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


1. GIVE UP ALL SIGNS OF PUSHING.

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.)


 2. SURVIVE

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.


 3. WORK ON YOUR SELF, VISIBLY

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." 


4. BE AVAILABLE MINIMALLY WHEN YOUR PARTNER ASKS FOR CONTACT

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.


Notes:

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
 

 

Comments

What to do when He/She Leaves? — 647 Comments

  1. Hi Al,

    Your honest, clear, and empathetic voice in your writing really resonates with me. I have a few specific questions concerning next steps when I have already had “non-minimal” contact. Here is some background on us, to give you context:

    Background
    We are both 28, and in graduate/professional schools. Dated for ~5 years, been friends for 10, lived together for 2+ years, long-distance for the past year (because of his grad program). We started the relationship with a whirlwind cross country long-distance romance where we saw each other at least once a month.

    We have a deep emotional bond and are best friends. I remember us being incredibly happy and sharing everything together – he does not deny this. We have a lot of history, shared values, and supportive families (who were very upset about the breakup). We were that annoying couple that would FaceTime for hours while doing our respective assignments, even if we weren’t talking. I think that our deep connection is worth giving this relationship another shot. But I fear that his resistance will be strong.

    The Break-up: Broke up December 9, but he stayed over (at my request – he had a backup plan in case I kicked him out) and we continued talking (mainly me just trying to process and keep asking “why why” questions, in a very calm (though teary at times), structured, and humble way). We did mellow things like work on our computers, watch TV, and just stayed in close proximity. Between our conversations he seemed to be trying to act normal, and snuggled, hugged, kissed me on the head, played with my hair…basically anything non-sexual he could do. I’m assuming he was preparing himself to never do that again. He left Dec. 11 and I repeated again that I couldn’t talk to him anymore, I hadn’t told my family yet but they were likely to be upset about it, and that I loved him. He said something along the lines of missing my dad and step mom and sounded sad. He told me his mom wanted to keep in touch with me (“She loves you… she said she didnt care about the break-up… she surprised me, she hasnt reacted this way for any of my or my brothers’ gfs”) and he thought that I should. I told him I wanted to but didn’t think I could. We hugged for a long time, I gave him kisses on his head then a non-passionate kiss, we told each other we loved each other, then he left in tears.

    Pre-Break Up: He first started hinting at it a couple months ago under the guise of not being sure if he would move with me to a possibly new city (in TWO years). I offered couples counseling, he happily accepted, and he seemed happy after our first session. After our individual sessions and our second joint session, he suddenly asked for “No contact” for 30 days (but still in relationship) after which he said he still wanted to work on the relationship, apologized for the sudden break “I’m an idiot”, and said we needed to talk about a few things “in order to cement our commitment or break up.” We met his new nephew together, then had a very long conversation where he basically listed MY behaviors that weren’t meeting his “needs” and said that he knew it was “his own work” to get over the anxiety that my behavior provoked in him. But I made clear where those behaviors came from, that I had recently identified all of them to work on, and basically said I agreed with everything he was saying. He asked if I wanted to say anything about the relationship, and I brought up that we needed to have more open communication about how we were feeling in order to prevent his feelings being bottled up again. After that trip, I got very ill and we were both busy in general – there really wasn’t much romance in our communications at all. One day he was beyond thrilled about his acceptance to his dream job back in my city and we talked late into the night about it,a few days later I was hormonal (PMDD) and picked a mini fight about him not wanting to take a last-minute solo vacation with me, and by the end of the week he had flown up to break-up with me.

    My triggering of his lizard during and after the breakup: I brought up things I was disappointed about in the relationship, ways that he had hurt me, and kept saying he thought he had “tried” but didn’t. Even worse, the day after we broke up I e-mailed 20+ pages of my journal to him which were pages and pages of painful perspective, ultimately negative, except for the last few pages which were “thank yous” for what I was grateful towards him about. After that, I did not contact him except to exchange (not in person) a few items he/I needed but also pictures of his family, of us, and our relationship books. That must have hurt him, and I regret it.

    His Reason why we broke up: He fell out of love with me, which I inferred from our conversations. He did not say this explicitly, as he kept insisting that he still loves me, but he described this “feeling” that wouldnt go away (since shortly after he got on a SSRI), and a “gap too wide” between us where he “couldnt see a way forward.” He said we weren’t meeting each others’ needs. He also tossed in “more of a best friend” in there, “not fair” to me etc etc.

