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? — 730 Comments

  1. Hi, my wife and I have been married for seven years, together for 10. She’s an alcoholic and has made several attempts over the years to quit. This past November she checked into a facility for a five week program. Somewhere during her rehab it seems she came to the conclusion that our relationship was at least partially responsible for her drinking. I lost my job in Feb and days later she told me she wants a divorce. She has moved out and is adamant that she doesn’t want to try or seek counseling. I’m devastated and have no idea what to do. I love her dearly and have always tried my best to help and support her. She wants to push forward quickly and buy me out of our home (she is renting a townhouse a few miles away)
    Any suggestions are welcome…

    • Oh, ow, Sean. Losing a relationship and a job at the same time! Very bad news. I read your piece a few days ago and just thought about the amount of pain you are in. “Devastation” is a good word. Please be really kind to yourself.

      You start off with the idea of alcoholism in the family. Sure does bring up lots of struggle – so my guess is things have been on the edge for you two, for many years. Kind of forcing you to work through it all. Learning to take care of yourself may be quite a challenge. Join Alanon immediately. Learn all about your part in the troubles of Alcohol. Get help from someone (professional) who will be on your side. As a person works their way out of their addictions, they may cast around for solutions and often go through a period of “blaming”. Well, learning to be dialogical does involve boundary skills and blaming often involves sloppy attempts in acquiring those boundaries.

      If you want her “back” – don’t. (You don’t want that old relationship back, I believe.) If you want to build a better and loving relationship with her – then drag your feet at all the quick stuff she wants and in the meantime work on yourself. My rule of thumb is that you always partner with someone equally “crazy.” So that just means, she’s gotta work on her stuff, and you on yours.

      But mostly, take care of yourself. Learn to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting her.

      Let me know what I can do to help. Good luck.

      • Thanks. I’m trying but the pain is constant. I’m seeing a therapist and I’m on antidepressants. She got a lawyer pretty quickly so I had to as well. I’m trying to slow everything down, but she is so final. No hesitation on her part. Nothing I say matters. When we are in contact she always seems so angry at me.

        • Well, Sean, it sounds as if you are doing all the right things. You may have to work longer/harder on Step Two: Surviving. You may have to start noting that the pain isn’t constant. We humans are all about changing. When I get into a stuck place, and I start thinking that my feeling is lasting for days, then I start doing a diary and make entries every 15 minutes. It helps me recognize those many times in the day when I’m not feeling that feeling. When I’ve done this I’ve rapidly come into contact with my tendency to be dramatic – once more. (I did like acting.)

          Maybe increase how often you see your therapist friend for a while. How’s it going with getting into Alanon?

          Sometimes when a leaving partner becomes adamant, there is another person involved that the leaving partner is moving toward. Not much you can do about this, except remember new relationships will reliably become difficult soon. Your goal might be to become so good a friend, working on yourself, that you compare pretty favorably to any new partner that she’s starting to struggle with. I only add this as a thought.

          To me, her anger seems a good sign. She’s not hiding it, which is very dangerous. You’ll get a lot of practice a) learning boundary skills to deal with other people’s expressions of anger, b) learning to listen to and validate her behind her anger displays. Also, one thought, if she’s angry in your presence it could be that she come to be used to you not listening. So prove you are listening, whenever you can.

          Good luck, this doesn’t sound easy.

    • Hi again. Just wanted to update and maybe get some advise. I wasn’t able to slow down the separation very much. I had to leave our home and I’m currently taking an extended vacation out of the country. Her anger seems to have subsided for the most part, but she still blames me/our relationship for her drinking. Should I continue to be in contact? Using you guidelines? Her birthday is next week. I’d like to send flowers? Sigh. It’s all still very painful and seems to have gone so fast.
      Thanks for listening.

      • Hello Sean, Glad to hear from you. (I just got back from a cruise through the Panama Canal. Happy to be home again.) The way I see what’s going on for you is there are two issues: her drinking/your staying with her, and building safety and boundary skills for both of you. Got to deal with both.
        I think there is nothing wrong with letting her know you working on yourself and still interested in her. I would put only a little effort into this, once a week or once a month contact may be fine. And don’t spend much money on it – send one flower. In the meantime work hard on yourself. Join an Alanon group. Study Boundary skills. Find people who, like you, have chosen addictive partners. Read up on Codependency. Become an expert. Lots to learn. Good luck.

