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? — 465 Comments

  1. I am so scared, and
    My boyfriend and I were dating for 2.5 years. 9 months ago, we moved in together. It was hard at first since primarily our relationship was long distance. We never had a chance to just date. After living together for a while, he started to change. I talked to him and he told me he wasn’t happy because i was being too clingy (I didn’t realize it, but it was because I was in a new state and didn’t know anything else). So I told him he’s not being fair to me in the relationship, and I ended things with him and moved out. I made it clear I still wanted to be with him though, he just has to change. He told me he “needs space” and “wants me time” and just wants to be single for a while to figure out what he wants. This was two months ago. We talked almost everyday still (which I shouldn’t have done) and he told me how much he loves me, we saw each other occasionally, etc… Then I finally told him I can’t continue this because it just hurts me. I want to be with him so badly but because he can’t give that to me, I can’t contact him anymore. He told me he understood. We went 4 days NC. Then he texted me last Wednesday. He asked how I was, said he can’t believe I’m moving on so quickly, he misses me, loves me, etc.. I was trying to be strong and offstandish and was successful at first, then broke down and said I missed him and want to be with him. He said “we cant jump back into things right now”… then saturday I broke down AGAIN and confessed my love for him, how much I want to be with him, etc.. I regret saying all of that so much and wish I could take it back. He kept telling me “i need space”. So finally I apologized and left him alone. I haven’t contacted him since. Today is Day 4 of NC and I’m dying. I miss him so much.

    Now I have my own place which would give us the opportunity to date. But I found out he just became FB friends with his ex (who lives two hours away). I’m so scared of losing him for good. Do you think I have a chance like you had with your boyfriend?

    Sorry for going on and on, lol, I’m just terrified.

    • Oh, the chaos, Molly! Very hard. Get yourself with feet on the ground. Remember, your Lizard, your fear, is your responsibility. And the ol Lizard thinks it’s dying, pretty easily. Not a good idea to depend on others to take care of your safety.

      And I think it is good to realize that your “desire” for “him” is very real, but it is not “him” that causes it. I believe it’s part of your need for Vintage Love. Very important.

      Go for it.

      • If I focus on myself constantly throughout the NC period, do you think I have a good shot of him coming back, based on our history together? He mentioned last Wednesday that the thought of being able to just date has been “going around and around in my head” but “we still can’t jump back into things just yet”.. That of course was before I found out he became Facebook friends with his ex. But I could just be overthinking that aspect and they may not even be talking as much as I’m thinking.

        • You have a great shot, as long as you do the work, Molly. Do your 50%. Learn patience – turbo patience. Learn to go slow and to collude with him to keep him at peace. Remember he thinks you are “hopeless,” though you are not. Show him. Don’t promise him. Learn to relax your brain so that you don’t think of jumping, running, speeding — etc. Peace.

  2. My husband and I have been together 9 years and married 6.. we had a child after being together 2 years and things were great we had a wonderful marriage. Well then my son was 8 months when I found out I was pregnant again and we were happy but then he started being distant and being mean to me but ended up asking me to marry him and 6 months later got married then 4 months later had my daughter.. so things got a little better and I thought we were in a great place so when my daughter was one I decided to go back to work to help with bills.. come to find out he had started cheating on me.. I was devastated and we spent a few days apart and I thought we worked through it. Well then the secrets started again and the girls kept coming and the cheating kept going on.. then came along the drinking and we split up he just up and left for work one day and texted me and said he wasn’t coming home. He was gone for 6 months and one night he just decided he wanted to come home he wanted to be with me and his kids. So things didn’t change cause the drinking was worse he still had nights he wouldn’t come home and I never knew where he was who he was with. So him coming home lasted about 2 maybe 3 months and again he left for work one day texted me said he was done and moving out again. I can’t seem to accept this all. It’s not what I want and he won’t talk to me he won’t text me and he don’t even See the kids. I don’t know whether to give up on the marriage and accept it or take a good long break and wait to see. I am lost.

    • Yup. Accepting this relationship as it is, I don’t think is helping you or him or the kids at all. My guess is you’ve been trained to “just accept,” and so you would pick a partner where “acceptance” isn’t a useful tool. At some point he has to “grow up”, become responsible, and certainly quit the drinking. This process will probably take much longer if you enable him. I suggest you check into Alanon or some other local resource to help you take on the kind of self-care/self-responsibility that is require to take care of your side of all this.

      I often think about which one, in a couple, has to lead the way. In Clinger/Avoider problems it is always the Clinger. In most problems it doesn’t matter who leads. But I think in the case of “drinking” it is the sober one who has to step up, take care of themselves first, and provide the firm ground for their partner to grow upon. Sometimes that involves lovingly putting new locks on the doors. Not easy.