    Reasons that probably contributed to his falling out of love/not feeling safe:
    -I was ready for lifelong commitment early in the relationship and made that clear, but he was hot and cold
    -My “reactivity” as he calls it – I am a lot more impulsive, loud, and take over conversations compared to him (part of this is a cultural and ethnic difference, but I fully own it)
    -I didn’t realize that when he was saying something vulnerable, I wouldnt always be supportive (this may just be recently though – I was very affectionate and loving and my friends commented that he seemed to be the “needy” one in the relationship)
    -Social Anxiety – I apparently triggered this sometimes for him
    -He had just gotten his dream job in my city to start next fall, but I would probably have to move for my job the following summer

    My questions:

    I have learned an incredible amount about myself and my role in the relationship the past couple of months. I am very appreciative of the opportunity that this pain has given me, sans SSRIs, to process my “baggage” and challenge my behavior, reactions, and beliefs. I am fully committed to practicing these new communication and relationship skills and want nothing more than to be his source of safety. I re-established contact a couple of weeks ago, and we had a “catch-up” phone call Friday night where we did not discuss our relationship at all. I ended the phone call when I felt we were slowing down a little, and on Sunday we had a short phone call where I clarified that I would love to continue hearing from him, and that I would be honest with him about my need for more/less communication and would be responsible for my own boundaries. I also invited him to ask me if he ever felt like he was “guessing” re: my needs and I would be happy to clarify with him. I did NOT tell him I still loved him, that I wanted to try again, etc etc.

    1. I’ve gotten conflicting advice about expressing that I still want reconciliation – how and WHEN do I do this while still taking care of his Lizard? At this point, he is contacting me every day with sharing news, asking a question about something I might help him with, sharing a song, etc.

    2. I imagine that part of the reason why (some insight given by Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships) he took so long to actually “leave” is because I was his deepest confidant and best friend (he has social anxiety and was the quiet youngest child) and he really struggled with getting “enough” support from outside sources. I am having trouble feeling that #4 is “right” because of this – yes, his conflict style is very much “avoider” but he is accustomed to my emotional support and I imagine withdrawing that would not “feel safe”.

    3. Lastly, do you have any experience with the impact of depression/anxiety and anti-depressants on relationships? I found it troubling that he cited his “changed feelings” as shortly after starting on his SSRI, especially since he also described it as “feeling like a different person, new identity” etc… and as a medical student this is something we have been trained to watch out for. I made the mistake of pointing that out to him, and I am not going to make that mistake again. But I would be curious to hear your thoughts.

    I apologize for the length of this post, but I really appreciated understanding the context behind other commenters’ questions.

    • Well, Hope, hello. A good write up and a very nice read. As usual I copy out your whole post into Word, rearrange it if necessary, insert white space to make it readable, fix any grammar errors that may annoy me, try my mightiest not to change your meaning, and then print it. You wrote so well, I didn’t have to do anything but print it out. Then I start to use my pen to find points that seem useful, problematical, or puzzling. I may look things up (in you your case PMDD, and “step 4 of the Uncoupling book: Love Alchemist”.) I make a first guess of what stage you two are in of your relationship using my own Map of Relationships as a template. I guess which of you is Clinger and which is Avoider. I guess which one of you is more a Controller or both. Then I look for your questions and scribble notes to help me respond. You gave me a fun hour. Thanks.

      Question 1. Yup, I think you should tell him that you love him and want to reconcile, but I’d never use “those words”. I’d say “I still want to make things great in our relationship and I want to do it with you.” I’d make no promises cuz he won’t believe them. If you say you are gonna work on yourself, tell him what you are doing, be specific, and show him your progress. Model it. E.g. “I’m learning to not interrupt you and to listen to you more. Watch me.” I believe that keeping him in the dark is not useful but over-talking is a real problem. Say something like this once a week or more better, once a month. Show progress more often as you can. So brief, no promises, and be specific.

      Question 2. Good. You are puzzling through this. Gotta “Be a source of safety.” Gotta “Be a source of ‘space’ at the split second he needs it, forever.” If he is “avoiding” at 2pm, he probably got overwhelmed and needed space at 1:30, and signaled that. That’s when to give him space. If you didn’t notice his need/his signal you have got to learn to read him better. Eventually he may/probably will signal better. Remember couples don’t get into deep Clinger Avoider stuff unless they are a significant match. Beneath his Avoider behavior, he still wants the partnership with you, just a bit less of it.