        • Hello again Al, it’s been a while and I thought I’d bring this up to date. You were right about things, she did leave me for a guy she met in rehab. And he recently left her. She doesn’t know that I know any of that. We hadn’t been in any contact for a couple of months and I reached out slowly. Just an update on the dogs here and there. It seems she still doesn’t want anything to do with me (she responds briefly to my emails, but nothing more). In Canada, you need to be separated for 1 year before you can divorce. I mentioned in my last email that with the 1 year coming up in just over 2 months, that I was still here and still willing to work on us. She said she is in a peaceful place and hasn’t changed her mind.
          It’s hard to hear that she would rather be alone than even think about us.But what more can I do?
          I’ve been reading and reading and reading. Trying to work on me. Seeing a therapist via Skype.
          Should I give up? Should I not want her back?

        • My guess is, Sean, that you shouldn’t give up until you are damn good and ready to. Remember she is staying away from “the guy she thinks you are and who she experienced you to be in the past.” If you’ve changed a lot (reading, therapy, etc) it would be good to hint that to her so she might wanna check you out – see who you’ve become. If she’d rather be alone that be with the guy she imagines you to be, it’s a good clue about how much you had to learn. Gotta become a new guy particularly in those areas that bothered her the most.

        • Thanks so much Al. I really don’t want to give up on us. But the distance seems so great now. Any suggestions for bridging it? I’ve offered to have her come visit here. But no go. Should I stick to the minimal contact?

        • Personally I dislike no contact. If minimal contact seems like no contact, I don’t like it. I prefer “Patience” training and non-pushie contact.

        • Hi again Al. A few things. So she came to visit. But I’m not really sure why. She brought one of her girlfriends with her (a younger co-worker that I always felt was sort of a minion for her). We didn’t get more than a few minutes alone and I didn’t want to push any ‘us’ talk. She spent a lot of time texting with the guy (who, it seems, came back). Not sure where that stands now. When I asked about him she sticks to saying they were only ever friends. She is on a few dating sites and seeing other guys too. But why come to visit? Very confused.

        • Hi Sean, You’ve been at this for about a year. I’m sure you’ve learned a lot in that time. Alcoholism is tough to shake and for me I always consider that a person’s turn to using alcohol makes sense to them along with everything else they are facing. The prime rule “all people make sense (to themselves) all the time” applies everywhere, I believe. And so her coming to visit, bringing a friend, her saying they were only friends, being on dating sites and seeing other guys, all of those things make/made sense to her. As they surprise you is a measure of how uninformed you are about what’s going on in her. And you’re uninformed cus either she doesn’t tell you or you don’t listen when she does. And, of course, if she doesn’t tell you, that too makes sense to her. So it is all about getting to share with each other.

          Only confused cus you have so little information. Me, too. While I don’t know what she’s up to, I am pretty curious why you don’t know more.

          What can I do to help?

        • Thanks for the quick reply! Yes I try always to tell myself that to her what she does makes sense. I try to ask her but she is very very limited on what she will tell me. I don’t push. But it makes it hard to know what to do. How can I learn more? Is there anything I can or should say or do? I’ve asked her to visit again. I was hoping we might talk, that being more open might help us both. But was it just a cheap getaway for her? Was she doing it to punish the other guy for leaving her?
          He is younger than us I’m 50, she’s 46, and he is 35. She has been doing a bunch of cosmetic things (botox and other treatments) not sure if that has anything to do with anything.

        • My guess is that you know a lot more about her. In this situation she carries in her head all the important things of her history with you. What do you guess is her way of seeing you that makes her so cautious with you? What was going on for you while she was becoming more and more untrusting? My guess is that one of her reasons to visit you was to see if you had changed in some critical ways. As brief as the visit was, and as little as she shared with you, my guess is she doesn’t see you as changed enough. Bummer.

          This is just my guess.

  2. Hi Al. I wrote a comment here two years ago. The advice you give in this article worked for me and my partner when he left. Unfortunately I must have missed the signs once again, and he now wants to move out again (two years later).
    I asked him to stay for a month, my plan was to try this method above again and see what happened.
    I’m not sure this will work if he stays in our home, because he has been “pushed” to stay. I have also found it hard to not periodically beg him to try to stay and find the space he needs here.
    His reason for leaving: I love you, I like you, I want to be your friend but I need to find who I am. He isn’t having an affair. He said he can’t do the finding with me as he doesn’t have relationship skills, and he doesn’t want to be in a relationship. He seems to feel that relationships are not what he wants, needs or can do. He is 38 and I am 45. My children (his step children) have just begun to live outside of the family home.
    I know it’s rather cheeky asking for a response from you here. I really appreciated a response you once gave me.
    In order to reduce the leaving, do I ask him to move out sooner ( effectively releasing him from needing to stay to ease the separation), do I stay with a friend for a while? Or do I carry on like it is and try not to become discouraged when after a month of non clingy behaviour from me, he still moves away. Which is his certain plan.

