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? — 565 Comments

  1. Hi Al,
    My partner of 2 years has just left me 2 months ago. I believe he’s an avoider while I’m a clinger. We’ve remained in contact (me initiating contact) and are getting closer, and I discussed some of your theories with him as well and he sorta agreed that he left as an extreme way of getting me to listen and to change (I was being needy for months and looking to him for my happiness, all while blaming him for my fear of abandonment, which stemmed from my childhood. This eventually became mild depression for me because I was so, so, so insecure in the relationship). He tells me he fell out of love with me because all we did was fight, and this led to him not understanding me, vice versa, and that this vicious cycle continued to a point where we just didn’t make sense anymore.

    He has never closed the door, and told me there’s a possibility we could be together again but not now. More to the future, when we’ve both “reset to zero” and that I’ve gotten over him. While he still seems to care a lot for me, however, he’s very conflicting and tells me things like he’s still hanging out with me in the hopes he’d see that I’ve changed, then telling me he doesn’t feel the same way about me as I feel about him (this happened when we argued recently)? Then he told me he can see me struggling to change, and he won’t go easy on me if I am serious about changing? It’s all very confusing and my mind can’t seem to get a good read on the tea leaves. I don’t fully understand his intentions and whether this is something positive or negative.

    Could I change his mind by slowly working on myself? Or is it a lost cause?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Wendy, you brighten my morning. What a great letter to read! Sure you doubt whether this is the right path with him, but it sounds to me exactly dead center on track. Congratulations. (I am not being sarcastic at all.) Go for it.

      This guy is doing exactly what an Imago Match should do and so are you. Don’t give up the ship (him).

      1) Keep learning to reach out to him while giving him all the space needs he has. (Clinger/Avoider and Testicle Principle.)

      2) Give up all that arguing stuff and replace it by respecting/admiring your differences. (Master/Slave series of 3 articles, and maybe starting with MasterTalk’s five little article I think.)

      You got it. Rebuild togetherness and the mature Love will come. Head on for Vintage Love!

      Good luck. 🙂

  2. My separated bf of five mo has just ended it, he was pretty needy and I’ve been there for him, he said he could fall in love with me so easily but can’t let himself. He said I’ve done nothing wrong he is just scared of getting hurt again and needs time to heal and has set up counselling and will sort himself out. I was getting a bit frustrated with the divorce drama and probably let that show a bit but it’s been hard. His ex has been threatening to move back in and I have been feeling insecure since then and may have been a bit more needy. He has been messaging and I have been responding just not sure what I should be working on, being happy on my own I guess.

    • I have been very empathetic and loving and validated him, when I said had I done something wrong he said ‘no, all you’ve done is listen to my crap’ and that his situation had changed (ie divorce getting more complicated, ex wanting to move back in). I know the night we split I was a bit frustrated as he was talking to his dad who was telling him what to do about his ex moving in and he was stressed by his dad and I suggested he not answer the phone if he knew it would stress him esp as he was out with me.

      • He said he wanted to give himself wholeheartedly to me and treat me how I deserve but can’t and that ‘you don’t need another depressed boyfriend’ (my last bf was clinically depressed but this one is nothing like that, just visibly hurting from the end of his marriage). I have always shown my appreciation of him and he sent a message a couple of days after split saying he loved every minute with me and is sorry he’s not himself atm. He seems to think I’m wonderful and acknowledges how much I’ve been there for him but doesn’t want to be with me…it’s confusing!

        • Very confusing for you, Suzanne. Tis one of the most complicated challenges, I’ve found. A guy with one partner, who disconnects but not altogether, then connects to another partner, but not altogether, and during this time says all sorts of things. He’s got a bunch of different conscious and unconscious agendae going on and probably he’s confused and will come across very confusing. That’s how I see it.

          It is probably time for one of my sayings, “If you want clarity and solidity, don’t go outside to others, but rather go into yourself – inside.” Decide what you want and work toward it. Sounds as if you are on the right track, but witnessing his amazing confusion. Of course at any given moment he’s making sense – just lots of different senses. Take care of yourself, Suzanne, while he flails around. Maybe think of yourself as a life guard swimming out to help someone who thinks they are drowning. First you take care that you don’t drown.

  3. I hate it when article like these list the mistakes “you” made and things “you” need to do. There has never been a one-sided relationship and never will be. If your partner is leaving you it is usually mistakes both have made. If the two of you are not willing to sit down and try to make changes form both partners, it will not work. If one has to make all the concessions the new
    emerging partnership is doomed to fail.

    • Hello Mark, Glad you dropped by. I think you and I might see things similarly, but I want to add a couple of things.

      “If one has to make all the concessions…” I think it’s doomsville. Relationship won’t work. While I think it is very important to eventually get clarity around who has done what, and it is necessary to establish that both are responsible (to blame) for their mistakes, it often seems to take quite a while to establish the framework or community feeling to get this clarity. “Finger pointing” seems so common and easy. You’ll see my general beliefs around “blame” in this article. “Best to believe that both are equally to blame.”

      However that situation seems to be a more advanced situation than the one addressed by this article. A useful saying is “The one who can leave, as all the power.” The person being left behind seems to me pretty powerless. Discussions such as you suggest about “sitting down” seem to me to be appropriate after both of the two become willing to “not use leaving.” That’s not what’s going on here and thus I focus on steps that might best move in the direction of the “leaving partner” stopping leaving and to turn around, to sit down and dialogue. That’s the purpose of the four steps – increase the likelihood that the leaving partner will turn around. And, of course, I start with the premise that they have a bunch of good reasons for leaving, which the one being left behind is probably unaware of. “All people make sense all the time.”

      Well, hope this helps.

      • Just wanted to say that I thought this was a great response and take a moment and share that this website is a gem of helpful insights. I am constantly amazed at the wealth of information that is freely given. I have passed on several articles with friends and family who are always equally impressed.

  4. Hi,
    My name Johnny and my wife clean out our home and left me with our .5 years old son. I moved to a small borDer town in TX and my career struggle for 4 years
    I moved there to follow her , leaving a great career in Maryland. I made my mistakes of words, because she always treated me less than an equal. Her family began to hate me because I would let them control our home and my son. She had been abused as a child by her brother and mom and dad just covered it up, but her depression lead to drinking.
    I tried to get us church and other consulting but she always avoid it. I am hurting because she had a jealousy of my relationship with our son and he accept me more than her. I now have to fight to save my family. She moved back home 6 hours away…..I am upset because of the way she left, while I was working

    • Very difficult situation, Johnny. Given all you’ve said, I would make sure you have some skilled person (a professional) on your personal team even if she doesn’t join you. The challenge is to learn to do wise things even, and especially, when your partner doesn’t. I don’t think “fighting” to save your family is a good image. I would go slow, like a bulldozer, and be determined to learn for yourself. That’s probably the best way to help her and your kid.

      Good luck.

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