      Question 3. Tricky issue. Kinda a chicken or egg issue. Lots of people in the Power Struggle display depression and anxiety. They should. Nothing as scary as a relationship “falling apart.” And nothing is as discouraging as a relationship that seems more and more clearly stuck on the wrong path. The Power Struggle can be very frustrating, hopelessness generating, and scary. Giving people SSRI’s when their life is stuck sometimes seems like treating the symptoms rather than the problem. My guess is that when he hit the Power Struggle with you (and Avoiders often hit it first), and when the Romantic blush had worn off (it always does), the best way he could describe his feelings were “changed feelings”, “different person”, “falling out of love.” I tend to avoid that easy tendency to diagnose or pathologize those symptoms that are normal. I lean toward the power of the Power Struggle in a relationship that is as far along as yours. So I would not worry about Serotonin levels yet.

      There’s a lot more in your letter that are clues to what you two may be up to. But I think I addressed your questions. Got any more?

      Good luck and keep a going.

      • Al,

        Thank you for your compliment on my writing, and thank you for taking the time to try to understand my experience and answer my questions. My ex and I are both very committed to contributing to a better world, and believe that loving relationships and raising compassionate children are a big part of that. So I very much appreciate your philosophy on loving relationships and your commitment to helping partners struggling toward Vintage Love.

        I see now that I may not have communicated a couple of my points clearly, so I have a few clarifications and follow-up questions, if you don’t mind. I actually was referencing your “Step 4” in the article – “BE AVAILABLE MINIMALLY WHEN YOUR PARTNER ASKS FOR CONTACT”, and Uncoupling: Turning points in intimate relationships by Diane Vaughan. I apologize for the confusion.

        Re: Question 1. To make sure I am understanding you – I should talk to him as I normally do (albeit at a much more superficial level than we are used to) and respond to his texts/e-mails, but once a month or so mention what I’m working on in order for us to have a better relationship? At the moment I’m trying hard to initiate contact no more often than every other day, and only about something interesting (we could talk for hours and have very similar intellectual interests and overlapping friend groups, so I feel like I’m ALWAYS holding back information in order to give him space). Should I “let go” and keep ramping up the communication, paying attention to how he responds? I am feeling a little anxious about saying that “I still want to make our relationship great and want to do it with you” – mostly because I’m worried he’ll run away again.

        Re: Question 3. I like your characterization of the Power Struggle, and your normalization of these really difficult feelings. In his case, he has had (as have I) an ongoing struggle with depression and anxiety, and (at least as he told me) started on Prozac because it had helped him before our relationship and he felt his social anxiety wasn’t getting better with therapy. So it’s likely that the power struggle contributed to it, but he definitely has an underlying mood disorder (which I understand, support, and embrace as part of the man I love).

        And one more question: Regarding the journal pages I sent him (ouch) – should I apologize? Or leave for a time where he brings it up? It is weighing on me, as all things do when I hurt people I love.

        Thank you again!

        • Much more clear, Hope, on those points. Thanks.

          Question 1. I encourage you to focus on who initiates contact and remember we’re trying to get him to turn toward you, reliably, rather than his moving away and withdrawing. (Try to visualize that he sensibly withdraws from you because you appear to him obnoxious at times. Try to realize his “social anxiety” was probably a rational response to a brutal environment.) Any time contacts you, you can respond. But you want to keep moving toward he’s the one who initiates most contact. I don’t think this is so much about the topic, as the number of words, concepts, emotional expressions per minute. Keep working on cutting back on the reaching out when he’s not. This can be very hard work. You may feel pretty bottled up at times. At some point mentioning the “why you are doing what you are doing” is fine as long as a) you don’t repeat it a lot, and b) you don’t sound pushy – as in urging him to respond in kind. Just share it once a month kind of a reminder to yourself as to your motives and goals. E.g. “I’m practicing talking less/going walking instead of loud emoting/not asking multiple why questions/etc. cuz I want that great relationship with you.” I used to irritated my partner by saying, “Heck I’m doing such and such cuz I want to be a source of safety to you.” I was mostly reminding/comforting myself.