      • I am so afraid of losing my husband. Even after everything he has done to me and our kids I still love him.. every time I try and talk to him he ignores me or sends my calls right to voicemail. He has said over and over he wants a divorce but it’s been 3 months and he has yet to file for one.. When I ask him when he plans on ending our marriage he blows it off. He will just ask me how much money i need. Its not even about the money and he dont see that. Then he tells me i take everything for granite and i dont i appreciate everything he does and did for me..he wont even look at me. Yeah we had our problems just like every normal couple does but I can promise I’ve tried and it wasn’t me and yet I feel like this is all my fault.

        • Not all your fault, Rachel, but probably it’s half your fault. Learning better skills seems to me the way forward. As I mentioned to Molly, the Lizard thinks it’s going to die, but it won’t as long as you take care of it. Taking care of yourself so that you can listen to him say all sorts of silly stuff and stay relaxed, is a great idea.

          Keep pluggin ahead.

  3. Al,

    I’ll keep this short but I’m curious how to apply this to my situation. The basic situation is this: My girlfriend and I were doing great. We were discussing moving in together in a few months and getting engaged shortly after that. Then one day, about a month ago, her ex (and father of her child) came by and told her that he still loves her. We talked about it and she made it clear that she didn’t have any feeling for him but she needed some space to process everything and wanted to slow things down. I agreed that that was probably a good idea and asked her to call me when she was ready. After a few weeks she seemed better and asked if we could get together. When we did she said she wanted to just put all that behind us and move on. I was thrilled. We picked things back up and in hind sight that might have been too much to fast. When she said that she still felt distant and it might be easier if we went slower for a bit I thought that made sense. She said she wanted to figure things out and I shouldn’t worry, that it would get better. Then while not quite out of the blue it did seem to be a drastic step she said she needed a few weeks of no contact to work through things, when I said I understood and asked her what “a few weeks” might mean and what exactly “no contact” should entail she said basically that she wanted to break-up because the idea of me “waiting for her to figure it out” was too much pressure and it was too much for her to deal with (she is also under a lot of stress at for graduate school right now). She said she had nothing to give to our relationship right now and she felt guilty taking and that was making it worse.

    While I get that what she said makes sense and I understand her need to be alone for a while to process everything, the definitiveness of it really hurts. I guess my question is, while it seems clear that not pursuing at all is very important, I’m not really sure how to “work on myself” since I don’t really have any idea how this has anything to do with me in particular and more to do with her conflicting emotions. Thanks for any insight you might have.

    • Well, Kyle (?), not much to go on, but I can see a little and make guesses on that.

      Assuming you “fell for her”, then there’s probably quite a bit going on. First off is the Clinger Avoider stuff. Right on the surface her sentences sound like very normal Avoider stuff, and since those behaviors are aimed at you, my guess is you come across as a Clinger. My thought is her “drastic step” was just a firm and loud message to you when she thought you would not listen to anything quieter. “No contact” I believe is an online term, so I guess she’s been in contact with people online who need space. All of this seems normal Avoider.

      If so, your lessons would probably involve reviewing what you know about her to determine how to become the “source of space and quiet time for her.” The goal is that whenever she needs space, she comes to you to get those needs met, rather than gets away from you in order to get space. Most Avoiders need space from all sorts of people and things. I think you want to not be one of those “push sources.”

      So learn patience. Become an expert. I had to.

      Second guess has to do with how you use the word “sense.” Might be you want to study Master/Slave so that you can remember to avoid referring to “sense” in the abstract and learn to refer to it as belonging to someone: i.e. her sense / my sense. It saves you from “judging” her sense (which leads to all sorts of troubles) and helps you to simply appreciate her sense and remember to appreciate your own.

      Good luck.

      • Al,
        I get what you’re saying and that makes some sense. And yes, I did fall for her, hard, and for time, she fell for me too. I will add that in or relationship, up until the “talk with the ex” she was much more of the pursuer. She even said so. That she felt like she was pursuing me more than I her and didn’t want to scare me away but was worried I’d leave if she pushed too much. (it was her idea to explore moving in together for example) I promised her that if I felt like there was something in our relationship that needed work on, we’d talk about it. One of the things I love most about her is her ability to communicate with me. I think what has shocked me so much is the rather sudden role reversal and the lack of communication. I know she is seeing her own therapist to work things out for herself but I don’t know where our relationship factors into that. Obviously, right now, pressing her for an explanation is not going to work. I am afraid of losing complete touch with her but that seems to be what she wants right now. She’s shut me out of her social media profiles and I haven’t even tried to call or text her. I thought of sending her a short note like you describe in the “know when to fold ’em” article but I am afraid even that would violate her wish for “not talking” and push her further away.

        • Ah, Kyle, much more info. Not much you can do but practice patience. You can write a short email (4 sentences or less) to let her know you are “here” and “still interested”. Probably no more than once every two weeks to start.

          My guess is she’s working on something (somewhere between graduate school, her ex/father of child, and maybe someone else). So plan on keeping yourself in good health and waiting. You are in the dark cuz she’s keeping you there. And she makes sense lying (passive form) to you. Its a tough but common situation. Sorry. In this situation the goal is to work to get her to stop lying to you. That means she has to want to chat with you about what is going on for her. And she does have a counselor for that.

