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? — 622 Comments

  1. Hi al, my name is Mike

    I’m needing a little advice myself. So I’ve been with my girlfriend for 2 years. We have had an awesome relationship for the most part. I mean the first year, until about the end, was perfect with no fights – maybe tiny tiffs here and there, but we resolved them pretty quick. For the most part we communicate very well – always say what’s on our minds.

    Well, during a couple months after our first year together, she got mad and was kinda grumpy a lot. So one day after we got done golfing date, she said she needed to breathe and go for a drive. So because she was being snappy the whole time, I said go for it. She did and stopped at a friend’s and ended up not coming back. And I didn’t hear from her all weekend.

    It was terrible. Well Sunday night after that she texted me saying she needed space, and time to herself. So I tried texting her like once or twice during this month she took for herself.

    Well we finally talked one day, and went for a drive to talk about everything we have needed and weren’t getting a lot of: such as more family time, more friend time. Cause we were always together, we go out a lot, but alone a lot so we said it would happen and were inseparable after that again. She always wanted to be around me.

    And then just recently we were doing awesome, ten times better than before, I took her to work. We had a great day texting all night about work and what I was up to (gym at the time).

    So I go to pick her up. She’s walking out with one of her girlfriends, who recently left her boyfriend and had before last time when she took her space from me. Well, she sees me and hugs her friend. Her friend says something, and she gets in the car with her and they drive off. Well, I ask what’s going on. She says she’s been wanting to spend time with her friend lately and wanted a little space. I said she could of told me. No big deal. She said she’s sorry. Just go home. So I did. Next day she says she needs her space right now, and that she hopes I understand. Now I don’t know what to do. She told me things been great, this and that, and she’s happy. Our only down fall is this friend time.

    Well, I haven’t been in contact with her for 11 days now and I’m starting to worry. It’s not like I haven’t worried since that day.

    What’s some advice. She’s 23, I’m 29.

    Hope to hear back and thank you.

    P.S. I’m also worried if this does work out if she will ever do this again think it’s like a pattern.

    • Hi Mike, Looks as if things are moving along. Remember I think most relationships are about “waking up.” One or both partners start dealing with things they’ve put off for a long time, or grownup things they’ve never had to deal with. This sounds like that.

      One of the clues for me is the phrase “needing space”. Leads me to the whole process of Clinger/Avoider and Reliable Membership. Sounds as if you’ve been the Clinger and she’s been waking up to her need for being an individual rather than just part of you. Maybe her girlfriend has gone through the same thing. (I could say a lot of women in this country are waking up to this same thing, but I experience lots of men doing it also.) You have a choice to learn about this and work with it or probably lose her. The goal for you is to make available to her, at anytime of day or night, slightly more space than she wants. If you learn it she’ll feel safe to live with you. My guess.

      Another clue is the reference to you being so close all the time. I suggest you learn to “make spaces in your togetherness” (Kahil Gibran), and make it easy.

      A third clue is that you now notice that she’s keeping information from you. (I call this lying, by the way.) People do this cuz they don’t feel safe to share the truth. That’s a whole trust issue. You gotta figure out what things you do that make her feel unsafe to share with you, and stop it. Quick.

      I believe you want to solve this and be happy together. Just a bunch of learning. Get to it.

      P.S. when communication gets tricky, I’ve found text messaging makes it much worse. Better to use Text only for establishing face-to-face meetings or at least phone-to-phone. I think you need more data.

      Good luck.

  2. Hi Al ,
    I appreciate your insight and help. Like many men here, my wife of 12 years has checked out emotionally from our marriage. She has been deeply emotionally hurt by me and cannot allow herself to be hurt again. I took her for granted and disregarded her feelings for years, and now she does not feel emotionally safe with me. I know in paper she feels conned because I did not love her, cherish her, and protect her heart as I should have. That’s not to say it was all bad.

    Most of our marriage was fantastic, it was just easier for me to compartmentalize the problems , while everything is wired together for her.

    Anyway, she doesn’t want to work on our marriage right now. She hasn’t made plans to leave, but I feel at any moment she could say goodbye. We have 3 children.

    I have apologized, asked for forgiveness, and have done my best to give her space. There have been a few times I reached in that space to see if she had any hope for our marriage, I received zero assurance she did. In fact, this pushed her even further away.

    However, from time to time she has held my hand, or has given me a hug, but for most of the time, she is just polite as there is zero true sharing, just exchanging information.

    I want to reconcile, but know I have to earn her trust back. I have been interacting on her terms (engaging when she comes to me), and have been working on myself. I also try to keep showing her I love her by helping her with the stuff she needs to do. At select moments (so far been pretty good timing) I reassure her I am committed to her and love her without expecting a response back.

    Truth is, if she left I would be crushed, but I am not sharing that. I try and keep every conversation and interaction positive at this point.

    Any insight? Thank you for your comments to all the past posts. I hope many found peace and healing with your advice and help. Thank you!

    • Hello James, I really like to see how much work you’ve been doing on yourself. Congratulations! If one can convert these disasters into Learning Situation, then all get’s better and better.

      I liked your phrase “Most of our marriage was fantastic, it was just easier for me to compartmentalize the problems , while everything is wired together for her.” Seems to catch the current set of problems very well. The Marriage was good for you and probably increasingly sucked for your wife – till the pain reached a breaking point. She probably thinks she told you about it many many times. You seem to have been raised to have a way of being blind to what was going on in her. That’s a killer of a problem, and can be fixed only through learning Empathy Skills. That takes time. So get to work learning that.

