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? — 552 Comments

  1. Thank you, Al. Recalling last year, I think he started to stop sharing and gradually left me since the last 6 months before we separated. The reasons were not unfold as we never had a chance to talk to understand. And yes, he has ignored conversations with me and hurry ran to his new way. I revenged that cold attitude, but now I just want to forgive our past with all mistakes we made to start my new life. We have been close friends, we have walked some years together in a beautiful dream, I just want to send him a closure letter to say good luck. But should I do it now?

    • Hi Linda, Actually the clue to progress in a relationship or progress in repairing a relationship seems to me all about the flow of communication. So when things are off, I look to the communication problems and fix them first. Also if I think of ending a relationship I look to how much at an end is the chance of communication.

      If you want to end this relationship, then send closure right now. (I suggest you don’t blame him for any of your parts of the trouble.) See what happens.

      If you don’t want this relationship to end then I suggest you use my methods in the article When to Fold ‘Em. Its all about initiating contact minimally and seeing what happens, and stopping when you get enough signs of “the end”.

      Good luck.

      • Thank you, Al. Yes, I followed your guidance in When to Fold ‘Em. But when I saw he brought his new girl in vacation pictures, I felt hurt like hells. My translation from those pics is it’s really the end. Just we never had a chance to talk directly about our problems or our relationship closure.

        • I hear you, Linda. Of course what you do is your decision. I’m just more hopeful and tend to look for ways forward. Even if he show’s he is with another person, the chances of that falling through are pretty high. If you want him back in your life, I think you should continue to move in that direction. At some point either a door will open with him or you’ll decide to give up. BUT let nobody tell you when to do this. That’s your decision.

  2. Hi, my heart is pounding of sadness, as a lot of people here my husband left me 2 weeks ago on the day of our first year anniversary.
    He left me in the footsteps of the restaurant we were going to have dinner and did not come back (I was disrespecting him over the ride to the restaurant and he did not stand it). He went home and took all his clothes and left and never contacted me again, and since I felt hurt that he left me on the street neither did I.
    Before this we actually were doing counselling with a priest that was helping us, since a month and a half ago we fought in the car when I was leaving him at the airport to go visit his dad at our home country as he was really ill. All the time that he was with his family he send me messages (emails) telling me he did not want anything anymore with me and that it was over. I knew that time he had to return home as all his clothes were here. However, I took seriously his threat and I looked for counseling with this priest I mentioned, and periodical talks with a marriage counsel, I read a marriage book and so on during the 2 weeks he was abroad. With all that new information I came to learn that I was doing things wrong (him too) but the only things I could focus on changing were mine. I decided to summarized the things I should work on that actually affected him without knowing he would be willing to listen to me when he return home to pick up his clothe and leave.
    When he came back I was surprise that after him being for the first time so solid in leaving me he heard me. I know he heard me because of all the work and interest I have put on to make good changes for us and so he stayed and we were happy. We both cried and said we will work on it.
    We were happy, things were going great for 3 weeks (I did not nag on him, I let him handles things himself and not get on the way etc), until the 4th week that we had our first fight and I got disrespectful as before in 2 occasions, however there were many others discussions I was able to handle properly on the first 3 weeks. On the 4th week as our 1st anniversary was approaching, I got defensive as I did not see details or thoughtfulness on his part (because he is not like that) and I started going back on my ways telling him that he could not make me happy as he could not even think of buying at least some roses and so on.
    And so that fight escalated and he ended up running away and leaving me. I am deeply sorry, I know I was trying and I lost my track on that last week but now I can see he could not stand one more fight and I was not at the moment that aware of it, however it is not easy to change someone’s way (in this case mine) perfectly in one month (and of course he also has issues, he avoids conflict, lack of communication, not affectionate), how did he expected that things would be perfect right away.
    He is super stubborn, and so I believe him when he said he was not coming back. But I thought he would see we were on a process of getting better and after a couple of days come back or miss me. He did not and he did not contacted me once. Until early morning this past Saturday he wrote me tell me his dad has past away and that he was not return ever, that he would never be the man I want and that we have make too much damage to ourselves and that to have good luck in my life….and that it was not needed for me to fly to his dad funeral or call his home, he was totally shutting me down completely
    In addition, I am new to this country, I left my job and my dreams in Canada so that he could be near his children (from another marriage), which I have show him that I love and treat them right, but when I came to this country after we got married, it turn out to be that he had some debts and he was not transparent with me and did not tell me which is when everything all the fights started because I felt betrayed that I was giving up so much and he did not see the need to be transparent or helping me to adapt to the country. And since I am new to this country I do not have my own car yet and so we both use his car but since he left and took the car with him, I have not been able to do a bunch of errands since I leave far away of the supermarket and all other things. He says its over and I really believe he wont see me but strangely enough I leave in his apartment (rent needs to be pay as well as the utilities) and I am not from here. I am sad that he can’t see I need a car to buy food (I have buy just the essential but I have lost weight as I do not have enough food) and now that he left to his dad funeral he did not leave me car as he left it in the house of his friend where he is staying.
    I believe in marriage, he is not a bad person and I am not a bad person but circumstance, immaturity put us here, I believe finishing a process that we just had one month doing and was actually helping but I do not know what to do. I feel bad that he is in my home country and that he told me that his father died the same day that he was getting buried so there was no way I could get there on time and pay my respect which hurts me so much that he could not separate things.
    Please your help, I know all is so bad but people were helping us.