          I’ve learned, even during a conversation, to watch what my partner does about initiating contact. E.g. if I say something “interesting” and she doesn’t ask a question (reach for contact) then I won’t tell about that “interesting thing.” And remember, I’ve been a super clinger.

          Question 3: I love this looking at more depth in the Power Struggle. I’m used to the idea that “damaged people fall in love with equally damaged people.” In the Power Struggle that history comes to the surface in both – not evenly. It’s always easier to see your partner’s craziness than to see your own. That’s kind of like therapy. Easier for the therapist to see the client’s nutzo-ness than the client to see the therapist’s. Relationships are all about bringing this stuff up and healing/resolving it. I’m not partial to using chemicals to blunt the rising awareness of trouble/stuff that needs addressing. Of course sometimes drugs are necessary. I believe a long term intimate relationship is generally a far more potent healing process than any therapy.

          Rather than diagnosing him with a “mood disorder” I would prefer you see him as a whole person who could be diagnosed cuz his ways of handling his past, his reactive behaviors that make sense to him, and happen to fall into a diagnose-able group. And forget not, his level of “dysfunction” probably mirrors your level of “dysfunction” – as if such things can be measured. There is a well known factor in marriage therapy called “the designated patient.” It’s the common situation when both partner collude on the idea that only one is “sick”, and then the other becomes neglected.

          I think that is heavy stuff. I hope I didn’t stir up too much trouble, here. I experience “clinical people”, like me, stumbling in this area. 🙂

          Anyway, keep a going.

        • Al,
          Thank you for your clarifications! I’ve found that as I’ve gone through these past two months of pain, reflection, and learning sometimes it takes a few (or many) mini-pivots to discover a thought-process where I have been “stuck.” Your insight as another “super clinger” has really helped me break down the “whys” of my reactive communication. I will work on focusing who initiates contact, the level (emotionally) of that contact, and tell myself that it’s “OK” I feel bottled up and just write my thoughts down for when he would like longer catch-ups in the future.

          I think a small but relevant part of my struggle with this is that earlier in our relationship, when my clinical responsibilities severely limited my time, he would ask more attention of me that I felt able to give (which would lead to negative reactions from me at times, because I ALSO wished that I could spend more quality time with him but hated that he was pointing out something that felt like a failure on my part). I’ve been working on “post-poning” that voice in me “but you’re not giving enough quality time! he’ll be upset!” by reminding myself of his lizard right now (post-break up, past the leaving wall) and only responding to what he is showing/telling me right now, not what he has done in the past. It’s tough!

          It makes complete sense to me that “damaged people fall in love with equally damaged people.” I also agree that drugs can blunt the rising awareness of trouble/stuff that needs addressing – it took me about a year on SSRIs and making the decision to discontinue them with the intention of addressing the “trouble” to begin to realize it. I found that once I began my training, my change in status to “clinical person” gave my controller tendencies permission to run WILD and it has been very difficult to turn that back bit by bit and resist “teaching” and sending my ex some of your articles. But I’m making progress. Thank you.

          Just wanted to bring up this question again: Regarding the journal pages I sent him (ouch) – should I apologize? Or leave for a time where he brings it up? It is weighing on me, as all things do when I hurt people I love.

          From your reply, I gather that apologizing right now might not match his level of contact. Am I understanding you correctly?

          I will keep trucking along!

        • Good, good, Hope, Thanks so much for reminding me of the “Journals issue”. I did have a lot to share on that, but forgot. I’m glad the rest of what I shared was helpful.

          Look at my article on Making Amends. This really summarizes my thoughts about the situation where you want to apologize, where you’ve done something effecting someone and now wish you hadn’t. There are two parts to this: a) expressing your genuine feelings of remorse thoroughly, and b) helping them express the issues they have with what you’ve done. At this point you kinda know what you wish you hadn’t done – so make amends. All he has to do is listen and you can prepare your side while waiting for him to be available to listen. The procedure helps you be thorough.

          The second part is all about inviting him to share and you listen – PreValidate and Validate if you can. May be that your sending the Journals may have been helpful to him. You can still deal with your wishing you hadn’t send em and deal with his appreciation, if that’s what it is.

          Good luck.