    Do you have insight into what makes someone say they “can’t do relationships” and they need to reassess their life. We have lived together for 9 years and he has done some therapeutic work in this time, and grown as would be expected. Maybe I havent. I don’t know.

    I have tried to keep this shortish so I hope it’s clear.
    Best wishes and thank you for your work. I appreciate your site and visit daily.

    • Good to hear from you, LS (Lorraine?), Good posting, also.

      Ok. He is talking again about leaving. If you read my Map of Relationships stuff, you’ll see that I simplify this situation to “he’s become hopeless about achieving Vintage Love with you.” And he’s done this twice. Whatever he says will probably be consistent with that. And apparently he thinks that achieving his goal (Vintage Love) is easier away from you. Kind of a “bad news that’s good news” thing. Bad news cuz it sounds awful, good news cuz it points in the direction of the work/learning that probably needs to be done – fast.

      But since you are the Clinger, to me that is all good news. Lead the way! Learn. Remember that article “It takes one to make a marriage“, well make that your mantra. Sure, get a counselor on your side to help you see what the heck you are doing normally that can be improved.

      Start with that line, “I want to find out who I am.” You want to become his #1 resource in that project and stop anything that makes you his #1 blockage.

      Next take a look at communication and I suggest that Clingers often do vastly too much and Avoiders often don’t know how to share accurately where they are. So shift into being a “great audience” for him, so that he can talk out everything with you.

      Then look at “controlling”. Check out “Are you a controller? Sure you are.” Reflect on this, and on MasterTalk and on your habit of interrupting (my wild guess). Then come back here to my site and share more.

      If you don’t want him to move out, DO NOT ask him to move out. Silly. Don’t do it for him. Learn to be helpful as he is learning “his” way. AND take care of yourself. I’d find yourself a counselor or a group of friends with whom you can talk out your thoughts about why he wants to move out. While you learn that he makes sense all the time, remember that you also make sense, too. My suggestion is you learn to listen as a good audience to his sense, and for a while get someone else to listen to your sense. Pay ’em if you have to.

      Ok, good enough for a Monday morning. Go 4 it.

      • Thank you Al. I’m sure you are a lover and supporter of Vintage Love around the world, giving your time so freely. I am very grateful. I will work on your suggestions, and report back. And yep I’m an interrupter, and yep a controller, and we both do Mastertalk.
        We have just had a conversation where I said I heard his need to go, and I respected it and released him from the obligation of staying. My clinger self wants to do what I always do, and beg him to stay. I don’t gently encourage the deer out of the woods, I hunt it down. So no wonder he feels like he is not here freely. This was one way I was able to give up signs of pushing. If I had read your comment before this, I may have refrained from saying this.
        His sense of relief and openess about being heard, and respected was clear. He hugged me for a very long time, and made it clear that his intention was to have a friendship. I think he can believe in Vintage Friendship between us, but not yet Vintage Love. I asked whether he would choose to have a relationship with me, if he wanted to have one. He looked like he was in the headlights of a car, and said but I’ve already had one with you. I can see from this that “he has given up hope that he can ever have Vintage Love” with me.
        If you are a high clinger, I feel that I am higher, I write and speak too much, imagining everyone will want to hear it. So yes I am finding a counsellor, and I have a group of friends that I can talk my thoughts over with. Very wise of you to see that if I am full of words and talking, I need to spend this somewhere, in order to be able to listen to him. My words to his words ratio can be around 10:1. So no wonder he feels the need to live alone.
        I have been trying to moderate all my worst clinging excesses, the behaviour I describe is when it is at its most unmitigated.
        I have a hunch that he may need to move out to feel able to move towards me, and since my goal is Vintage Love with him, I won’t try to stop him. My lizard is very reactive to abandonment, so this will be a superhuman act of trust in the potential for Vintage Love, and stopping pushing. Certainly he has reliable membership with me, but I think he has excessive connection, and can’t feel his autonomy or his purpose.
        That was a very prompt reply, I thank you for that. If I could afford you, you would be my counsellor of choice. I feel calmed by your light interest and curiousity, and that comes from wisdom. Once you told me to stay safe by hearing lots of people’s stories, that it was a way to expand my information. And this has been working very well recently. So thank you for that too.
        Best Wishes