    • Sounds pretty rough, AS. Also sounds like the early part of a relationship. See my Map of Relationships to place yourself in the process and to plan what to do next.

      And I would suggest you don’t worry about “immaturity.” That’s just how we are before we learn to do better.

      You say, you want help. This website is full of ideas. Is there anything specific you want? Let me know.

  3. Dear Linda,

    This isn’t Al. I’m just another soul experiencing a leaving partner. I hear that you’re feeling terribly lonely now. A note about my experience, in the hopes that it will be helpful to you. In some ways, I have been the poster child of what one is “supposed to do” after a break up – exercise, eat nutritiously, maintain connections with friends/family, trying new hobbies. I think it’s important to do all those things. However, I still feel the pain of loss. One lesson for me is to learn how to grieve, as I have the belief that knowing how to grieve makes it possible to be close to others. Another lesson is to keep working on my inner strength (calming my lizard) as a single person, as I will need that skill in any intimate relationship. So now I get lots of practice. Best wishes to you.

        • Dear Al, wish you a relax vacation. I’m sorry for continuing complaining. I’m still friend with him on some social media and today, from one picture, I feel that he has new girl friend. It has been some months, and he has no reason to commit with the past relationship with me. But honestly, this speed hurts me terribly. He has been my fiance’ for 2 years, I have been waited with all trust, he has all love from my family. Even now, sometimes I think if he wants to be back, I can forgive and start over again because I love him. But this speed of getting a new girl hurts me a lot and question me what kind of love we had, what kind of marriage we prepared in our mind. Maybe I didn’t have his respect and I didn’t understand him. Now I feel scared of stepping into another relationship.

        • Hello Linda, Sorry it took so long for me to respond. That quickness of his “finding another” is probably only surprising cuz you didn’t know that he was doing or thinking or planning. To have a long term relationship, one has to keep up-to-date with your partner so there are not “big surprises”. Check out my short essay on “To Be Safe you must Share“. On the other hand, this situation is all about learning and one of those lessons is about what “love” is and what it isn’t. Tis right to be cautious about another relationship, but on the other hand, relationships are a participation sport which you have to get out on the field and practice. Learn all you can. There’s a lot here on this website. Good luck.

  4. Dear Al,

    It’s me Linda. Thanks for your shared knowledge, I could help me out of desperate situation. After some months from his leave, cut off my hope and dreams for future with him, I found that the most difficulty is the lost of my dearest listener who I trust the most and would like to share my real thoughts daily, which makes me feel terribly lonely now. I have tried to keep connections with friends, rely on family’s support, etc … still sometimes feel talkative but not deep and not really balanced. Please advise how to be at ease doing necessary work after fiance’ has left?

    Thank you very much.

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