        • Thank you Al. I went ahead and wrote out my apology using the Making Amends structure you wrote. I had requested an appointment over e-mail and said it wasn’t time-sensitive, but he was insistent on talking that day. Turns out the appointment request “sounded ominous” to him and his anxiety got the best of him. Well, using the Amends structure got awkward fast because it turns out he did not read/skimmed the journal pages I had sent him that were not positive (I had told him which pages contained just gratitude). He said that it was “an emotionally raw time” and he “took it in the spirit of transparency.” Awkward as it was, I finished the amends process anyway because him not reading all of the pages did not erase the fact that I wrote and sent them. In the middle of it, he offered to delete the e-mail and then went ahead and deleted it with me on the phone.

          He said that he thought scheduling “serious” talks through appt, like I had just done, was probably a good idea, but then asked if he should “infer” anything about the level of communication I want from that. I said no and reiterated that if he finds himself feeling like he needs to infer anything he can ask me, and I’ll be honest. He had to go and I had to ask a quick important question about family matters, so I completely forgot to say what you had recommended “I still want to make things great in our relationship and I want to do it with you.” Now I feel frustrated and more “stuck”. He talks to me as if he’s always watching out for -my- boundaries – “do you have time to talk? What level of communication is OK for you?” etc. I understand this is because he’s a nice person and he’s the “dumper” who wanted to stay friends – but it also hurts because I read it as a signal that he’s emotionally fine (because he doesn’t have feelings for me anymore) so he feels like I’m the one to be protected.

          How am I supposed to build -emotional connection- by talking minimally? If he is initiating contact, how do I guide him to initiate “serious” conversations without pushing? I am worried about the emotional connection because I don’t want to get stuck in the “friend zone”, and I know this is important to him. How do I have a good chance of re-kindling our feelings for each other without us being in each others physical presence?

          I’m really missing his family, and feeling left out of watching his nephew grow up, so I know this is curbing my usual optimism. My aunt also visited recently and I saw the dysfunctional communication pattern I had been taught to have. I felt so LONELY and unheard in a conversation that was supposedly for my benefit. It made me feel absolutely terrible about any of the times I may have done this to my ex. I wanted to share that with him – but did not want to “push.” Every time I bring up working on ‘bad’ learned behaviors with my friends or family, they listen up to a point then say that they haven’t really seen the issues I’m bringing up, that if anything my ex was needy, and he got cold feet. I do tend to be overly self critical, but I know it takes two to end a relationship.

          Thank you for your guidance and time.

        • Al,

          I’ve been reflecting on my questions and the fears and beliefs they represent. I borrowed quite a bit of your language and came up with a message to e-mail to my ex that I am hoping will be a good step toward deepening our communication, instead of “pushing”. If you could share with me whether you think this is a good message to send or not, I would be very grateful.

          “Twice, that I remember that is, you asked if you should “infer” something about the level of communication I want. I still want to make things great in our relationship and I want to do it with you. So if you asked about what I want because you are worried about hurting or overwhelming me – then I am grateful for your concern. If you’re worried about deepening our communication because you are wary of a negative reaction from me in response to something you say or a need you express, let me tell you that my intention is to be a source of safety for you. That will never change. I am always ready to give you more space than you need. You can move as slow as you want, your pace, in or out of my presence.”

          Thanks for your time.

        • Sounds pretty good, Hope. I’ve got one thought. Generally when a person pulls away they have reached their limit and don’t trust anything (words, words) their partner says. The most problematical stuff is “promises.” The last part of your post sounds a bit like “promisy”.

          I suggest you state these things as “intentions” rather than a “promises.” E.g. “I will keep working with you until you can move as slowly a you want, your pace, when I’m around.” or “It is my intention to become a source of safety to you. May take a time, but I’ll get there.”

        • Thanks Al!

          I will keep working on spotting that “promisy” language and thinking on how to shift it to intentions. You may be tickled to know that I have a “Turtle Workbook” where I have been reflecting on your articles. Change is slow, but it is happening.
          Hopefully we can progress to a point where we can meet in person soon. Communicating and connecting without in-person interaction has always been far more difficult for him than it is for me, and I know in our case “showing change” through mostly texts and e-mails is operating with one hand tied behind my back.

          take care

        • Hi Hope, Two thoughts

          My relationship work is mostly about the thinking part of changing: how to change, what way to change, and why,etc. That’s about 2% of the work. I hope you can figure out in your workbook and from my writings what are the new skills – 1%. Then comes the practice, the real work – 97%. Need a partner to do that practice.

