lets it go, on his terms, and that sometimes would take weeks/ month.

        That also reflected at times on me not managing my boundaries well. Listening was not about validating his sense alone, but it was to ‘do’ as exactly asked, else he would feel disrespected, and at times it was humanly impossible for me to just do as asked.

        I guess early on in relationships, I did not know what to do when things don’t make sense and therefore the power struggle..

        These are some of my limitations, and my hunt for further blind spots continues. Now having learnt more, I felt we could build a better marriage, but his fragile emotional state has instilled massive fear against me, and no access to him only suggests that whatever little hope was left is also gonna die with time working for and against it.

  2. Hi Al,

    Been following your blog for a while and find it quite useful to hear your inputs. My husband expressed his desire for divorce 1.5 years ago and left. He believes that all through our relationship of 15 years, he has only loved me out of obligation and guilt and never truly loved me except the first few months of being together.

    We are seeing a therapist now to seek a way forward, and my husband confirmed his desire to legally end our marriage because he feels that the foundation of our relationship is not right. I asked him what according to him is the right foundation, and he said- two people equally wanting to be with one another. My purpose was to listen with openness, and know where the cause of his discomfort was lying with me.

    He shared a few other issues where he felt that I don’t listen to him and don’t let him speak. I just heard him and tried to look beyond the symptoms. What I understood was that every suggestion and advice given by him has to be met unconditionally from my end to ensure that he feels respected. For example, when we were living together and having issues, he did suggest that we see a counselor, and at that point I told him that I am not sure I want to. Having said that, I still did see one then as well because it meant so much to him. But given where he is today, this is something he doesn’t acknowledge in his reality, and remembers only my refusal.

    After hearing him, when the therapist asked me to share my hurt and what I would like my husband to know, it didn’t go well. I tried my best to be respectful, and put everything from my perspective of feeling hurt, but he started to feel that I was not respecting him enough and its too late. When I told him that I have learnt from my mistakes and worked on it for a year to be a better person, he said it takes two and it is no good if you alone do the change. I just listened.

    At this point, all I can do is acknowledge his need for divorce, and move ahead with the same to let him know how much I respect and love him. If there is anything I can do to help myself, or to have any hope to reignite the relationship, please advise.

    • Sorry to take so long to get back to you, Alicia. I’ve been off away from the Internet for 18 days.

      Sounds like a pretty painful situation you’ve got going on. I am very happy you have a therapist to work with you on this. Figuring out what your husband “means” when he says what “he says”, sounds very difficult. My guess is he doesn’t understand himself often and yet still speaks. It is fascinating that a person can easily get to a place where he/she discovers he/she doesn’t know what love is and even get’s confused about “respect.”

      My guess is your communication is too little and too literal. Example, He says he needs divorce. You could either take his phrase at face-value. “Ok you need a divorce.” Which would show respect for his words. or you could hear the phrase, acknowledge it, PreValidate him, and invite him to share what’s behind that phrase, hear that, PreValidate that and keep inviting him to go deeper (at his pace). This way you show respect for who he is and who he is becoming as well as the words he actually says. Your goal is to get him used to feeling understood (not agreed with) when he is around you. That’s pretty respectful. And can lead to him learning how to make you feel understood also.

      Didn’t your therapist model the difference between understanding and agreeing. Understanding when you don’t agree is amazingly respectful. Saying you agree when you don’t agree seems just rude to me.

      Oh, and saying you’ve learnt from your mistakes doesn’t seem to work for me. It’s kind of like promises. I doubt there is enough trust between you two hear promises as anything but bulls###. Gotta rebuild that trust.

      Keep a going. Sounds as if your heart is in the right place. Good luck.

      • Thank you for your response Al.

        Well we never got to the point where I had an opportunity to have too many interactions with my husband. I did suggest that I don’t mind catching up once in a way with no strings attached, and exploring if our marriage is worth all the investment we have put it.

        He is scared that if he does interact with me, he will get emotional, and wants to avoid that. I tried exploring deeper, and he did sight an incident in the first year of our dating where I had said something hurtful to him in my choice of words and that ‘killed’ it , he says. I offered my heartfelt apology. I have apologized for this back then when it happened, and so many times in the past 15 years. But I guess I couldn’t make him feel secure enough to forgive me despite all the good will and actions of love, kindness and compassion I have shown him since the time I know him.