      She probably doesn’t want to go back to that old (she aware, you blind) relationship and thus says she doesn’t want to “work on it.” So you just prove that you’re working on your part (blindness/compartmentalization, etc.) whether she does anything. Important to figure out what are the parts of relating to you that sucked for her. Lets you know where to focus.

      Sure she doesn’t want to hurt anymore. Who does? But she will eventually have to come to accept her part in that hurt rather than simply blaming you. But that’s for later. I suggest you focus on your part, as you are. Given your compartmentalization, you may not be very good yet with boundaries. So that’s an area of focus

      In my experience apologizing doesn’t work. Certainly repeated apologizing just makes things worse. Take a look at my Making Amends process and take note that most of the work begins after you do your part, and its all about building an emphatic connection with her. Look at that last sentence in the process (focusing on her past Frustrations) and plan to spend a lot of time in that work.

      Glad you are working on reconciling. I think she is worth a lot of effort – wise effort. A lot of this is in sharing more stuff about yourself and hearing her share about herself. Goal is to listen peacefully to anything she says and invite her to share more and more – forever. Move to get rid of any impulse to not share. Go ahead and share the negative but do it lightly and try to never imply that she should fix your negative stuff. That’s your job.

      Good luck.

  3. Hello again, Al.

    Don’t worry about the time expended responding. The reality is that these kinds of situation take a lot of time to develop, so one week it’s not going to change the outcome at all.

    During this time I’ve been distant. I didn’t even try to contact her, in order to give her the space that she says she much needs. I talked with common friends and they told me that she was pretty shattered during the first days, so I guess I did something well during our time together.

    I understand what you say, and that is what scares me most: that she decides to tolerate again those bad traits of him.

    Just one quick clarification: I don’t share those “bad traits”. He is totally different from me. In the past, my problems come from my lack of self-esteem, which caused that I didn’t behave as I should, but those things are gone. When she met me I didn’t share a single thing of my personality with him. We were opposites, or at least that’s what her friends said. So it’s even more complicated.

    I want to talk with her, I want it with passion. But I’m trying to stay a bit separated. Maybe during this next week I’ll contact her, the way you said. Something fast, just letting her know that I’m still wondering about her. I miss her so bad… It’s been a tough week, but I guess that I should walk alone during some time and trust that I did the best to make her think twice about us.

    Thanks for the advice, Al.


    • Well Hi, John, Sounds as if you are on the right track, doing your best. Don’t worry about the “bad traits” stuff. It will become clearer in the future. People fall in love with others who have exactly their most nightmare traits – even though they don’t show at first. If as you say you are truly opposite from him, then you’ve probably seen those traits before and are familiar with them – and don’t want to have them. (Of course, I am talking pretty abstractly as I don’t know what traits we are talking about.)

      Keep a going. Good luck.

  4. Hi Al.
    First of all, sorry for my english. I’m not a native speaker!

    This story of mine can be a bit different.
    I’ve been dating a wonderful girl for some months now. She is 25, I’m 32. No problem at all during this time. Not a single argument. One of the best relationships I ever had, to be fair.
    She compliments me a lot about my behavior and kindness. In her words, I am the best boyfriend that she ever had, and that is an idea that all of her friends share with me too. I guess that I learned a lot (thanks to you!!) from my past mistakes.
    During this last week she decided to end the relationship.
    She has been always a bit reticent about how to name “this thing of us” because she has some scars from past relations. Maybe we started it pretty soon after her last break up, and to give credit to this idea, during this last week she realized that she couldn’t get her ex out of her head yet. She knows that this guy was (and is) a mistake (it was a very toxic relationship) but she feels that she can’t continue with me until she gets these feelings out of her heart, which is common sense.
    It is hard to believe that she will start anything again with him, but I’m a bit scared about that possibility, because who knows, one thing is what her mind knows and another very different what her heart wants. And we all know that love affairs are hard to dominate.
    Either way, she didn’t end the relationship with me “forever” (at least, not right now) because she doesn’t knows what is going to feel once her mind and heart are cleared. She needs some time for herself. That is what she is saying.

    The thing is, obviously, that I want her back, but I don’t want to mess with her choice. She should be the one that finds that our connection deserves a better fate. But, at the same time, I don’t want to seem like I don’t care about her. And I don’t know what to do. It’s the first time that, being the good guy, I’m out of the equation. Should I leave her alone? Should I make some moves to let her know that I’m there? Until she ends that problem with those feelings this story seems to be over, but if I have an opportunity I don’t want to spoil it.

    I hope I managed to explain myself.

    Sorry for my poor English, and thank you, again, Al.


    • Hello John, I fear I’ve taken so much time responding that whatever I say may be out of date. So I wonder if this situation has developed?

      This must be hard on you and it sounds as if you’ve learned a lot, but still here you are. When one relationship breaks up, hers, even if it was toxic, there is often a remarkable pull to repair it or rebuild it. (See my Map of Relationships) For her to make it to her heart’s desire (I call that Vintage Love) the shortest path is to repair it with him. The next shortest is with you. But remember unconsciously she picked his negative traits, at least at one time. Probably you know a lot about those traits cuz you probably have had some similar. I say this cuz she picked you. So it’s complicated.

      I think you are right on. Best thing is to not push, but is to let her know, remind her, that you are waiting and haven’t given up on her. Maybe an email once a week or every other week, a couple of lines long, saying, “Hi, I’m here, can’t get you out of my mind, drop me a note if you want to chat.” Change up that message, but don’t say much more. Just get curious about her journey. This guy may have acted in toxic ways, but she was half responsible for that.

      Good luck.

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