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What to do when He/She Leaves? — 747 Comments

  1. I am having trouble making sense of my breakup and finding a path forward.

    Background: A mutual friend introduced my ex (23/F) and me (30/M). Despite my initial hesitation over our age difference, we dated for nearly 2 years (20 months to be exact), and had a beautiful run for 17 months. I was her first relationship. She was my first love.

    She graduated from college last May and moved to the midwest to begin a teaching-service fellowship at Notre Dame. At the time, we were discussing a future together with her telling me that she wanted to marry me. We had put together a plan for frequent visitation and regular communication to maintain a healthy long-distance relationship, including her visiting my family for the first time for the July 4 weekend.

    Shortly after starting her program, communication fell apart. I presumed she was busy with classes and assignments and took the lead with texting and calling, but my messages were rarely returned. Within two weeks of the program, she started voicing concerns about a lack of sustenance in our conversations despite not contributing much to them. She promised improvement on her end, but I became painfully aware that if we were going to talk, I had to be the one to suggest and pursue it. Two weeks before meeting my family, she dropped the first hint of things to come. She said, “The way that communication has gone since we last talked about improving on it has not been working for me.” I decided to double down and try harder. Regardless of my efforts, I felt like she was disengaging from me. She set aside for community and held herself to those commitments, in particular spending time with a guy friend (Thomas). I understood that community was a very important part of the program – as fellows live with these persons throughout the school year – and that I misread some of her male friendships in the past, so I brushed aside my concerns.

    By late June, the shift in the relationship was evident when she dropped the second hint. She told me that, “We should not look to the future too much.” This was nearly a month after her declaring her intent to spend her life with me and marry me. I started to question whether she was becoming infatuated with someone else. I feared that in my absence Thomas had started laying the grounds to be my replacements. My suspicions were furthered when she began to inquire whether I still wanted her to visit my family in Atlanta. She kept suggesting that maybe I would like to spend time with family alone. I was too lovesick (or stupid) to see that she was seeking permission not to come to visit. However, when in Georgia, she made the shift in her feelings painfully obvious. Though she was with me, she wasn’t present. She spent more time snap-chatting or texting Thomas than engaging me or my family. I didn’t push the issue, as I felt her pulling away and did not want to alienate her even more, but the way she talked about Thomas was pure infatuation. There were also two instances were she seemed to pick small fights, which felt like she was egging me to break up with her. I asked her plainly if she wanted to be in the relationship with me, and she insisted that she did and we recommitted to our earlier efforts.

    Fast forward to late August, with no improvement on her end, she calls me to break up. She cites a lack of communication and distance as the primary issues. She then goes on to say that “I cannot love you how you love me right now” and insists that “we may be able to get back together.” She cited other reasons that seemed to be grasping at straws (no sight of reunion in the near future, an inability to maintain a relationship through frequent trips, etc.) She told me she would understand if I did not want to talk to her again. Not understanding no-contact as a great tool to help an ex appreciate you through absence, I told her that all I wanted to do was talk to her. So we continued conversing until late October. We sent “I miss you” messages and snaps throughout the course of September and October. In November, she became quiet, which I attributed to her classes coming to a close. We exchanged Thanksgiving greetings and she texted me a birthday message in December.

    Over MLK weekend, I discovered she was in Philadelphia visiting Thomas, who she is now dating. I felt betrayed given how she cited distance as an issue with her being in Denver and me in NYC. At the time of breakup, we promised to tell the other if we were seeing someone else so that the other party wouldn’t be caught off guard. I had a meltdown and pushed her away, borderline accusing her of emotional cheating with Thomas at Notre Dame (I have attached screenshots for your review – I was pathetic). Per a mutual friend’s (Steffany) suggestion, she blocked me on all forms of social media and enacted no contact until Steffany feels we are ready to make contact and be friends. Truth be told, I do not want to be friends. It will not be authentic. I will always want more. I will always want her as my first and last love.

    We have been in complete no contact (4 months now). I have identified areas where I fell short in the relationship (needy, clingy, toxicity that I carried over from my job) and started working on self-improvement (I go to the gym more frequently, I quit my job and will be joining a better paying, more prestigious firm with the flexibility to move cities, etc). I have accepted that our relationship died, but I can’t help asking why. I can’t figure out whether is she experiencing grass is greener syndrome or not. If not, how does someone go from being madly in love and talking about marriage to being completely checked out a few weeks later? Did she emotionally cheat and couldn’t handle me confronting her over it?