          Hang in there, my friend.

        • Thank you Al. I do not think there is someone else (I can’t see how she would have any time for that quite frankly) but there probably are some lingering issues w/ her ex. I know she wants to focus on school. Do you have any posts that could help me work on practicing patience? I’ve started a journal to act as a funnel for all the things I WISH i could say to here and that seems to at least help get the thoughts from circling around me head constantly. I’m trying to stay busy with friends which is somewhat helpful, although they all seem to have some level of advice that may or may not be helpful (a lot say to just move on). The hardest part is that literally everything I see or hear has some memory connected with her. It is like she is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

          Even just 4 or 5 days ago she would send me “thinking of you” or “have a great day sweaty” messages. It is just so strange to be completely cut off from that. She had said that she knew she was having issues but was going to make them a priority. Is it possible that the avoidance behavior is not so much to keep me from pushing her, but to keep her own thoughts segregated so she can focus on school/whatever else without feeling burdened to make this a priority right now?

        • Of course, Kyle, I can guess. I imagine her actions are both to help her focus on what she wants to focus on (college or whatever) and to fend you off. Your goal is that she comes to believe she can focus on her goals with your help and not sensing that she needs to fight you off.

  4. I used this method successfully, and wanted to come back to share it with people. I combined using this method with working the first step of alanon very hard, continually saying the serenity prayer to get through the moments when I wanted to contact him.
    Back story, partner is in recovery in NAA, nearly 2 years clean time. He has found living in a relationship difficult since he stopped using, he always felt grass was greener elsewhere. Partner goes through dark and moody times, and it is impossible to reach him during these times. For a year he has been vacillating about leaving the relationship (7 year relationship, 3 late teen children, mine). I had begun to feel like I was holding him hostage, even though we were close and had fun in between those times.
    2 1/2 weeks ago, he arrived home, told me he had to leave, and literally walked out of the door. He took nothing with him. I knew that no contact was probably the best way to allow me to sort out my emotions, but I wasn’t sure if it was the best chance I had at bringing him back. I decided to do low contact, in exactly the way Al describes here. The only variation was that I replied to his messages every time, and I never ever asked for sympathy. I found a sponsor in alanon, and I began to work on myself as hard as I could. I made sure that I had some genuine growth (if only a little, I was on a growth path), and I made sure that I mentioned my respect for him, and that I was off to a meeting or doing some step work each time I had contact with him. I used texting as my method of contact, I could see if he read them, and I knew he would not miss them like an email. I also made sure to add in a piece of news, light and non threatening, an activity I was completing or participating in, also generally to indicate a spring clean or a fresh attitude. Each time I concluded with feel free to contact me when you feel able, and take care. I avoided any action that would lead to him thinking that I was acting crazy, so I made sure not to drink alcohol ( no drunk texting), and anything that led him to believe that I was begging, or that he should feel guilty or sorry for me. When I said it was difficult, I simply said that in time I would get through it. I took compassionate leave from work, and tried to manage my adrenalin and panic. It was hard, I lost half a stone in two weeks. However to him I was as generous and kind as I could be with each limited interaction, I mentioned that I wanted to become friends when the time was right for him, surrendered to his desire to take his things ( and facilitated this), leaving the house to give him space to pack and remove his things in peace. I spent the whole time engaging with as many supportive friends as I could, and genuinely letting go. 2 weeks after he left, he was arranging to collect the last of his things and move them to his new flat. He began to text things like don’t feel that you have to leave the house, and saying that he had respect for me for giving him space, and saying that he hoped we could meet soon to begin to build a new connection. The day he was supposed to collect the last of his things, he cancelled, and later in the day he rang me. He hadn’t spoken to me since he left. He said he was worried about me, and asked if he could visit. When he arrived I was friendly and hospitable, I didn’t mention anything about what had happened, no pulling it apart or accusations. Just behaved like a slightly awkward friend and made tea. He then hugged me and said he had made the mistake of his life. I misunderstood and thought he wanted to be friends, he then asked me if he could come back, work on things and that he was absolutely certain right through him that he wanted to start again.
    This is where we are currently, a day into this, and him still maintaining the desire to begin working through this, to start afresh. This is where the work begins ( and studying the rest of this wonderful website), however maintaining low contact, genuine tangible self work, and never making the person feel guilty got us to here. You don’t need to tell them how much you love and need them, they know, they don’t mind. You need to give them hope that it can be different, and space to miss you, whilst being the best version of yourself you have ever been. Life will get rocky for them, and you need to be the person that has a gentle open door, but it has to feel like a choice not a grab. Even if they don’t come back you have retained your dignity, and you may find they remember you warmly, and one day you may enrich each other’s life through friendship. As I see it you have nothing to lose by trying.

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