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? — 342 Comments

  1. Hey Al,

    My girlfriend left me 5 weeks ago now (we were together for a little over a year). She had lots of issues around me having a past (I was married once, and had 3 children). So I had to keep in contact with my ex-wife about the kids. My girlfriend didn’t like me having to keep in contact, and I’m pretty sure she hated not having any control over the situation. She did like to control a lot of things. Which then led to her being very insecure about a lot of things.

    I shouldn’t have kept her very distant from that part of my life. I know that now. I should have made everything wholly and soley about us. We loved each other very much and were very close, but we had a massive fight one night and she left. She’d had enough.

    Over the past month we’ve barely spoken (except about splitting our things up), and in the first couple of weeks I really poured my heart out. I pushed her away further. She got colder and colder, but showed glimpses of times where I could tell she was really missing me and wished for things to be different. She did say that who knows where things will end up down the track for us. But to move on for now.

    Anyway, over the past few days she’s started checking up on me and asking how I am and even came and visited me for a coffee. She said I’m looking and sounding really well and to keep it up. Then last night emailed me the same thing and suggested another coffee some time soon. Do I just keep my cool and wait to hear back? I didn’t even say yes, I just made a joke about the coffee shop we went to and that it was fun. I had lots of very positive things happening and she was so happy for me. She actually managed to get a job in the meantime which made her very happy.

    I want to pour out my heart again so bad, but I know that’s the wrong thing to do. Is she starting to wonder that she’s missing out maybe?


    • Hello Spice, Lots of stuff to learn, here. First things first. What do you want? If you sense you want a long term relationship with her, then go for it. But that means learning to deal with what comes up.

      You mention she likes to control things and that led her to being insecure. Nope, other way around. Control people are insecure and that leads to their trying to control things/people. So if you want a long term relationship with an insecure person, that means you have to become an expert and nurturing insecure people. Not a giant problem, but it does take a bunch of skills. (And you’ve probably had lots of previous experience with controlling people.)

      On thing is to figure out the “ex-wife issue”. My guess is that your girlfriend doesn’t trust that you will be there for her, if you mess with your ex-wife. Called the issue of Reliable Membership. So all you have to do is somehow convince her, prove to her, that you will reliably be there for her, first. Lots of things you can do. That way, she doesn’t worry about the ex-wife.

      My guess is that your girlfriend has gotten a bit clingy toward you. Which suggests that you tend to avoid. Well, that will become a fun issue as you go forward. Again its the Reliable Membership issue. Will have to become expert at this.

      Of course in general you two will be moving into the Power Struggle phase of your relationship. I think its worth digesting my Map of Relationships so that you can see the process as “normal.”

      I just believe, if you want a great relationship with her, it is do-able. Good luck.

      • Thanks for your reply All. I’ll do some reading now. I think the hardest part is being able to prove to her when she won’t even really talk to me. She’s gone into her shell and I can’t communicate with her anymore. Thanks for your help though.

        • Well, Spice, hold in your mind that she’s gone into her shell in order to keep herself together. If you care about her, I think you do, then celebrate that she has such a strong shell. Figure out how to act in ways that signal to her that she can open her shell around you. My guess is that you’ve stumbled into signalling to her that she needs that shell to protect herself from you.

          When I learned this lesson was one day, remember I’m a clinger, my wife asked, “Do you know what you look like?” I said, “No.” She said, “You often look like an alien, from the movie (1979), running straight at me.” No wonder my wife had a great shell. (Turtle humor!) I love the strength of her shell. If I get silly or drunk or whatever and slip into acting pushy, she can always easily stop me with that shell. Of course, I’ve learned to make it easy for her and she’s learned to do it gently but firmly.

  2. hello al,
    Me and Sofia have been together for 4 years we met when we were 17, in that time we have worked in France for a year together, got engaged, and learned a lot about ourselves and each other in these life defining years. She told me that when she was younger she always imagined travelling and exploring on her own, but meeting me and opened her way of thinking and that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me and travel and experience everything out there. I felt exactly the same way and our lives were perfect. We spend so much time together everybody we meet calls us the dream couple, nothing has ever been a problem too big for us to overcome.
    However the past couple of weeks she has been very distant so i called her up on it. She explained to me that those old feelings have come back and that she didn’t want to have to rely on anybody or have anybody rely on her. its been very difficult. she hates herself for doing this to me and tells me she wants to still be with me over this summer and take the break up slowly. ive agreed as i feel it is more for my benefit than hers. im just really struggling with the idea that there is a deadline on our relationship and there is nothing i can do to make her change her mind.
    It’s painful to know that im not going to be there for her. i want to protect her and know she wont be fucked around or miss treated by other people. shes so beautiful it hurts so much to know somebody else is going to enjoy her and i wont be in the picture one day. i know writing a message to somebody i dont know isnt going to make anything better, but getting it written down and heard seems important. i just feel like my future is over before its began.
    I’ve really been trying to look at the bigger picture and hope that we can leave eachother with a positive out come because thats what we’ve always been like. im even more scared of being alone, not having somebody to wake up next to or hug or tell them i love them.
    Thank you very much for taking the time to listen to me i dont mind if you dont write a reply im not looking for any magical words to make things better. just a pair of impartial ears to listen to my thoughts and words.

    • Hey, Zack, Welcome to the world of relationships. Lots of troubles. Those years for me, between 17 and 25 were fairly chaotic: really blissful at times and really horror filled at others. I envy your youth and fantasy how much more wonderful times in life I would have had if I had run into my website when I was your age.

      So you’ve got pain in your heart. Losing Sophia – bad time. Think you can’t change her mind and feel awful. Well, you can change her mind, if you knew how. So it is all a matter of learning.

      “Wake up next to” “hug” great things. Really great. Reminded me of a great poem, called Feeling Fucked Up.

      I like your phrase “someone else is going to enjoy her” as if Sophia’s a popsicle. Well, she’s gonna drive other people nuts, be their worst nightmare – too. All about learning.

      Big picture! Best I have is my Map of Relationships. Took me 45 years to come up with it. Lots of false starts.

      Wrote all my stuff down online so people like you can get Sophia (your partner) back, quicker.

      Go for it.

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