          And communication channels: face-to-face is best, phone is second best, emails are way down the list, text is pretty awful. It has to do with bandwidth, how wide is the channel, what’s risk for miscommunication, and how easy it is to notice and fix miscommunication. Relative numbers: Face-to-face = 60, Skype/Face Time = 40, Phone = 35, Email = 7, Text = 2. Makes long distance relationship (LDR) tragically risky. Just my thoughts.

        • Hi Al,

          That is tough to hear, as there are no opportunities to see him other than asking if I can fly down and visit directly. We had been accustomed to substituting in-person time with FaceTime or Skype, so I think that is the next best thing I can figure out how to incorporate into our communication. My instinct is to send him an e-mail with what I had written out above, so that he can have control over the time and space he needs to process it. Then I can tell him if he is willing, I would rather clarify or chat over what I said over FaceTime vs. e-mail.

          As always, thank you.

        • I’m with you, Hope, tough and sad to give up the fantasy, that most people seem to have, that if they find the “right person” and spend time with them, then all will be easy. I had that dream for a lot of years. But I think the reality of life is better. “If you want that dream relationship, you can get it with a reasonable partner, by your own work.” You’ve probably heard about relationships being a lot of work. I’ve just enjoyed figuring out the details of that work, testing it, practicing it and living with it. Still the loss of the dream brought lots of tears.

          I forgot to include Skype or Facetime or Zoom or whatever in my list of communication methods. I do use all of those. My thought is that they (Skype, et. al.) are a little better than voice or phone-to-phone. While seeing someone is great, the technical problems that often come with them are a bit of a problem. And often one partner is technology-aversive and doesn’t like it. I’ve edited my last post to you to include Skype.

          Thanks.

        • Hi Al,

          I thought you would like to know that my ex found my e-mail confusing (well – makes sense, considering what you mentioned about technology) and we will be talking (hopefully via Skype) later this week. If you are curious, here is his reply:

          “Thanks for your note.
          I’m not sure I’ve understood what you meant to convey. As discreet thoughts, what you said makes sense to me, and I appreciate them. The tone I’m reading is a generous and thoughtful one (!)
          But I want to make sure I get your overall message–maybe a call would be better? How’s Thursday or Saturday morning?”

          I will be practicing Pre-Validation/Validation and mirroring. However, if he found what I said confusing then I will need to be more straightforward and tell him I still have feelings for him and want to work toward reconciliation. You have discouraged this, so I am confused once again. My friend is pushing me to pull further away and “take back the power in the relationship” – but that sounds like more Power Struggle to me so I am wary of that way of thinking. As far as my ex is concerned though, he is very driven by what he can’t have (frequent career changes, his ex needed to cut off contact for 3 months before they got serious “for him to figure out what he wanted”). I am sure other readers have asked as well – how do you balance these new “healthier” relationship dynamics with the reality that the other ex/partner may not understand or place value in them? Especially given a person who is not very self reflective and struggles more with abstract relationship concepts?

          This may be less applicable to partners who have already married and therefore admitted they believe in life-long commitment in that way. If you don’t feel this is helpful for other readers I would be happy to e-mail with you or schedule a call. Thank you, always.

        • I took a while to respond cuz I got confused. I think it was your reference to his ex that did it. I had to look back through all your postings to find reference to his ex – didn’t find ’em, but what the heck. (His actual mentioned behavior, i.e. taking time to figure out what he wants to do or become, sounds really normal for an avoider. Sounds normal for lots of people. The issue seems to relate to my topic of Purpose and that can take decades to figure out.)

          Generally, when one partner starts to learn my stuff, there is often quite a shock in the relationship. A lot of words get used in new ways, and I’m one those people who both is pretty careful about my words and even has published a glossary just to make things easier for my readers/listeners. I’ve found the easiest way to teach/learn my concepts is by having me do a board talk with new words in front of both partners. That way they get the same intro to the material and words. I like that format, but don’t get the chance much anymore as I’m retired.

          Fortunately my terms and concepts refer to common experiences which can be shared pretty easily. For example “giving him more space than he needs” seems a bit like Sophomore or Junior level thinking, than Freshman. “If you feel overwhelmed I will do my best to give you time.” seems more “Freshman”. Remember I think of this all as a bit like a whole college of learning.