        • Hi Al. I felt like I was too available to him at home, that he didn’t have chance to miss me and that I would get wobbly around his leaving talk. So I’ve stayed with a friend for a week. He’s set up a place to move out to, and somehow I feel like this is a good change for now. We are meeting for coffee tomorrow evening, after I sent him a gentle invite text (not a push).
          Here’s the questions: if I am available minimally to him, will that give him enough of a “supply” of me that it will soothe him missing me? I hear so much “no contact” talk that I’m nervous about contact as a way to gently draw him back in.
          The other question is “how do I behave when I spend time with him tomorrow?” I want to get this right.
          Thanks very much Al.

        • Hi Lorraine, Sounds good. I like your moving out for a week as a way of giving him space while you are learning how serious it is to give him space. I recall one day when I was practicing this with my wife. We went for a drive. I didn’t say a word. I watched many topics flash through my mind, but didn’t say a word. She was quiet next to me. After 23 minutes she turned to me and said, “What are you thinking?” I realized that morning 23 minutes of silence was her “supply”. She had never been in my presence for that long before with me being quiet. My goal became to learn her signs about how much silence she needed and to give her just a bit more. That day let’s say she needed 21 minutes and I’d given her 23 minutes and thus she’d reached out to me. This is now a feature of our relationship. Some days she needs 20 minutes, some 2 hours, some over-night. Twice in our lives I’ve given her a week. In the meantime I gotta keep myself entertained. Fascinating subject.

          As far as tomorrow, plan how to be in his presence, be curious, but not pushy. Try saying fewer words than he does. Tell him you just like his presence and your learning to get good at just being quiet while he’s there. You might try controlling how much you say, by using Mirroring. Tell him what you are doing. You can always use the phrase, “Take your time.” or “My goal is to become a person who always let you take your time.” or “I’m working on becoming a source of “space” for you.”

          Good luck.

        • Hi Al,
          I did as you suggested. I was warmly surprised by how much he engaged and talked, and became open to me. It was like I hadn’t known him like this before, and some of the information he shared with me before. Now I know I have to work out when he needs space and time outs, and then initiate them for my sake. I have a sick feeling inside that I’m very bad at this, and a slightly panicky feeling that when its going well I don’t know when to give him space (before he needs it I expect). He currently needs a few days of space at a time (which is better than a whole lifetime).
          He said that he doesn’t want contact with me to become a “chore” again, and that currently he feels very grateful to have me back in his life.
          If I don’t learn the skills, he will move towards the leaving door again, it is a pattern.
          So how does Vintage Love feel? Does it feel like one is glad to be near the person? Does it really mean that we become a source of safety? I think this moment with him is another Romantic Stage. I am afraid of the Power Struggle as I think we will give up hope. As he is the Avoider he won’t be willing to do anything more than “squirrel talk” for a long while, and he certainly won’t be prepared to “share everything” (he feels like I will reject him if he does, and it may be true).
          I think my question is: “If I learn these skills, is this enough?” or “Can one person lead the way to Vintage Love?”. I have Romantic Love now, but currently he is in Clinging mode, and this will change with more connection.
          Such tangles.
          Thank you Al.

        • Hi Lorraine, Good to hear that something worked a bit. Can build confidence to tackle the future. So here’s some thoughts.

          Often people coming to this website start with Clinger/Avoider problems. Now, to me, that is just one of the many problems to solve, skills to learn. And it is the only one where it is clear that the current Clinger is the one to do the first work. All other learnings can be started by either, and both kinda have to learn everything. Pretend there are 12 huge lessons. And you got to learn all 12. Where do you start? Ideally and most simply you learn them all at once when you are a kid by watching your parents/caretakers who know all the skills. I didn’t have a set of parents like that, and neither did you. So we all go through remedial training, and it is clumsy.

          Sounds as if one of your skills-yet-to-be-learned is how to go about calming yourself down – not panicking. For me that is all about self-soothing my Lizard and eventually extending that to my partner, too. Yes, Vintage Love is a state where you are glad to be with your partner and both are a source of Safety to each other. But all people make mistakes, nobody is perfect at things, so it is still a work in progress.

          I doubt you two are back in Romantic Love. Looking from a distance, Romantic Love is a remarkably uninformed time, and you can’t go back to being uninformed. But I am glad it feels good for you.