    Maybe you can help me. I just do not know how to process this. I still love this girl. I connected to her in a way that I have never connected to any of my previous partners. She had the uncanny ability to reach beyond my heart to touch my soul. It’s been 6 months since we broke up, and I am no closer to understanding how the most beautiful part of my life died or how to be in a position to win her back. She walked away. She initiated no contact. She holds all the cards.

    • Welcome, Andrew, to the group of us who are learning how to make better relationships, often starting the hard way. You are in good company. I’m sorry I took so long getting back to you. I’m hoping that you two have made some progress since your first writing to me. To me the problem is fairly normal and simple “to talk about.” Lots of people who read my words can probably see what kinds of things are going on for you and where you’ll have to learn new things. Take heart, I think you face a great and valuable learning experience.

      Where to start? My thoughts are that somewhere in the early part of your togetherness communication between you two got buggered up. You began to lose connection with what was going on inside her world and didn’t know how to fix that. Remember: She makes sense all the time and you can either learn what her sense is/was or be unaware. The primary way we access our partner’s way of seeing the world is through listening and active listening. AND she has to want to share and enjoy sharing. How we respond to her sharing pretty much sets up the future of the relationship. We often aren’t taught good communication skills when we are kids. I wasn’t. So I had to learn really good skills somewhere. You will need to.

      You know you have good skills when your partner shares all the time and easily and joyfully. My belief is that everyone wants to feel heard and to feel understood. Thus to have a partner we each have to learn how to make ’em feel heard and feel understood. Fortunately those are just skills. Unfortunately the world around us isn’t too good at teaching and modeling those skills. Well, so that just makes it harder.

      At this website are all sorts of helping tools and articles. I hope you’ve taken advantage of them.

      Let me know what progress you’ve made since you wrote and anything specific I can help you with. I think you have to build trust with her to encourage her to reach across what seems like a gulf between you two. “The one who can leave, has all the power.”

  2. Al,
    It’s been a while since I’ve visited your site but I’m wondering what advice you have for my current situation. A little over a week ago my partner and I got into an argument. We had both had a bit to drink, but I had indulged too much. While in that state I really crossed some lines in our argument and hurt her very deeply.

    I feel terrible about it and I’ve done everything I can to show her that. I’ve given up drinking (I’m seeing a therapist to deal with that issue) as I realize that unleashes my lizard with no buffer.

    Still, the only conversation she wants to have right now is about her moving out and moving on. I’m giving her space and time as much as possible, but I really can’t stand the thought of not living or being with her anymore.

    How do I stop her leaving without pushing her further away so we can start to heal together?

    • Yup, Kyle, it’s been about 3 years since we chatted. I’m wondering if this is the same partner.

      This sounds like a “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation. If you were strongly arguing when drinking my guess is that you’ve built a track record of arguing with her. Arguing, for me, is a sign of a relationship that is stuck and eventually gonna collapse. Sandra and I gave up arguing in 1995 or so and haven’t argued since. I think of arguing as “two bullies going at each other”. (See Master/Slave paper.)

      If she’s pulling a way, then she has “all the power”. The one who can walk away has all the power. You are a bit helpless, and probably feel that way. What you can do is address, this and all other things she isn’t mentioning right now. Use this as a big wake up call. Tell her you are wanting to remake the relationship from the ground up. To me this is a wonderful kick in the face. Look forward to Making Amends for a whole bunch of things over quite a while. It’s the way a great partnership is built.

      Good luck.

  3. Hello Al, I would really appreciate your thoughts on my situation. I have been with my partner for 6.5 years, living together for 2.5. We have fallen into a very bad negative dynamic that involved me yelling/berating/criticizing and him shutting down/avoiding/stonewalling.

    These things were triggered by me feeling he wasn’t making an effort to value me or initiate intimacy, or being irresponsible (he’s terrible at managing his money), or just being passive and me feeling neglected. Or him falling asleep chronically when I tried to talk.