          I have no problem with you sharing your desire for a great relationship (Freshman words for Vintage Love) with him, while I am picky about the word “reconcile”. I have found it better to speak toward the future than toward any recovering of the past. It might be the “re” part of reconcile, that bugs me. I think it’s better to language it as a kind of trashing the past and building a new or getting rid of my “clingy (panicky) behavior” and replacing it with “making us both feel safe”. And I think it is valuable to flatly reject the fantasy of being able to magically reacquire the glories of the Romantic Period while holding on to the desire to make those wonderful times into a responsible life style.

          Anyway, keep a going, Hope.

        • Sorry for throwing you off with the comment about his ex Al. He dated his ex in college, and I became good friends with his ex (with his encouragement, because we had already been friends) before we graduated. We have all been close and good friends throughout the relationship, and she has actually been a good support for me through our break-up. My ex encourages our friendship still, so not a problem on his end (but maybe it is time to check in with him on that again).

          I agree with your resistance to using words such as ‘reconciling’ – I do not want the old relationship back, I want to build a new better one with him. Considering your comments about ‘freshman level’ terms, I am thinking I will attempt to explain the “want a great relationship with you” by saying that I want us to be able to communicate in a way that we both feel safe to ‘open up’ to each other at any level. I am worried that going so far as to say that I still believe we can build a better relationship and I’ve made progress on the “how” on my end will throw up his defenses and make him ‘run back into the woods’ though. From your experiences with the partner who ran past the Leaving Wall, do you think I am being overly cautious?

          I am also thinking that I will be assertive and honest about how I feel – How important he is to me, what being in a relationship with him meant to me, and how much I value and appreciate the level of contact we still have even after breaking up.

          PS. Thank you for the link to the glossary, I hadn’t seen it! I will print it out.

        • Yep, Assertive Honest and not Pushy. I think you do not want his eyes to glaze over at the length of your message or intensity of your passion. Good luck.

  2. Hi Al! I think that behavior came from my mom. All my siblings tend to act the same.
    For exemple: I am very paciente, supportive and positive but sometimes when it’s come to be about me/my problems I don’t. I tend to make drama, making problems bigger than they are expecting someone give me a supportive word or something’s that calms me (attention?). It’s like be sad or angry and wait for other to guess I am.
    I’ve been changing. Now, when I am stressed for example, I’ll go for a walk and let people around me know I’m not okay. I’m trying to bring apart my problems from people around me, not involving them in my stress.
    But I know it’s gonna take time. It’s been an habit since my childhood.

    We’ve being together about 5 months, then I came back my home country due to my moms health issues.
    While time together we had no arguments at all.
    Our disagreements came with the distance.
    I just wanted he could talk. I sent him an email last night, after 30 days of no contact, but he seems resolute. Told him that this silence hurts me but nothing. No words. That kills me.
    My feelings are we both are acting as children. Both making drama. I hate this. I wanna change, wanna have a health relationship. I wish he could stay and work our problems together.
    I feel when he do something that hurts me, I always forgive him right away but when it comes to be me he just refuses to forgive and talk. It’s seems he’s trying to punish me with this silence.

    Well, I can’t do nothing to change his mind and stop this silence so I’ll try to move on and keep my way on being a better person.

    Thank you Al.

    • Thank you, Paula, for sharing so much more. That helps me understand much more fully. At this point I’ll share the current picture I have.

      First (take a look at my Map of Relationship) I see two people who have come together and bonded enough to start off a Romantic Period. They’ve moved into the Power Struggle. That’s all normal. They’ve kicked off, and you’ve identified, two major problems. “His distancing” and what you call “your overreacting.” He experiences your “overreacting” as punishing and you experience his “distancing” as punishing. The theme of the Power Struggle is “hurt ’em till they love you” or “do things that are painful/punishing to the other while you are truly seeking a loving relationship.” Sound right?

      The wonderful thing is how much you are aware of this. That awareness is probably the biggest step in solving these problems. Hooray for you! He may not be so aware, yet.

      And one thought is all this suggest you two are a good match. One thought I used to share is “if two people come together, fall in love even just a little, and are now fighting, they are probably right for each other.”

      So, I’ll share further what I’ve learned. Each problem has two sides: his and yours. So in a real way there are four problems: two his and two yours. You can fix yours (if you know how) and he can fix his (if he knows how.). Takes two. At least that’s what I’ve come to believe.