          You certainly have lots of questions. They’re all answered on my website somewhere. If I’ve forgotten one, I’ll be happy to work on it. Is there one that you particularly want answered now? Read on.

          Good luck.

        • Thank you Al. I’m going to study and put into practise the skills on your website. I imagine that I will start to see a shape to it all and will be able to identify the 12 skills, and to begin to trust they will work if I practice. Having tools will help my lizard too. If I have further questions after this (or as I go) I will ask you. Time for me to get to work!

  3. 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:

    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.


        • 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.

        • Hi Al,

          So we chatted. I have to say, I’m not feeling very hopeful about getting back together. His tone was painfully friendly, as it has been.
          I tried not to “push”, so I did not say that I thought we could build a great romantic relationship. At the end of the call, I asked for clarification on where “he was at” because he had asked me where I was at (and I responded with an explanation of how important he is to me, how I felt valued and loved in our relationship, and how I wish I could turn my feelings for him off but I still loved him and I was appreciative that we could still talk – but didnt expect anything in return from me expressing my feelings). He responded that he also wanted to build a foundation for “…friendship, acquaintance etc…without expectation of… the aforementioned (he meant romantic relationship).”

          It feels like he has these walls of friendly demeanor up, and my vulnerability in this conversation was not met with any vulnerability of his own. If I did not redirect the conversation to the topic at hand, we probably would have spent the entire hour talking about his life. Which I mention not because I don’t enjoy that – we could happily chat away for hours – but because I believe it shows he is not actually interested in talking about anything “emotional”. I know I can’t know what is going on in his head, and I can’t control it. But I do need to protect myself at some level and at a certain point, as an ambitious individual with other responsibilities, I have to recognize when I’m just spinning my wheels…

        • A couple of thoughts to add to you journey.

          Seems to me this is all good news, just at the time when you seem to be feeling pretty hopeless. It is utterly common that one partner tends to lead in moving toward Vintage Love. The dragger/dragee phenomenon seems pretty pervasive. It sounds as if you just want to move faster and more demonstrably than he does. He’s not not moving. It just may take quite a while before he responds at all at a level more than a “friendly demeanor.” But at least he is at the “friendly demeanor” level. I bet there are lots of readers who would beg for that level of response from an avoider partner. I remember the major insight in my relationship along this line. While I wanted a mythical loving embracing response from my partner, her level of partnership did exist. It was as much as she was capable. And I accepted it as being her best. Things have gotten wildly better since then over the years, but wouldn’t have if I had not decided (the insight) that her ability to reach our or reach back to me at the time was her best and was pretty damn good as it was. Sure I wanted more. After all I was a clinger and thus pretty damn greedy. I had to decide to relax.

          That said, I think you do need to decide for yourself. How you face or decide not to face this situation is your decision. Give up on him or not will lead to something good. In the long run you’ll either learn something (which is good) or it will simply be good.

          Personally I would give up trying to re-achieve Romantic Love with him (which can’t be done) and I would accept “happily chatting away for hours” and plan to build on that.

          Anyway, good luck.

        • Hi Al,

          Thank you for your encouraging note, it lifted me a little when I felt discouraged after that chat. I have a little trouble allowing myself to find strength in you saying that it is common for one partner to lead toward Vintage Love, when my ex ended our partnership without any ambiguity. There is no “partner”. In the weeks since we had our FaceTime chat, my ex has not initiated any contact and has responded to mine a quarter of the time, and with a short uninterested response at that. I have avoided pushing, and except for a short phone call (I asked if we could see each other the following weekend when I was in town for a wedding, he said no with a few excuses) the extent of my contact has been a handful of very short e-mails and texts in the past 3 weeks. He had already started pulling away before that FaceTime chat as well. I’m busy, and doing a lot of my own self development work, so I haven’t felt the urge to cling/contact/etc really. To clarify, even though Reliable Membership did play a role over all in our relationship, the last few months of our relationship (including a 30+ period of time not talking at all except for newborn nephew updates) we would go days without meaningful communication. I was trying to provide space without really understanding it. While we were happy in our relationship we would talk several times a day, and lived together.

          I don’t want to give up on building a new romantic relationship with him (I know I can’t re-achieve romantic love). But now that the ability to “chat away” seems “closed”, I am unsure how I can keep working on rebuilding our connection without pushing and without us drifting even further apart.