    We have a history of him returning after an argument and saying he wants to break up. This has happened 6 or so times in the last 2.5 years. Generally we had bad conflict management and poor communication.

    However we were aware of these problems and had maintained we wanted to be happy together and loved each other. We planned to get couples counseling starting this month (his idea a while ago, but it was put off). We had a rock bottom fight at the beginning of the month before that could happen.

    He is very serious now about leaving and hasn’t been home, and plans to move into a new place in a month. In the past after a conflict all the change was focused around him – he would do better, make an effort, etc. I realize now and take total accountability for my role in instigating this insecure bond. He is very dear to me, I adore him, and I understand that while I was feeling taken for granted actually I was taking him for granted. I have written to him and approached him like I never have before – with accountability, steadiness, and no blame.

    I feel we were poised to improve our relationship patterns together and know for certain i can avoid all of those defensive problems I brought to the table. How can I help him to reconsider? I am trying to respect his space, but I want very much to use the last few months of our lease together to show him that life can be easy and very loving. I can’t overstate my confidence that it can be this way – I no longer feel resentments and ironically I feel stronger now and remember my worth.

    He stuck it out with me for so long and it is unbearable to think there are no more chances. We are very special to each other but I feel he has lost a sense of future with me and is only remembering the bad things. I adore this man, and he has been so patient, accepting, and gentle when not stonewalling. Please help me?

    • Oh Heck, Anna

      In the throws of being in Mexico for two weeks I missplaced the notification of your posting and haven’t gotten back to you. I’m so sorry. I imagine that things have changed quite a bit in the past 3-4 weeks.

      The best help I can give is my belief that your love and patience are designed to work through all this. I believe “the arguing” and the “stonewalling” is meant to happen in a great relationship and they are not meant to go on forever. They stop when you learn the new (probably to you) new skills that make them a thing of the past.

      In my reading of your post, I see all the dynamics of my Map of Relationship. And in your troubles I see the two issues I mentioned in that Map that are most common between fighting-lovers. I wrote about this in a part of the essay on the Map – 5 common problems. See if the first two don’t fit for you.

      Anyway, good luck on getting out of the Power Struggle and into what I call the University of Life. You deserve it.

  4. Hello Al,

    Your website is such a mine of deep and practical information that I can’t help but think that, did I stumbled upon it a couple of months ago, my relationship would have, certainly, been saved. I notice your last answer dates back to January this year. I hope you will have a moment for me.

    I in fact don’t know where to start as this will be my perspective, very probably biased.

    Anyways, I am 36 and my ex-wife (this I called her at the peak of our relationship, we’re not married) is 42. We’ve been together for 4 years and she left me a month and half ago.

    The apparent event
    About 2 months ago we decided to spend the weekend in the city where I work. It is 5h30 hours away and I do a stint there once a week, on Fridays, and I return the same day late at night. On our way back home, we stopped at those rest areas along the highway. I was very tired that day and at some point was even lacking clarity. Once my ex parked I opened the door on my side and it scratched the car next to us. The mark was insignificant to the extent that the other driver barely complained. I apologize and we left but my ex who owns the car would be very angry at me; she would talk to me as a mother would to her son. At least this is how I felt. I would ask her to calm down since nothing happened but she would continue on and on. I then completely shut down and remain for the 3hours or so that we had to get home.

    We will then give each other the cold shoulder for about 2 weeks. At some point, one morning, she would ask if I am ever offering any excuses or gratification for what happened. To which I responded, that I also had some reason to ask for excuse but I’m not doing it since a long time ago, early in the relationship she’d say that in love there is no apology. Anyway, after that 2weeks period, I’d ask for us to talk it over. I told her that we need to find a solution for all the fights that we keep having, that we can’t continue like this, that we’re running out of time (this in reference to our trying to get her pregnant), that what she thinks of this. She told me: that we split up. I was taken aback and responded: when are you leaving? She replied: tomorrow. And tomorrow, she did leave. Picking up all her stuff as if she had planned a long time ago.

