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? — 588 Comments

  1. Al,

    I forgot to mention, I am the super-clinger, and he is the super avoider. I chase, I cling, he backs off. Then I back off, and he comes back “out”, and we interact in the middle, and he withdraws, and I chase and chase. I sort of knew I was doing that, that it’s what’s happened all along, but reading it on this website, I understand so much better.

    I will eventually convey a bit of what I have learned, in the “newsy” bit about myself. I will have to e-mail because I don’t know his brother’s exact address, and I don’t use cellphones.

  2. Al, my live in partner just moved out “out of the blue”. I know nothing ever happens out of the blue, but I did not see this coming. There were no fights, no arguments, no ugliness. On the contrary, our relationship has been filled with laughter and a great sense of humor. He had left me once before, but came back because on his way out of town to Utah to visit his parents, his car broke down. That was over 4 years ago.

    He left 3 days before our 7th anniversary. We’d been living together for six of those years. Just the night before he left, we were discussing what gifts we wanted to exchange for our Big 7, and was very specific. Just three days before, he was researching new mattresses for our bed, and I know it was for OUR bed because the search was excluding materials I am allergic to. Today marks a week that he left.

    I don’t know if our situation is any different, but he was dealing with clinical depression, chronic pain, and his two huge L&I settlements from when he got hurt on the job ran out. When he was telling me the different reasons why he was leaving, he was stone faced, but when the issue of money came up, like his half of the bill money, and his wanting to take a few items because “I have nothing”, he cried.

    I did break down and call him on Sunday morning to offer financial help for a medical emergency he is having, but called early enough to know that I would have to leave a voice mail. It was brief, matter-of-fact, just making the offer. No tears, no “I miss you,” nothing. He did not respond.

    I have read everything I can on this website, and I don’t know if in a case like this, the same “rules” apply for the no contact. I am not ready to contact him. Technically, this Sunday will be a week since I broke that one radio contact.

    I do believe that he loves me. Depressed, in physical pain, and now broke, he is staying with his twin brother across town.

    I want him back. I am making changes on myself already. I have gotten a new haircut, changed things around the house, started walking in the evenings, and I’ve signed up for some counseling.

    Is there any chance for us?

    • Hi Tezza, You ask if there is any chance? Of course, I think so. I see lots of places to move forward. I don’t think “no contact” is the way to go, here. Couple of thoughts.

      First you were surprised that he left (out of the blue) plus his stone face when talking to you. Sounds as if there was pretty rough communication between you. Usual problem is he doesn’t feel safe to chat candidly with you and you do stuff that triggers his fear. Gotta fix that, starting right now. So you have to have some communication to demonstrate your new learning. Bottom line is you have to happily listen to anything he decides to share. Click here. Great skills involved.

      Secondly that old Clinger Avoider stuff. Well, I’d rather you be the Clinger cuz you can then fix this problem. Just learn to keep him out of ever feeling overwhelmed in your presence. Don’t you overwhelm him. And act to bring him peace when other things (depressive stuff or health stuff or work stuff or money stuff) overwhelm him. Learn to be a source of peace and calmness to him. Oh and learn the lessons that give you peace, reliability and belonging while you are helping him with his needs. Very specific skills.

      Probably no chance for you if you go back to the way you were together while stuff was going on for him and you didn’t know about it.

      Good luck. The future can be a lot better.

      • Al, he called me. I did not answer, but he left a voice mail asking me to call him. Then he called again before I got the chance to call him back. He said he was coming over today to return some things he took inadvertently in some plastic tubs. We kept it light, and I followed his lead in conversation. He’s still calling me Hon, and asked for my opinion. He hugged me, and I said, “You are missed.”

        We talked on the phone a bit this evening, and he wants us to have dinner soon, and to watch the Seattle Sounders game this coming Sunday. He also told me to call him whenever I needed anything, but I said that I didn’t want to bother him. He said I could never be a bother to him.

        I am more confused than ever. Any opinions?

        • Go for it, Tezza. You’ve probably got a lot of rules from my website. Follow ’em, practice ’em till they become automatic. Good luck. And consider this still a “living on the edge” situation. Respond Lightly. Give him slightly less contact than he wants, till you sense you are on your way with him to Vintage Love, actively resolving all those issues that have come up in the past. Good luck.

  3. Hi Al,

    My boyfriend of 2 years broke up with me 5 months ago. It was really sudden for me. We argued but it never seemed to me it would get to this point. A few months earlier, we were looking at rings and talking about the future… We did no contact for a month after the breakup and he reached out twice during that time and we were talking but when it came down to it, I revealed all of my feelings and he told me he still loved me but wanted to work on himself. We haven’t spoken for almost 4 months now. I’ve been trying to focus on myself, exercising, and hanging out with friends and family. Is there any hope that we will get back together? I’ve been hoping he would reach out to me but so far I haven’t heard anything… I’ve been thinking about contacting him. Or sending him a letter. But I’m just not sure what I should do… I miss him dearly.

