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? — 723 Comments

  1. Good morning Al. I am willing to have a fresh start with her. We both had issues and we just never fixed them,that they turned into bigger problems.

    I got advice from a few people and they told me to leave her alone,pay no attention to her. She is playing hard to get so I should start showing her I am not sad or bothered by the break up. Is it a good idea?

    We still live with each other. I sleep in the next room.

    Al,I really want to fix my relationship. I want to change everything I that hurt her or made her feel like I didn’t love her as much from the start. She made me into a better person,motivated me to go out there to work hard and make a good life for us. I was too focused on working and not thinking about my relationship,I guess cause I thought she’ll never leave.

    I needed this eye opener. It made me realize what I really want in life and it’s a life with her. I think she needs space and time to think.

    She said there’s nothing I can do to change her mind. What do you think? I believe if someone truly loves you they won’t leave forever.

    • Hi Sid, I took your post apart so I could try to connect with all the different thoughts.

      I’m glad you wanna make a fresh start. Remember in doing that start you can’t set aside the past, but have to include it in the new start. Like all humans I hear you both had issues, and those damn things do have a way of getting bigger if not fixed. Learning how to identify them and fix ’em is worth a lot.

      I kinda don’t like the advice you’ve gotten. Yes, give her space and don’t push her…. ever again. But I would let her know that you love her and want to build a great relationship. Just don’t say that more that once a week or a month. I doubt she’s “playing hard to get.” That sounds kinda manipulative. Nothing wrong with telling her you are hurting or bothered, but don’t blame her for it. Be careful about that. No blaming even by inference. Remember, she’s doing her best. So are you.

      I think you are very lucky to be physically together – same room. Allows you to show your new learnings through many ways.

      I’m glad you can see how valuable she is to you. To bad it took her leaving to wake you up. I suggest you become a lot easier to wake up. I bet she’s been trying for a long time, to wake you up. Make it easier.

      Life seems to me to be about waking up over and over. Everytime I think I a wide awake, something comes along to show me what I am currently blind to. OH well.

      On the one hand you can’t change her or her mind. “No one can make anyone do anything.” On the other hand you can give her lots of reasons to change her mind and then watch her actually changing it. That’s good news. With the reasons you’ve given her in the past, she went through asking you to change, feeling ignored, and at last she felt hopeless of you changing and decided to leave. Focus on her hopelessness, prove you are changing and her hopelessness will melt. At least that’s my guess and belief based on what you’ve told me.

      What do you think?

  2. Hi Al. Good afternoon. I am going through a really really bad break up. My girlfriend left me cause she was unhappy a while now and many times I said I’ll change things but I didn’t. Not that I didn’t want to change certain things. We have been together for 3years and 5months and we have been living with each other for the 3years and 5months. I really needed that eye opener. It made me realize what I want in my life. It’s her,it will always be her. She said she has a mindset and she’s not coming back with me. Help me please☹️ Btw we are a gay couple. I want back my girlfriend.

    • Sorry to hear this, Sid. Relationships sure hit trouble in the second or third year, or so. The one who can leave has all the power, so you must feel a bit helpless.

      Still if you can convert this into one of life’s lessons, I think it will be for the best.

      Lots of stuff to learn on this website. Go slowly, but keep going. Best wishes.

        • Seems like a very tough lesson you are facing. I want to encourage you to not think in terms of “getting her back.” Something “back there” was so bad that she left it. She probably really doesn’t want to go “back”. But can you move forward, can you build a new relationship with her, a reliable one? Yes, I believe you can. Get to work.

          One of my old personal guidelines is “If it starts hurting, start learning like crazy. The longer one puts off the learning, the longer the pain.”

          Start thinking in terms of building an accurate list of the things you did to drive her away. Identify them, stop them, let her know. Good luck.

  3. Al, I want to thank you for your work. What you do is priceless.

    I would love you to elaborate a bit on what you wrote a while ago in your answer to Alicia. You wrote:

    “If my guess is right, your skills at listening, being a safe witness are being challenged. (The complete fix for this is to become an expert at Validating.) For instance, he expresses that ‘love has gone for a long time’. A) that ending of ‘feeling love’ always happens, B) it takes a lot of work to recover love, and build mature love and those original feelings of in-love are based on delusions and hopefully you won’t go back to being delusion-ed. And how do you go about Validating his distress at the ‘feeling being gone’.”

    For one thing, I’m very saddened that my leaving girlfriend seems very resolute in her belief that the ending of “feeling love” means the final end it. She’s been very clear in telling me that the two of us “are cut from a different cloth”, and “there’s no going back for me”. I don’t think there’s a non-pushing way for me to show her that I see things differently, even more so since she’s started a new relationship recently.

