What to do when He/She Leaves?

Print Friendly

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? — 610 Comments

  1. This article makes a huge assumption; that the person who has left the marriage and walked out on their spouse is justified, and implicitly, that somehow it must be because of something the spouse is doing or has done, to warrant the abandonment. That’s not always the case. My wife left me because I asked her to work after my company went bankrupt and we needed to support 6 people. She was lazy, wouldn’t get a job (masters degree) , wouldn’t watch her spending, barely kept the house up. I eventually found employment after a year, but she did not. I got very angry and resentful that she was not a team player and help financially as we weren’t paying our bills, and one too many fights and she walked out. I’m not going to resort to playing chess games with “time limits” or “limited contact”, etc. Marraige vows aren’t based on happiness, it’s based on comittment to each other. And love is not just “feelings”. It’s way more; it’s love put into action.

    • Interesting, Paul. I hear you and imagine you’re pretty pissed and have a right to be. Interesting that you think I’m assuming that she is “justified.” Not sure what you think “justification” has to do with it.

      If you’ve read much on my website, you’ll probably guess that I presume she makes sense in leaving you AND you make sense in feeling pretty angry.

      Of course I make lots of assumptions, have lots of beliefs. For example, I very much doubt your description of her, but then that may be your anger talking.

      As for this paper, the only major assumption I’m aware of is the one I put in the title – “assuming you want her(him) back.” Do you?


  2. Hello to the owner of this. ☺ You know, Im so attached to someone who is with me more than a year, until now. We are always arguing. I know this is natural in relationships. But may be he would leave me soon. Im not yet ready. I want to, but I cant control myself. Even though I avoid things that remind me of him, I cant. Im really get attached to him. How to be ready? Please answer. Thank you? ☺☺

    • That sounds very difficult. One of the things about Relationships is the issue of Boundaries. And one learning is that not only “can you control yourself,” but you are the “only one who can control yourself,” and it is your job as an adult to learn how to control yourself. Not learning this can result in a lot of arguing. I believe it takes two people to do arguing. Which also means that one person can stop all arguing.

      So read further on my website. Take a look at the Map of Relationships, and Boundaries.

      Good luck in your path and learning.

  3. Hi Al,
    My wife separated from me 2 months ago. We have 3 young kids. We have been married for 9 years. She stayed in our family home for 1 month in which time i tried to convince her to give me a second chance, to no avail. She has since moved out with our children and its been 3 weeks now. Its been extremely traumatic and it makes it worse because of the kids, i miss them all so much. I never saw this coming but its obvious now my wife had been thinking about this for a while. My wife has told me she doesnt love me and she is very angry at me for my behaviour over the last year or so…ie anger management issues. She said she is very happy where she is now because she feels free from all the stress of our relationship.
    Im trying to give her space and time, but its very hard. Ive asked her if there is a chance of us getting back together and she says she doesnt know but she doesnt want to lead me on also. Ive started going to counseling and have been exercising, looking after myself etc to help get thru this horrible time in my life. I want her back so bad but so unsure as to whether she’ll change her mind. Any advise would be much appreciated.

    • Hello Warren, Yes it sure hurts. But, and you may not want to hear this, it’s a good hurt. And it certainly seems chaotic. Kids will feel it, too. Old relationships tearing apart is a step toward new relationship building. The more unaware you were of this coming your way, the more there is to learn.

      Lots and lots of stuff at my website is written just for you (and her). Might start by reading up on the Map. Good luck. Keep a going. Ask more questions as they come to you.

    • Hi Warren:)
      I hope you don’t mind my response. I’ve posted here myself and read a lot of the comments from other people. Yours felt really familiar to me. In fact, it’s been on my mind for days and I finally decided to share my story with you and tell you exactly what I’ve been doing.

      I’ve been married for 13 years and have four children. My husband walked out on us in a pretty hurtful way. He even filed for divorce with a very expensive lawyer. The divorce filing got published in the paper and everything. He told me he didn’t love me anymore, and everything else that comes when a relationship ends. He completely cut me out of his life and treated me like I was something disgusting to be tolerated when he wanted to interact with our children. -So hurtful!

      This took place almost exactly 8months ago. It feels like yesterday and also forever ago. The advice given in this article is really good and true. I also really love these articles by Al which helped me a great deal: http://www.alturtle.com/archives/100 -Man!, that avoider/clinger article has really saved me!