    • Hello Kim, Turns out I really don’t like the “no contact” scheme that many do recommend. I just believe that “no contact” can easily be interpreted as “I don’t care about you” when that is not the truth at all. I prefer a scheme that says “I do care about you and thus am moving to give you as much space as you need. And I still care about you.” In my article called When to Fold ‘Em I cover a way of dealing with this. I would not give up until the several months of light contact are through.

      I’m thinking two years is not a very long-term relationship. Could have been a kind of lite relationship and seemed stuck, to him, or he ran into someone else. Silly him. If you’d been at it longer I would have focused on the “arguing” as a clue. I believe all couples should argue for a while and then learn to quit it. My wife and I haven’t argued with anyone since about 1994 when we learned. Anyway,

      Good luck.

      • Hi Al,

        Thanks for your reply. Is it too late to start light contact though if we’ve been no contact for almost 4 months now? How should I approach the first one?

        • Dear Kim, if you still want to rebuild that connection with her, then I think it is too soon to give up. I wrote two articles that cover this situation. This one, “What to do when he/she leaves”, states the general principles: don’t push, take care of yourself, display that you are working on yourself, and respond lightly if she contacts you. The second article, What to do if she won’t contact you“, is about how to verify, by testing, whether she is “done” with you. It includes ideas of what to write. I wouldn’t give up till you’ve tried, thoroughly.

        • Hi Al,

          Thanks for your advice. So I sent him the first one today… I feel really good since sending it.. I think this is really what I needed–I feel a boost of confidence and self-worth…Knowing I’m trying my best and I’m a good person. Thanks! Since its been almost 4 months though no contact, do you still recommend sending the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th ones on a weekly basis, and so on as you described in the article?

        • Hi again Al,

          So what if he ends up responding via text… Do I respond to that… Or reply through email or just wait? He replied through text, apologized ft taking him awhile to respond (only a few hours though), and gave me a brief update of his life…

        • Congratulations, Kim. He speaks. I think now you shift to Rule 4: RESPOND LIGHTLY. My suggestions: Use text and email only for brief (4 sentence) notes whose purpose is a phone or face-to-face meeting. Respond lightly means he writes 20 words, you respond with 16 or less. He says 4 words, you respond with 2. Also Rule 3 means you work on yourself visibly. In this situation this can also mean you don’t respond for 8 hours, as if you actually had a busy life rather than just are waiting out an 8 hour clock. I’ve done this! Being a Clinger means a lot of work on building habits of Patience – aaargh. Still the prize, Vintage Love, is worth it.

          In his text did he mention another meeting? Probably not. Use that last line on the email from “When to Fold ‘Em” – something like. “Love to hear more.”

        • Hi Al,
          Thanks for the response. Okay. I haven’t replied yet but will soon via text. Trying to figure out the best way to respond. I’m definitely keeping it light. But I know I’m also overthinking it all… I’ll use that last line.

  4. Al, my partner just separated from me. I am torn up. She tells me there is a chance it can work out, but we need time apart. She needs to delve into her work and possibly see other people. She likes that I am communicating and examining my behavior and admitting my transgressions. I am a clinger and she is an avoider. I am following your articles and praying that they help. We will still see each other on occasion and date. There was love, there is some love. She has fallen for a much younger woman (19). My partner is 46 and I am 55. They have not had a sexual encounter, but I know the young gal is crushing on my partner and my partner told me she is attracted to the young gal. My partner claims to not be looking for her next long term relationship. Just looking to do what she wants when she wants. Work when she wants, meditate, yoga, etc. when she wants. She is going to a sanctuary of hers that is 3 hours from me or the 19 year old. She tells me there is hope for us. She has plans to see me. She tells me she feels for the crisis that the 19 year old is in, because it reminds her of being that age and in crisis. Do you really think there is a healing that can occur between my separated partner and me? How or what should I do to honor myself during this separation and what should I do to honor our relationship to keep hope alive? Thank you.

    • Hello Lain, I was noticing how positive I was feeling reading your post. So many relationships I hear about get to this place and it seems like really great news. “This relationship has needed a rebuilding for quite a while, and now we are doing it!”

      Of course, in my experience, it seems to take a catastrophe to start people into changing and growing. At least that is what presents itself to me over and over. And catastrophes hurt. I remember pondering how to avoid “the next disaster” in my relationship life. “Don’t want that to happen again… hurts too much.”

      So my suggestion is to work on forgiving yourself for doing the things in the past that you thought were a good idea at the time and which now you’ve learned not to do. Learn more. Invite her to come join you in this learning. And, as a fellow clinger, be very kind to yourself.

      Take care.

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