    But I would very much like to validate her distress at the “feeling being gone”, as you mentioned. But I have no idea how to do that. As a matter of fact, until I read your comment, it didn’t even come to my mind that she may be distressed by that. She handled this aspect very.. matter-of-factly.

    Maybe you could give me a few pointers.

    Many thanks again,

    • Hi, Oliver, and thanks for the kind words.
      Omigosh! do I consider the skill of Validation valuable. All my articles share my process in learning to do that skill and my clarifying understandings of it. The main one is PreValidation and Validation but the other article is useful too. Skill and Art of Validation.

      So in your case I start with an easy one. You say “You are saddened that your leaving girlfriend seems so resolute…..” Well, of course you make sense feeling saddened (PreValidation) and I guess your sense is you don’t want to lose her and would like to persuade her to stay with you and she seems determined — so you feel sad at losing her. Did I get that? That is some validational thinking.

      Next “She’s very resolute…” First,well of course she makes sense being resolute…… (PreValidation again.) Let’s guess. Shows some traits of subbornness. She can feel her feelings and the “euphoria” of romantic love is gone. She believes that feeling is a result of “being cut from the same cloth” (which it isn’t, by the way), and shes more and more becoming aware of the differences between you, maybe even disagreements, and seems them as a sign of “not being meant for each other”. She’s aware that she can’t go back to being unaware of these things. She still believes in the fantasy of finding “Mr. Right” and that with Him things will be easy. These are just a bunch of my guesses about some of the factors that lead her to “being resolute.”

      If, as you say, she feels distress at the idea that “feeling is gone” of course her distress makes sense to her. (PreValidation is so easy.) My guess is she liked those feelings, and that time, and she still wants them again with you. She doesn’t know what to do next. She may never have seen Vintage Love or talked to someone who reached it. If so, she wants it, doesn’t know what to do to get it, and sadly thinks trying again is the way to go. Just my guesses.

      See my Map of Relationships for all this.

      Good luck.

      • Thank you for responding. So I gather you meant that validating her distress of the “feeling being gone” is more something I do for myself? Rather than actively validating it to her?

        • Glad you are working on this, Oliver. I think it terribly important as a concept and as a series of skills. I believe it has to do with word “Validate”. What does it mean to you to Validate someone? You and I might be quite different on this. I think we are.

          Well, I use that word very carefully to remind me of the skills I’ve learned. In my Articles. I validate a person, not an event. I am convinced that all people make sense all the time. Their behavior, their action, their reaction is a result of the numerous factors inside of them. So her distress at…., is about her sense. We outsiders can witness her behavior (distress at the f….). We can believe it makes sense to her (PreValidate). We may think we can see her sense (think we Understand her). We may be wrong. But to Validate her, i.e. make her feel understood, we have to share our guessed understanding with her, and get her to say something like “Yeah, you understand me.” Then she “feels understood” and we have “Validated her”. All steps.

          I’m not sure I am clearer, to you, yet. I’m trying.

        • It’s much clearer to me now.

          I’m in awe that you answered so quickly and are so present here on your site. Thank you again.

        • Now that I reread my original question, I think I’ll try to me more precise:

          How can I communicate my validation/guessed understanding to her? Should I even do it? I fear that she would see it as pushing if I even broached the topic of our relationship. My sense is that she considers it over and done. Could also be that she doesn’t feel safe talking about it, but I doubt it. We only talk when she initiates it, and just about day-to-day life and lighthearted stuff in a friendly way.

          My instinct tells me to stay off her back. But I don’t trust my instincts anymore..

  4. Al,

    So back from my trip home and spent some more quality time with my Ex. We had a pretty good time. There were some talk of how she is feeling and it made me visually sad which made her feel angry and “like a jerk” to which i tried to be supportive and said no you did the right thing breaking up with me it’s just tough. We went back and forth and I really tried to listen and understand.

    She made it clear that there is a huge wall up and reiterated that she is completely confused and has no idea what or how she is feeling still. She says things are just different and isn’t sure at all. She said she’d normally be done and brought up a story of her previous ex and that she felt the same exact way as now but with him she was just done. With me she is still here…

    She said she just wants time to make sense of it all and to be okay again. To not rush anything. She’s waiting for a sign or for her heart to tell her something and I want deeply to find what that sign is but without pushing.

    She makes it hard when she sends me pictures of her dog and her family and sends me songs or quotes saying what’s going on in her head. It’s all confusing to me and hard to determine what to do next. When she sends me these things I’ll either thank her for sharing something powerful with me or comment like I would naturally and leave it at that. Short communication then back to space.

    Is that the right thing to do? Should I keep following what to do when she leaves?

    At some point she is going to have to make a decision and she has already said to me everything she can say. She has no new information unless it comes to her to which she promised “When I know, you’ll know”

    Should I maybe look into “when to fold em” and turn her unclear decision into a clear one? I’m afraid that may push her away. A “deadline” that is.