        • Oh it does sound awful hard, Hope. And I feel sad about it. And I’ve seen this so many times. (Mournful sound.) Let’s see if I have it.

          It seemed to you as if you had a “pretty good” relationship. Both seemed happy with talks several times a day, and you were living together. Sure there may have been clingy behavior on your part, back then, but in the past few months you’ve done everything to stop pushing and even had some lengthy non-talking time. Still he continues to seem to pulling away further. It sounds like a tragedy that is going on. And you’re not sure you can keep pursuing the relationship without some encouragement from him. And he stubbornly seems to give none. Am I getting it? Am I close?

          Maybe you could add a bit of data. How old are you two? Is this your first relationship? His? How long was the good time together before you noted him pulling away? How long do you guess he was pulling away before you noted it? Anything else you think is unique about your relationship that might be curious?

        • Hi Al,

          It’s been awhile – I hope you are well! To answer your questions:
          “How old are you two? Is this your first relationship? His? How long was the good time together before you noted him pulling away? How long do you guess he was pulling away before you noted it? Anything else you think is unique about your relationship that might be curious?”

          We are both 29, and this is not the first relationship for either of us. I am a lot more experienced in shorter more casual relationships than he is, but that has never been what I preferred. We both are very sexually monogamous, non-jealous, long stable relationship type of people. I would say that other than the normal ups and downs we were doing well until he moved away for his Master’s program. So over 3 years. I had started my notoriously difficult clinical year shortly before he left, and we were both very busy. I was struggling with supporting a mentally ill family member while being expected to give 110% every day at the hospital, and it got to the point that I started taking an SSRI. I did not react well but I was not brave enough to discontinue it until shortly before we broke up (about a year later). While this was going on with me, he was also doing poorly emotionally and seemed to struggle without being able to come home to me for support every day, as we had grown accustomed to. At the end of the school year, when I felt my load lessen and he concurrently felt more optimistic because he had gotten an impressive job offer, it felt like we both re-committed to each other and were very excited about being able to see each other more often. Everything flipped within a couple months when he decided that he would not be happy with the job that was offered and had to find another, and I began to seriously consider a post-MD program away from our home. This may have felt like a crossroads of sorts to him.

          But at this point, these details do not seem to matter much. As I mentioned on March 16, our post-breakup reconnecting abruptly shifted character around the end of February. He went from being engaged and clearly interested in maintaining connection to withdrawn. When we would catch-up, we would talk like good friends, but always scheduled and for a defined period of time. Even that dropped off, and by early May I decided that he was not behaving like someone I would want to have a relationship with, and that out of respect for myself I would stop reaching out.

          It turns out, he met and quickly got into a relationship with someone around the first time he withdrew (Feb). He called to tell me late May, mostly because I was about to visit a mutual friend that he had visited shortly before–with his new girlfriend. I asked if he would be interested in a de-brief conversation later on, and he was interested. After that, I was disappointed and angry that he was dishonest with me and would tell me he wanted to re-build a friendship then do the opposite, and that he only told me about his new relationship when backed into a corner. Then he stopped following me on Instagram and I was further hurt. So I have only communicated when strictly necessary since then (he’s moving back soon and I have his things in my apartment).

          So, seems like I shot myself in the foot and gave him plenty of time to make fun new memories with his girlfriend over his last summer, while forgetting me. Now, I’m unsure what to do. Why do I still want him back? I would only consider building a new romantic relationship with him if he were to demonstrate emotional maturity, understand and apologize for his behavior this past year, and have a clear plan and commitment to grow together as life partners. My love for him is steady and unconditional, and I want him to be happy with or without me in his life.

          To be honest, I feel some shame over still being “hung up on” him when he is seriously dating someone else. I think that my continued confusion over his side of the break-up is partly to blame. He will need to pick up his things within a few weeks, and we have not seen each other face to face since December. I think it is likely that his new girlfriend is following him back to this city as well. I have a suspicion that having a “de-brief” conversation about the relationship may help give me closure (he said he was interested in this when we talked back in May).

          I do think that a de-brief conversation(s) could potentially accomplish the following: 1) give me the opportunity to express the behaviors I regretted and thought contributed to the end of our relationship; 2) ask for more clarity on his reason for the break-up, if he can provide it; 3) ask growth questions such as – what am I like in a relationship, in this x situation when we would get stuck in a negative pattern what were you feeling and thinking; 4) (maybe) politely but assertively explain how his behavior post-breakup made me feel and why I am no longer interested in being friends. I would really appreciate your thoughts Al.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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