    The morning of her leaving, I tried to persuade her. That I have actually left another city to join her in the city where we were leaving, that we were planning about having a baby, etc. She said: I am not happy. I told her: everything i can give you is my love. To which she answers: love is not enough. I asked: I want you to stay so we can fix this. Her: I can’t. Me: you can’t or you’re not willing? Her: both. That was the last words that we shared before I left the apartment for some grocery shopping, and her packing ALL her stuff – except 2 drawers. At some point I came back to the apartment, she was carrying some bags and when she saw me in the hallway, she turned around preferring not to take the elevator but the other building door. She was clearly mad at me.

    I have been no contact for 2 months and half now, but I have a hard time realizing that we would end this relationship that way.

    A bit of context
    We’ve fight in the past. A lot. A lot of arguing. My observation is that she is resentful in general. It stems from her relationship right before me where the guy abused her. She also grew up in a family that is divided. She always says she wasn’t desired as a baby. She resents her mom for not loving her and for divorcing her dad. She resents her older sister for monopolizing her mom’s love. She resents the universe, I believe, for her dad who died of cancer. She has a daughter who is 23 and with who she happens to have some fights with sometimes, although I think she loves her more than anybody and anything.

    She can be jealous even of me. She always says that I am very lucky because of my family, my education, etc.
    Anyways, she’s very independent and I would think she is an avoider. Although she can be very affectionate, which troubles me sometimes. In fact, I tended to give her space as I believe I was able to sense her way of being, but it turns out I gave her too much space, to the extent that she would complain about not spending a lot of time together, etc.

    As for me, I think I am an original clinger who now behaves like an avoider. I started very needy in the beginning of the relationship but with time decided that I would give her space. Which comes back to me as too much space, which confuses me. To the point I didn’t know how to do anymore.

    We have moved together this past July in an apartment that she selected herself. We’ve spent 3 months overall, and at some point she wanted us to leave because she didn’t like it. I told her let’s stay in there so we can save money and when we leave it would be to buy an apartment or a house. She would keep complaining to a point when we were in a mall in Sept. when she brought the leaving-the-apartment again, to which I kept my position. She would leave me at the mall and get back home alone. Which is when I started to think that the situation was getting bad.

    My analysis
    She is tired of me not listening to her / or not doing as she wishes, and specifically her desire for us to leave the apartment. Which I don’t understand since she is the one who chose that very apartment.

    Or her not being happy is a way to tell me that she met someone else. Which is possible but unlikely, I like to believe, since she is not the type. But who knows?

    Or she thinks the relationship is not worthy of fighting for, and has decided to spend her life as she wishes without me.

    My decision so far
    A no-contact for 2 months and a half now. She left with the keys to the mailbox: she comes once a week and slips my mails under the apartment door. I still have some stuff that we left in her condo in the city where we both lived before we got in this new city. So I plan to reach out to her this spring to get my stuff.

    But the thing is I love her so much, been projecting us with 1 kid or 2 but at the same time, the day she left she told me she doesn’t think we will change, which in women parlance means she doesn’t think I will change.

    I know our personalities are in conflict but she is kind of a poison that I need. I know it is strong of a word but her issues is everything that makes me love her even more. I feel like because I love her, I have to help her get rid of all this resentment that undermines her life so we could be happy for real.

    Sorry Al, a very long text from a guy who is pretty much lost.
    Thank you for your help.

    • Bro, this has been my life for 8 years. Move on. Its hard I know. I am also a clinger type who compensates by acting as if I dont care….
      You cannot change her, Only yourself.