        Since I don’t get to see him much, the only opportunity to meet him has been about 3-4 sessions of counseling together, and the rest, I have been going individually. My husband also does see the same therapist on his own, as and when need be.

        Recently, the therapist had an interesting point to share where he said that my husband perhaps is not capable of the ‘we’ that a marriage creates. So he asked me if I can live with someone as is with very little to give and offer.

        For a moment, I gave it a thought and then something stuck me, where does one draw the line between any personality disorder and a skill of a marriage? From my understanding, marriage is an on-the-job training for most of us, and when we have to learn better skills, would it be apt to say that the personality disorder overrules the same?

        Also, a grown up man who gets married at 32(my husband), who is fully functional in all the other domains of life (such as work, socializing, tending to his immediate family etc) is able to face the hurdles in those domains, and accept them, but not able to face the hurdles of being married, is it something that I accept at the face value as his maximum threshold in a marriage?

        It is quite conflicting to see him the way he is right now, and to tell myself that I need to be prepared for a divorce as much as I love him and want to heal his hurt. I hope he does forgive me someday. Please share your thoughts.

        • Hello Alicia, I took some time to respond, printed out your posting, spread it out with “white space” to make it easier to read, underlined here and there and then thought for some days about what I could say that might be useful. Share my thoughts, you say. Well.

          It sounds as if a very normal Power Struggle has been going on for some time with you two and as if you’ve reached Door #3. (I hope you’ve read my Map of Relationships well.) He sounds like a normal Avoider – not talking, not responding, not wanting emotional upsets, avoiding emotions, and generally giving you very little candid information about what’s going on inside him.

          I hear you focusing on a) the few things he’s said, b) the few things your therapist has said and c) his behavior as an example of perhaps a pathology. None of that sounds as if it will lead to solutions. It sure doesn’t sound easy. Yet to me your husband sounds like a pretty normal work-in-progress. Why your therapist can’t see that and guide you better, I don’t know. Maybe try a new one.

          You seem to have come across the problem on “forgiveness” and “apologies.” Yup, I found they don’t work. There’s something much deeper going on that’s got to be dug into.

          And as far as “personality disorders” go, well, I think relationships are all about them, resolving them, and the best way to approach this topic is with the “wisdom” that “You always fall in love with someone equally ‘crazy’,” and thus the “personality disorder” you have is more important than the one he has.

          On the positive side, No, I don’t think you should accept the relationship and his current level of skills at face value. I believe in durably moving toward Vintage Love which means learning and learning and learning.

          It might be best if we do some phone chatting.

          Keep a-going.

  3. Hi Al,
    I first wrote to you on February 28, 2016. I also replied to “Warren’s” post on September 18, 2016 and gave a lengthier update there. I wanted to share my happiness with you and say a special “thank you.” Since our separation and my husband’s divorce filing, my husband and I have been dating and doing regular counseling for about 8 months now. As the weeks and months progressed, we continued to move through the very difficult and painful path ahead and are now both committed to working on our relationship and improving our marriage through all the ups and downs that come our way. We see ourselves remaining in counseling for the foreseeable future. As the days go by our relationship, children, and family as a whole are feeling happier and more secure. Although, my husband maintained his separate address for quite a while, his time in our home increased more and more. This Spring he happily decided to give up his separate address and with continued help and work, we are united again. Many aspects of our relationship are better than they have been. I write this note to you with heartfelt gratitude and tears in my eyes. I remain in awe of the help you freely dispense to anyone who stumbles upon your website. Thank you so very much for the time you spend writing your articles and responding to the hundreds of forlorn posts you receive. You really are a huge blessing to so many people and I am so grateful for the impact that you have had on my life.

    Heartfelt gratitude,

    • I hear you, Chrissy. Thanks for the note. Keep a going. At some points the goal of couple’s counseling is to take the counselor home with you, to live with you. Often it is in the form of, “Wait, wait. What would Janey tell us right now?” Good ole Janey.

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