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? — 450 Comments

  1. 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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