  5. Hello Al

    This is my first attempt at speaking with someone outside of my family, because if they knew the truth of it all, the shame I would feel would become overwhelmingly intense. My husband and I have been together for 8 years. 3 of those years we have been legally married. Our story of us is an amazing one, I think. We went to school together and although we knew of each other, we were not in the same crowd. We ran into each other in 09 at a small gas station in the town we grew up in. We talked and then with in 2 weeks we were monogamous. Every day was wonderful to say the least. I had been through years of heartache from previous relationships and a single working Mother to two kids. We dated a while before I introduced him to my kids, bc I did not think it would be healthy for my kids to meet someone that would not be sticking around. Needless to say we all clicked perfectly. He was the Dad I longed for my kids to have. Extremely dependable, loving, caring, compassionate, and made it a point to be involved in everything that we did. Sometimes I felt that this was too good to be true because I had never had a man in my life that made me feel like I was worthy. It was real though, all of it. We were together every single day and never got tired of each other. It was unbelievable how happy we were and that we became this perfect little family. There was a downfall however, he indulged in smoking pot. I’m not one of those people who feel that it’s an evil drug and shame on them. As long as my kids were never exposed to it and he kept it away from my home I never had a problem with it. He was always really laid back, enjoyed playing with the kids and I. When I say that it was unbelievable how happy we were, it’s true. I never ever had any man make me so happy and feel so secure. His habit started to become extreme in which it was before everything he had to smoke. I started to feel as though I was having to compete over it and also felt that I was losing our connection. In doing so, so started smoking pot just to try and compensate for what I was feeling because if I ever tried to talk with him about it, he would say that I got with him knowing it’s what he does and I shouldn’t be asking him to stop. Of course this was really hard to hear because I felt like I was thrown back into time in which my self worth was questioned. I ended up just leaving it alone and stopped smoking on my own. I felt that I loved him so much and my kids adored him that I shouldn’t focus on that and just focus on all of the good things we have together. At one point he ended up slowing down and I became very proud of him. Over time the stresses of life increased and he diced back in to. Things were really hard all the way around. I had a surgery that required pain medication, at the time I didn’t think it was a big deal but started to become addicted quickly. This of course caused more tension and he started doing them as well. This habit tore us apart for sure. But there’s also something else that I feel more or less added to why we are where we are now. My daughter is now 18. Her and my husband used to have an amazing relationship. She was closer with him that her own father. After she turned 16 her bio dad got her a car. I can understand her new found freedom and having a sense of being a young adult but it turned into hell for us as parents. She was caught numerous times with alcohol in her vehicle, grades were falling and then she started smoking pot. She became seriously disrespectful to me. Yelling throwing stuff you name it. My husband was great at putting her in her place and refusing to take her crap. It only got worse as the years passed. At one point she got into my husband’s face and bucked up to him. My husband is a big man. 6’3, around 180 lbs. Not a small man by any means. He has great patience but she finally pushed him to the edge. He never touched her but what I saw was frightening. I could tell he was at his limit. I feel that I failed as a Mother in expecting more from my child and disciplining her more and I can’t change that now. I’ve created this hole. He hates her and she hates him. He’s become so angry and unhappy and he has every right to feel that way. I should have done more bc of all that he has done for myself and my kids. Last week was the last straw for him and he left. I’m completely heart broken. I love this man with all my heart. Im so sorry that i didn’t do a better job at being his partner and wife. I know Its bc we both allowed an addiction to lose value in each other and our relationship and I don’t know how to fix that. I have started to wean myself off of what I was taking because I so am so determined to get us back on track. I don’t want to be what we were, I want us to be better than what we were. He has been living with his parents for a week now and has taken all of his things. I have tried to send him messages to tell him how sorry I am and to make sure he knows that I take the blame for what has happened but I also feel that he should accept that it’s both of us that caused this especially my daughter. I want to work on things and both of us change for the better. I know we were meant to be together forever. All of this has been an eye opening experience and made me realize that we both lost sight of what we once meant to each other. I have backed off and not sent anymore messages hoping .maybe he will try and reach out to me. He stated that he had fallen out of love with me. I don’t understand how that can happen if I was put through just as much turmoil as he has been through and I’m still willing to fight for us. Why didnt he try to tell me that he began starting to feel that way? If I had those concerns, I would at least tell him so he had the ability to communicate with me and us work on it together. I dont want to live my life without him. He’s everything my to me. My daughter has caused so much heart ache. I know if she wasn’t here we would be fine other than our own issues. I could really use some suggestions as to how to approach this besides having my friends advice. While I appreciate it greatly it can sometimes be biased bc they don’t want to say anything that will upset me, but I would rather have the honesty. Is there a chance for us to try and work on things or could this be the end?



    Ps.. sorry this is so long

    • Hi Jennifer. I haven’t read your whole post. Haven’t had time. But saw your comment on shame. Maybe you would prefer to email me rather than post your story for all to read. Besides I am on vacation and maybe can’t respond fluently. Mexico and all that. You spoke of shame. I posted your piece but can take it down and turn it into an email conversation. What would you prefer? Email me at al@alturtle.com.

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