    I told her I would wait for her as long as it took. I truly meant that but this is extremely hard. What do I do when there is no new info to obtain? Remain being supportive? sending her messages every so often about how I’m still getting better and changing? Keep posting pictures of us on social media and doing things I didn’t do that she wanted back in the day? Proving that I’m different?

    Any insight you have would be appreciated, Al.

    • It may seem strange, Drews, but I envy you. 25 years old and you’ve got the stuff of a 75 year old guy to read. Omigosh I didn’t know much at all at 25. And over the years I’ve said, “I wish I knew that earlier” thousands and thousands of times. Just a few of the things I’ve learned and shared would, I think, have made a huge difference in my life – for the better.

      Couple of thoughts. I would listen to, but quietly throw out, the idea that she’s told you all she can. She’s probably told you less than 5% of what is going on in her. My guess is she’s really really scared. I would still focus on learning what kinds of things you do/have done that shut her down. Probably either Clinger stuff of Master/Slave stuff. When she decides to tell you no more, then wait, invite her, practice patience, talk to others and learn. Keep your messages to her short and very infrequent – once a week or every two weeks. Learn what you need to do for yourself so that you can be relaxed while you wait.

      Keep a going.

      • Back again Al,

        I have taken your advice and went nearly a day without answering her back and she got a little clingy. She asked if “I was mad at her” she was sending pictures of her dog to me (She knows I love her too) she sent me a picture of her and I back in the day and said ” Awe!” to which i never replied to these. I sent a message to her following the layout you suggest which was giving a little news saying sorry I was busy another clue that I was working on myself and said if she wanted to talk on the phone I’d love to hear her voice to which she agreed.

        She did not call me that night however she called me tonight. We had some small talk and acted like everything was okay for the most part. Maybe a little weird. She seemed distracted and not focused on me and was talking my ear off about things I didn’t really want to hear about at all.

        Finally, I eluded to talking about us and shared a little about what I learned from this site. I mirrored her and pre validated some of her feelings pretty well! Even got her to say she was impressed with all I was doing and learning.

        She also however became angry and frustrated when I was saying the things she was saying herself when she was trying to get me to realize I was losing her. I said I understood her view now and that I became the clinger and she was the avoider and she totally agrees that we have switched places.

        That made her feel even more disconnected however to which made me a little sad.

        All the while we were talking she was distracted by her friend calling her on the phone. She was running around in her car on the way to the store too and I never felt like I had her full attention either. It made me upset but I kept it quiet. She then said she didn’t want to talk about it anymore and I said okay as to not push her.

        The biggest thing I took away from our conversation was she said ” when i picture a future or when I think of a husband and kids I do see you but I don’t also either if that makes sense” I pre validated and mirrored and said ” So you see us having a future together and you see me, you just don’t know how to get there or how we’ll do it?” to which she replied “yes pretty much.”

        She misses me not physically being there and has refused to basically work with me on how to fix anything. She just wants the relationship to work itself out basically and me do all the work to which I don’t think Is possible without her. I’m getting better at understanding and luring her out but I still feel like she should put some work in.

        To which again she told me” I have nothing left to give. I don’t want to anymore”

        I decided not to talk to her for at least another week and ignore all small talk invitations and send her another message for contact or connection later down the road.

        Am I doing this correctly? I’m still figuring out all the things that made her feel unsafe and working on that is easy. The hard part is getting her to cooperate and not throw me under the bus or be mean to me when I try to explain why I did things back then. She has a ton of resentment towards me and she sounds like she is just keeping me around until she finds someone else.

        Any advice would help me a ton as always. I can’t tell you how much help you’ve been to me and I know I’m being extremely clingy but at least it’s towards you and not her or her friends haha.

        • Yes, the hard part is to accept the idea that people never do what you want and you can’t control them. But I suggest you learn to live with it. “All people are chronically disobedient. Learn to live with it.” I’m glad she is taking care of herself. That allows you to slip.

          I found a paper of mine recently that some people got a lot out of. It’s pretty advanced stuff. Called Points of View. Good luck.

  5. Hello Al,

    I am 25 years old and am currently active duty military. I’m stationed far away from my gf (now ex I guess) and it has been extremely hard the last 2 years however, I have received orders much closer to her and things were almost looking up until…. Her last straw was me telling her I did not want her to move with me to my next duty station. Basically, commit to her. She was going to grad school to become a counselor (go figure) and I wanted her to focus more on that and let it happen naturally.

    I have felt distant from her for over a year and to her me not wanting to move in together was the last straw. There were some very serious underlying issues that I had not addressed and were making us suffer greatly. I told her things I did not mean or sometimes didn’t even remember. It has warped her mind and it’s she was with someone that I don’t even remember being.

