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? — 730 Comments

  1. I had a horrible breakup with a woman who I was seeing for more than 7 years. It was something sudden but rather a fading over 6 months that I tried very hard to avoid. Looking back on it, this was exactly the problem: My insecurities that I was doing something wrong that needed to be fixed.
    After the breakup, I tried very hard to contact her to try to get “closure” which is a laughable concept, because there is never any closure. The relationship just ran its course. But this is what is so hard for people to understand at that moment is that the absulte worst thing you can do is to try to get closure because that in fact pushes the other person ever farther away.
    So here I am three years later, feeling a bit embarrassed for what I did back then. Time does heal everything and I thank her for time and gift she gave me of getting to know myself better..
    If there is anything I can advice to people is that when she leaves, she has already made up her mind long time agon and there is no amount of bargaining, pleading or whatever that is going to change that. The best thing you can do is turn around, walk away and never look back, because it is not you but she who decided to end the relationship and you disagree with that decision.

  2. My husband of four years left two months ago. We come from broken homes and have our own issues. I thought we were working on them together. He feels he can’t trust me because I would lie smally out of fear and I feel he’s controlling. When we’re good we’re great but when we’re bad it’s hell. He stays at his mothers now yet everything is still here at our home, he doesn’t want anyone to know and tells me to show him I’ve changed but then tells me nothing will change his mind and then the next breath he wants nothing more than us to be a happy family again, raising our children and growing old together. I’m in therapy once a week and he swears he’s cured for all his issues. I try to be unavailable then he just shows up. Boundaries apparently don’t exist. In my gut I don’t feel we’re over. But I am painfully confused and don’t know how to go about this. I have been trying the four approaches above, am I doing this wrong?

    • It sounds, Meg, as if you are doing just right. Probably it’s just the beginning of your path of learning. Gotta rebuild trust, gotta learn how to deal with controlling, gotta learn how to deal with each person’s need for space within the relationship, gotta learn good Boundaries, etc. and all so that you can help those kids grow up well. I wouldn’t give up.

      Step one is the 4 steps you’re doing. Step two is that third step, work on yourself, and to learn those skills you didn’t learn before now. First thing I’d do next is read the Map of Relationships. Absorb it. It kinda lets you know where you are with him and helps you make better choices.

      Good luck and keep a going.

  3. If he doesn’t contact you, is there a good way to reach out to him without pressuring him?

    This is actually why we broke up. He never asks me to spend time with him. He says he needs me to ask him. He was always incredibly loving and affectionate when we were together, but he waited for me to suggest we meet every time. This made me feel insecure and we fought about it more and more. Then we had a big fight about it and he dumped me and he hasn’t spoken to me in two weeks. We have been talking to each other every day for 3 years, usually long and intimate conversations, so this is very painful.

    I scared him with my anger and he’s mad at me for not understanding that he is afraid to ask. I sent him an apology text the day after he dumped me, but he still hasn’t replied. If he doesn’t want to be with me, I will accept that, but I have to at least try and reach out. I just don’t know how to do that in a way that makes him feel safe and not pressured.

    • Ouch, Melanie, I hear your pain. Three years of good chatting. Well I’ve heard lots of relationships take about that long to get into the heavy lifting stuff.

      I sometimes think it takes that long to find the leading edge of what you don’t know and what you need to know. Well, my website is all about what people need to know.

      Read on, and ask questions as you go. It’s all about learning – and the painful stuff that forces you to learn.

      • Thank you, Al. I will do that. I see what you did there – validating and empathizing with my pain. Thank you, I appreciate it and it comforted me.

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