      I’ve also been busy doing the same things you’ve been doing like exercising, visibly getting help, working on personal goals etc. The analogy that Al uses about getting a deer to come to you out of the forest is so DEAD ON accurate. That is exactly how my path has been. There cannot be any sense of pushing, urgency, or guilt. All these things apply pressure. There can Only be feelings of calm and safety as much as possible. And when you do need to assert yourself (I’ve had to several times) do it in the calmest most respectful, patient way possible. There were times when I knew I couldn’t behave this way because I was so hurt and emotional, so I just avoided my husband and didn’t talk about touchy subjects until we both seemed ready.

      My relationship path these past 8 months has been extremely rocky, but we have gone from divorce proceedings to finally really enjoyable date nights, family time, counseling that has been really ugly and difficult at times, but we’re doing what we need to do, and finally really nice date nights where he has been staying overnight once a week. The good news is that the good times are genuinely good and give me hope for a future where hopefully both of us can be happy.

      It’s taken 8 months to get us to this point and we still have so much to work on and through. I honestly don’t see him coming home any time soon (and it’s been EIGHT months!), but “the deer” is feeling safer and safer with me and I feel more comfortable with him too. The other good news for me is that I’ve worked on myself so much that the kids and I WILL live good and peaceful lives even if he chooses not to come back. (I used to be in a place where I couldn’t even look at this as a possibility)

      I’ve had to work through all the stages of grief, pain, and betrayal. I’m STILL working through them, but the biggest changes took place in my relationship when I finally felt like I wasn’t putting on a ‘good face’, but actually started living a genuinely good life again. -That honestly hasn’t really started to happen until very recently. The more I became less dependant on my ex, the better things have become with him.

      The advice that so many relationship articles give about working on yourself and doing new and rewarding things is true. These have finally become genuine new parts of my happier lifestyle and my ex wants to know more and more about my life. In the beginning, he acted like he didn’t care, but I really am happier and he does want to know more about it.

      I can’t imagine how you are dealing with the children being gone. It would have killed me, BUT- honestly…I think this could work in your favor. Those kids miss you and your wife is having to console their hurts. The kids may look and seem alright, but they’re not. I promise you that at times their grief makes her second guess the choice she has made. I PROMISE this is true no matter what she says or how happy they may seem to you at times.

      Use your genuine love for your children to help you. Give your wife the space she needs and when you get to spend time with the children, tell her exactly what your plans are and STICK TO THEM NO MATTER WHAT. Always return the children calm and on time. Don’t ever let her feel threatened like you are trying to sway the children to your side or worse that you are trying to get them to come with you in a more permanent way. Don’t every say “My children,” only “our children” and that you love them.

      Don’t EVER make your wife feel jealous of you and the kids and especially don’t give her any reason whatsoever to worry about you and other women. Keep them away from you on social media and everything.

      When ever I plan fun outtings with my children, I always invited my husband along. I suggest after you give her a little space, you invite her along too, but also let her know if she would rather have an alone-time break that you’d be happy to give her one. Let her know that she will always be welcome to come along in the future. And if you ever get her to go on those outtings with you and the kids, let her act stand-offish, stuck up, and take whatever space she needs. -She’s still trying to convince herself that she doesn’t want you and if she’s like my husband, she’ll do this for a looong painful annoying time. Ignore the tough moments, have fun family time, and respectfully thank her for joining you. Then keep doing it over and over again. I had to be ridiculous and very silly to get my husband to agree to go out with us the first time (if you want the details I’ll let you know). It took a lot of effort for someone to volunteer to be stand-offish with me in the same room!:)

      I don’t have the happy ending yet, but I AM happier and I hope that you will be too. Because of my own difficult journey, I don’t think your situation is hopeless and the hope I have for my family continues to increase.

      I hope you have a safe journey on the roller coaster still ahead of you. Stay strong during the painful times ahead, but try to always believe that not all is lost:)

      • Ah! Wonderful posting and great to hear from you, Chrissy. I rarely hear from people who forge ahead and, finding good advice, do well. Congratulations to you, your partner, and your family and friends who’ve learned, and who are learning, from you work. Thanks.

        • Thank YOU, Al. I am hopeful for my marriage and family, BUT no matter what happens the kids and I WILL be okay. I credit a large part of that fact to the great advice that you so freely dispense. Thank you. I hope to post again some day with happier news. -Chrissy

Leave a Reply