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? — 433 Comments

  1. Hello Al. I’ve been looking around your site and I felt compelled to tell you my story. A week ago, my partner of 7 1/2 years (we were engaged for 3) left me. He said he hadn’t loved me for a year and that he was in a very dark, depressed state. (He even admitted to occasional suicidal thoughts!) Basically, he just wants to be alone. Of course, like many, I was shocked by this. Just days prior we were planning a date night and talking about him taking his vacation the week of my college graduation this May. He cried during the breakup speech — and especially when I tried to return my engagement ring. (He refused to take it back.) He also cried when he returned to pick up his things the next day.

    It’s been three days since I’ve spoken to him. I’m beginning to wonder if not contacting him is really a bad idea.

    I’ve been thinking and I know there are some things I fell short on. For one, I was very busy with school and often neglected his needs. I also failed to show my appreciation for alll he was doing (working really hard so he could pay the bills and allow me to focus on school). Now that he’s gone, I’m kicking myself for not being more attentive. All I want is to turn this around and be there for him in his difficult times.

    How can I do this without seeming needy or pushy? How can I show him that I’m really working through my demons? Do you think he really hasn’t loved me for the past year? Is it possible to repair and reconcile?

    • I agree that no contact doesn’t seem right, but three days seems kinda short to me. (Unless some safety issues are involved.). I’d back off to a weekly contact attempt. You’ll see the pattern under another article on “When to Fold ‘Em”. Doing better seems always a good idea. Good luck.

  2. Hi Al,

    First of all, thanks so much for all the helpful info. I first discovered it after going through a break up a couple of years ago and it has helped me immensely – I even bought your book! I am going through a bit of a hard time now… I met a guy 1.5 years ago, we started dating and things were going -really- well. He was very keen from the start, meet each others friends, families, he mentioned that living together at some point sounded good, etc. I felt very relaxed and thought we were really compatible. When we had any kind of conflict or disagreement, we handled it really well too (your website and everything I had learnt from it in the past really helped making things smoother). He kept saying he was really happy with what we had and he was lucky to have met me after his past relationships.

    We decided to go away for our 1 year anniversary this past September, and we argued a lot, mainly because he seemed to not want to be there at all and was snappy and passive aggressive. At some point before this, he had mentioned he was a bit of a commitment phobe. I was surprised as I had seen no signs of this whatsoever, quite the opposite in fact. For the two months after that, things seemed to move from good, easy and relaxed, to conflictive, frustrating and hurtful. Suddenly he had less time for me due to all the work he was doing, he was snappy, and mentioned his commitment issues more and more, but he kept saying I had nothing to worry about and that I was one of the most balanced people he had met and losing me would be worse. I always validated his feelings and said I understood the fear was real to him, but I was keen to find a way to deal with this fear in a way that didn’t ruin the relationship. Looking back, I do realise that while I understood this, I started feeling more anxious, and while I appreciated his honesty, I also told him it was difficult for me to hear him say things like ‘hearing you love me terrified me’.

    He realised I was feeling quite miserable due to all this, and he called me one night to tell me he was being an idiot and he was going to sort it out. Things were good for a week, then the week after I again dropped to the bottom of his priorities. We went for dinner and he broke up with me afterwards, saying he could see this was making me miserable, that he had been feeling guilty for weeks but he had to fill this void he had with work and other creative projects – which I encouraged him to do, but not at the expense of our relationship. He told me I was perfect, that he wouldn’t change anything about how I did things and that he felt like the worst person ever. He had seemed kind of depressive lately, and very very stressed with work.

    I think the needing to focus on work is more of an excuse to cover his fear of commitment. I am aware that it’s almost impossible to have a satisfying relationship with a commitment phobe, but I do miss the relationship we had until very recently. I find it difficult to accept the end of it, because he was the one that brought it to this level of closeness and created all this expectations, only to bail afterwards. Most of your articles seem to focus on what do to when you have failed the other person in some way, but how do you work on things when you’ve been told there was nothing you could have done better? Should I assume there’s nothing to do here and it’s all down to whether he can overcome his fears and wants to try again? I feel really lost, like I applied everything I learnt and it still failed.

    Thanks so much for reading.

  3. Hey, my name is Jack, my fiance left me while I was at Basic Training for Army Infantry and said it was because she didn’t like being alone so she found a guy who wasn’t in the military…

    • Congratulations, Jack, in being a member of the best fighting force in the world. And, ouch. As if Basic Training isn’t enough pressure, your gal does this. Wow. Still and all I imagine there is a lot more to the story than you’ve told. If we were chatting at a table in Arby’s, I’d ask how long you were together before joining? How suddenly you joined and why? Did you suspect she might have trouble with you being away? If not, why not? Etc.

      I wish you good luck.

  4. Hi… I am Shubham and I was in a relationship with a girl for 3 years and in those 3 years we loved each other like hell at least i think so but now she has broken up with me for no reason and just say to me that i don’t love you now and i have moved on and i am very happy without you and she has done a lot of bad things with me like she has abused me now, she insulted me in front of many people when we were on a platform and she has also insulted me in front of her friends and a lot more but I still love her very much like the way i used to and i will always love her like this but she doesn’t understand this and has broken up with me and has blocked me from everywhere from her phone, watsapp, Facebook and etc. and i could not contact her except through mail.. i have tried many times and is still trying to convince her that don’t leave me and don’t go but she just doesn’t understand.. I have done a lot for her and even after all these mistakes i love her like hell only but she don’t want to come back.. And let me also tell you that i love her from the past 5 years as we were in the same tuition and i helped her in her first relationship even though i loved her that time but i was only thinking about her happiness at that time and luckily that relationship only continued for a month but she saw my love for her 3 years ago and then we came in a relationship.. In our relationship too i always thought bout her happiness first but she always thought about herself first but still we loved each other but now she says that she don’t love me at all.. Please help me I really love her a lot and i want to be with her forever but i cannot contact her also except for mailing her.. Please help me I miss her a lot and I love her a lot but what to do now??

    • Wow, Shubham, you sure are learning that it isn’t love (the kind of hopeful dreamy want-thing-to-be-wonderful stuff) isn’t what makes a great relationship. Hard lessons. My guess is that you might be the clingy one right now (read my stuff on Reliable Membership) and have driven her nuts. Make sure you read the Map of Relationships. Get your feet on the ground in this world of relationships.

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