      A bit more awareness, and you may be amused by which one I address as more important. The first and biggest problem is the “distance” one. To figure this out check out my articles on Reliable Membership. Chances are he’s the Avoider and you the Clinger. This is a really solvable problem and the good news this is the one problem that only one person can solve – the Clinger – you. You don’t need his Awareness or even much participation. I’m the Clinger in my relationship, so “I’ve been there. Done that.” Read my stuff on this and you’ll get what you need, I hope.

      The second problem, the overreacting, sounds like what I call normal Passive Master stuff. I wrote three papers on this starting with Master-Slave, Power of Passivity and Passivity in the Foundations. Take your time and read ’em all. Tis all about growing up and learning to share responsibility and to avoid the traps of submitting and bullying. My guess your mom was a Passive Master, dad probably a Master, kids all learned it. One way of looking at Passive Master is it is a habit of emotional expression, showing drama, distress, and helplessness when you don’t get your way. It is to me the normal survival behavior of an infant – crying when it doesn’t get its way. These habits sometimes leak into adulthood. So normal as a kid, dysfunctional in adults, and designed to end. Again this is solveable. We are built to learn it. You just have to keep working at it, learn to earn what you want/get, and becoming reliably what I call a Friend and live in a Friend-Friend way.

      So it sounds to me all like good news. Go 4 it. If you have further questions, I’ll be happy to share.

      • Thank you so much Al!! I’ll give him space and use this time to my self improvement. I’m reading and listening all your papers and audios.
        Sending love from Brazil.

  3. Hi Al!!! Love your posts!

    That’s my situation:

    – Long distance relationship
    – Plans to get together again in June

    Boyfriend says I overreact.
    That’s true and I am doing everything to work on this. Counseling, books etc

    Every time I overreact he stop talking to me. He blocks me everywhere and don’t accept my apologize. It’s been twice we been through this. That hurts so much because I don’t overreact for want it, to hurt him. It’s like an instinct. For exemple:

    A month ago I was facing really bad personal problem which caused me much stress and sadness. I admit I got upset with him because he knew my situation and didn’t even talk to me about. I understand he was traveling in his vacations but I just wanted to be comforted and supported. So I sent him an email saying what I was feeling. I wasn’t rude but maybe (reading the email now) he could have understood my email as a broke up. (Something I would never do because I love him and I would never break up with someone for email).
    The next day i didn’t receive news from him and then, sending a text message, I could realize he had blocked my number and every kind of contact. No words.
    That’s was the second time he did it. The first time he came back after 7 months!
    We talked about and I told him I was going to change over this overreaction and he told he was going to stop blocking me instead of talk and solve our issues.

    Now I am here. Feeling guilty and hurt.
    I miss him and I wish I could explain I didn’t mean to hurt him.

    In other hand, if he come back I will be afraid he’s gonna leave me again. I trying my best to improve but I think it’s impossible has no argue. In my opinion, I think we should face the issue and talk about, trying to solve its root, but he always vanish avoiding conflict.

    Please Ai, give me an advice.

    • Hello Paula, Feeling guilty and hurt. Sounds painful. Well, lessons are made up out of pain, I’ve learned. Let’s see what we have.

      My first curiosity is what is this “overreact” thing? That word sounds like a judgement not a description. If I were a TV Camera what would I see you doing when he says you are “overreacting”? I can guess it’s your temper or your grief or both. (Arguing?) You suggest it seems like “instinct.” Maybe, but probably not. My guess is more that it is habit. Well, habits can be changed.

      A boyfriend can certainly point out a lot of stuff about how you come across to them! I’m curious if your “overreacting” is similar to stuff that you saw others do when you were a little kid? In other words, who do you think was the teacher, the person(s) who taught this kind of “overreacting”? That knowledge could be quite useful.

      The pain of his leaving. Well, I’ve often pointed out that “the one who can leave, has all the power.” His behavior makes resolving the relationship problem more tricky, so first we gotta resolve his leaving. For example, if you get better at reducing your reaction, and he is gone, he won’t see the improvement. For him to stop leaving, my guess is he needs to “see” improvement.

      Last thought, it sounded as if the “overreaction” occurred when you wanted him to do something that would be helpful to you. Sounded like the Power Struggle, “Hurt ’em, till they Love you” stuff. How long have you been together before the first “leaving”? I’m curious. You might check out my Map of Relationships so as to get a better framework for understanding what is going on.

      Keep a going. This sounds like a problem really worth solving.

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