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? — 441 Comments

  1. Some of this is good. However, I wouldn’t recommend telling your ex that you’re going to a “counseling” appointment. Maybe more along the lines of.. ‘Meeting friends for dinner’ or you don’t want to be late for your kickboxing class. Don’t let them know your reading a book about marriage…? No, no, no. The less you let them know, the more curious they’ll be. Actions always speak louder. People get motivated and inspired by who you are ‘being’, not by what you are saying or implying. Find yourself. Do the things that you truly enjoy and make you happy. If they have the chance to see you happy or get a ‘vibe’ that you’re content/happy… That will make them curious. When you talk to them, listen to them. Don’t be all about ‘well, this has been really hard, I miss you’ blah blah. Snap out of it. Man or woman up. Keep the conversation casual, and kind of short. Maybe, you’ll discover that that relationship/person belongs in your past. You may not want them anymore because you’ve been working so hard to feel happier and get over them, that you’ve done the work to grow and better yourself, and maybe they are still where they were when they left.

  2. My wife and I have been married for17 years. She struggled thru depression and the drugs to combat that. She also used some pain relievers and sleep aid, all to no avail. We have two great kids, a boy 14 and girl 10 whom we both love and vice versa. We both made horrible mistakes during these 10 years of turmoil. She recently made changes and is much more like the girl I married. She says that she will soon leave and we need to be divorced. For a lot of the past I thought it may be best for us to be apart. However reality now lets me know that I am still in love with her and do not want her to go. To make matters worse she now has an online friend and seems to be putting her affection there. I am heart broken. I told her I still love her but she brushed that off as I am just used to her being around. We are still cohabitating but not sure for how long. Is there something I should or shouldn’t do or say to improve my chances?

    • Very hard times, Mike. Sorry. This situation is what I speak of in my Map of Relationships. When a person comes up out of what I call Door #2, the Giving Up area, after many years, then still one is simply at the Choice Point with at least one of you feeling severely hopeless. Now, I always believe that moving forward is possible. Your best option, I believe, is to show her (not “tell” her – definitely not “promise” her) that you have begun to change in the direction of learning the skills. Good luck.

    • Mike,

      From a woman’s perspective, just be there for her, while doing the things that make you happy. Get involved and do fun things with your kids. Kids tend to take the back seat when their parents are struggling. Give the attention to them, they need it. Your wife is trying to find her way… You can’t control what she does or who she’s talking to. She needs to discover what’s important in her life, so give her the space to do that. Try to initiate small, positive conversations with her. Be interested in who she is, or who she wants to become. Do you two exercise together? If not, I highly recommend it. It’ll get you out of the normal routine. What do you like to do? Do you hike? Bike ride? Start getting into it, then ask her if she’d like to come along. Start being much more like the guy that she married.

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