    I broke up with her because I felt she was suffocating about her wanting me to commit and to move forward like her friends were. I felt so much pressure and I missed a lot of signs and my intentions were always to do that with her and to give her vintage love because I do love her. I believe we are soul mates, truly.

    After this recent declining of not wanting her to move with me she told me she does not see the dream anymore. That she started telling her self “a life with me was just not possible” and that she needed time to figure it out. She said she still loves me and wouldn’t be here still if she didn’t but I feel this is really bad. She is numb and she feels she cannot give anymore and that she is sitting back and watching to see what happens.

    Of course only after all this happened did I wake up and immediately start to show and give her the things she’s desperately wanted for years now. It confused her and she said she needed time to take all this in. I feel so dumb and so stupid after I read your papers and I put the blame almost 100% on me even though she said it is not. I have followed your advice to and it was starting to work however I slipped back into being clingy and caught myself and said I needed a timeout and that I shouldn’t smother her.

    She is not being her normal self. She is very distant and very careful with what she says. It’s driving me crazy. She doesn’t want to lead me on and said I don’t have to wait if I don’t want to which I replied is crazy I’ll always wait. We’ve seen each other once since this happened in person once and it was very emotional lots of crying and some positive dialogue but no help or answers yet. We had one little fight because again I was clingy and kept wanting to talk and she didn’t. She just wanted to see me and be with me.

    My question is how can I prove to her I’m changing and that she still means the world to me. How can I make her feel loved while she wants space and time. I’ve read about the clinger and avoider, I’ve also been following what to do when she leaves but Is there anything else? I am going crazy and I know I need to settle down and focus on myself and not use her as an outlet but being in the military makes it that much harder. I am away from my family and my support systems.

    She said she cannot do long distance anymore and now has a job in our hometown that she enjoys and doesn’t want to move anymore. So how will this work? What is she thinking?? Please help

    • Oh Drew, Ouch. I’ve been there. Years ago I married my sweetheart while in the service. Things got rough. I wanted time to fix things up. I told the Navy, “Help!” They happily shipped me out to Vietnam. Aargh. I had to make a choice between a Navy career and following my gal. Ow. Bummer.

      Well, the good things are you understand more about Clinger and Avoider and you have been able to talk some. And she’s sitting back and watching. My guess that means you are back to the two greatest needs for each of you: predictive information and a sense of control; and you are already into the Power Struggle. Because you want Vintage Love with her, I say, go for it. Learn like crazy
      Long distance relationships are very difficult, but you know that, I guess. You may have to adapt to just being with each other until you can be with each other. That spending time, sitting together, is actually pretty good.

      The military is not very good at helping relationships cuz they train you in Master/Slave and with her you need to display Friend/Friend. Read up on that.

      Your questions are great. Of course, you can’t make her do or believe anything. But you can act in ways that show her you are changing. Look the specifics that she wants you to change and work most on them. Remember All People Make Sense All the Time. You thought you did the right thing and so did she. Her mind is never “warped”. It’s just different from yours.

      Vintage Love is not a short-term project. Go for the long haul. Good luck.

      • Thank you shipmate! This has been extremely helpful! Today she sent me a song to listen to (she does that sometimes) shell show pictures of her nephew to me and her dog as well. That sometimes confuses me because I dont know how to react to that. Being the clinger i want to ask what they mean. Why is she sending them? That is not the right thing to do I believe.

        Another thing happened today. This past week i knew she had a wedding to attend to. She did not have a date (per usual because i can never make them) so i offered to go with her to prove that im changing. This is not something I normally have done in the past so she feels im strange now. That its positive but she isnt sure what to think. I quickly said okay then nvm you need more time. Forget i said anything about the wedding. Well today she texted me and said her friend has another seat at the wedding and she wanted to know if i wanted to go. Immediately i said yes im there. Dropped everything cancelled really fun plans and bought plane tickets. Was that the right response? She may not even spend a lot of time with me at home but I felt that was her reaching out? After I said to drop it she asked again. Why? Im excited to see her this weekend and just be in her presence. Try not to freak out and bombard her with questions but just to be.

        Thanks again for your response. Its nice to know you are in the same line of work im in now. Same branch even. Its never been easy but we both feel weve never had a chance to truly just be together. Weve been HS sweethearts and moved and been in a long distance relarionship longer than weve actually been together. Weve grown up together. Im absolutely commited to your website and to change. Thank you again

        • Good going, Drews. To my way of thinking, anything she does makes sense to her, and your goal is to gently seek to understand her. Any response that signals a) you heard what she said, b) you believe she makes sense to her self, c) you’re curious to understand her sense, d) you are inviting her to say/share more….. seems to work best. Be ready to listen.

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