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What to do when He/She Leaves? — 749 Comments

  1. I’m calling out into the cybervoid for help. Anyone have wisdom to share?

    My ex-husband had very critical parents and he is always afraid of doing something wrong (he has that fear with everyone, not just me). He and I have a pattern – he would do something that hurt me and I got upset and he would say stuff like ‘I shouldn’t be around people. All I do is hurt you’. Then he withdrew and would not talk to me about it at all. This kept getting worse because I got afraid to tell him when I was unhappy, since he would respond that way. Then it would build up until I got really upset and he was blindsided by it.

    He has had an affair. He left me when I figured it out. I broke down in tears on the floor and he just walked out the door and left me there. He won’t talk to me at all, about anything. Not even about the house we own together (good thing we don’t have kids). He is with her instead. I am almost certain that he has left me and won’t talk to me because he is consumed with guilt and shame. I think when he thinks of me, all he can think of is guilt and shame.

    I am afraid he will make a commitment to the other woman if I don’t act fast. He sees her as a relief from the guilt and shame he feels around me. I want to do the patience, the inviting, the gently listening like it’s written on the site. But is there something specific to do when someone feels too guilty and ashamed to even talk to you? I can’t be too patient because I need to solve it before things go too far with the other woman. I am deeply hurt but I believe we can repair the damage. How can I make him feel safe enough to talk to me about it?

    • Dear Friend, This sounds so familiar and so awful. Yep, pretty awful and normal and solvable, too. I am convinced that one of the purposes of a love relationship is to heal the damage done to each party. My guess is that “very critical parents” leave more or less open scars all over your husband, which of course match the open scars you carry yourself. And so, lots of work to get on with.

      My website is full of things to do about this. Top of mind for me is that you both have to learn to stop blaming each other for your feelings. Sandra and I put up a sign for five years (took that long to learn this) “No one can make anyone feel anything.” Someone foul in his family blamed him and he was too young to shake it off. He’s fortunately not too young anymore. Neither are you. He can’t hurt you. You can’t hurt him. Big lesson.

      I’d read the Map of Relationships and then follow the wisdom.

      Go slowly and be gentle to yourself and him.

      • Thank you for your wisdom! That is excellent advice if he will talk to me, but how can I make him feel that it is safe to talk to me in the first place? I need to find a way to reach out to him, to invite him to talk to me, that does not provoke the feelings of guilt and shame he has with me. Any ideas what I can say to him?
        I need to do it fast because his relationship is progressing with the other woman. I don’t have time to sit back and be patient and be available minimally because during that time he is forgetting about me and falling deeper in love with the other woman.

        • Hello Friend, (I have no name for you and that’s ok), Before I answer your question I wanna share two thoughts: good news and bad news. The gal he’s beginning to tangle with is his selection and will probably seem much easier to be with than you are. Easier cuz he doesn’t know her as well as he knows you. So he’s probably pretty unaware of what she’s like, and he can build up wonderful fantasies about how wonderful she is. As you “compete” with her at this point you are pretty much out of luck. He knows you and doesn’t know her. Apples and oranges. So you are working up stream. On the other hand the odds are as he get’s to know her she will come to appear pretty awful. Till one day, maybe months from now, he’ll be able to say that he can’t tell who is “worse.” This is just the way the partner selection process works. I’ve come to believe.

          So knowing that how do you compete, how do you make yourself into the one he chooses for the long run?

          The answer is pretty easy. Become the one who stands out as a partner who’s working hard on making things better. My belief is we don’t select a wonderful person, we select a familiar and troublesome person who is willing to grow and change – but who at first blush appears perfectly wonderful (Romantic Love).

          Just a guess, but start by looking at what things he complains about you or about himself. Build the commitment to “keep working until those things are something of the past only”. Based on what you’ve written to me “I’m going to study and learn until guilt and blame and arguing and judgmental, critical behavior are something you and and I leave behind. I’m going to keep at it.”

          Further thoughts suggest you can commit to become a “great listener” for the rest of his life. He won’t necessarily believe you, but you can prove it. I’m guessing that you talk too much and too fast (just a wild guess). If so you can practice shutting up, saying things briefly and becoming durably curious and above all patient.

          Just some thoughts. I could be wrong.

        • I think when I die, they will put on my tombstone “Great listener, died alone anyway.” It seems I can’t go a single day without someone telling me what a great listener I am. He even told me I was a great listener on the day he left me. He chose a woman who only talks about herself all the time, so I guess that’s what he wants?

          Being quiet and listening all the time has ruined everything. I’m quiet and listen every day, then every so often he catches me sobbing in the bedroom and realizes how sad I am that all the contact I have with other people is them talking and me listening. He gets guilty and miserable and withdraws, and I try harder to mask the pain to keep him comfortable.

          Being quiet and waiting and hoping has ruined everything. I need a different plan. I think he has learned that while I’m quiet, I’m swallowing pain and he blames himself and doesn’t know what to do. But every time I have tried to reach out and talk, he has blamed himself and withdrawn, so I always go back to being quiet and waiting. It has gone on like that for years.

          I’m so sorry for being difficult and contrary when you’re being so kind and helping me with your free time.

        • Wonderful. My guess was wrong and you spoke up to me to tell me how you are… different than my guess. Exactly what I would want. Thanks so much. You aren’t over talking and the problems are somewhere in what you are talking about, you two. Very interesting.

          First thought is that being quiet is dangerous. Remember I suggest you look at what he’s complaining about. Well, one thing he’s complaining about is you being quiet. (” every so often he catches me sobbing in the bedroom and realizes how sad I am that all the contact I have with other people is them talking and me listening.”) This kind of quiet come across as secretive which is the opposite of intimacy. This kind of quiet comes across as telling lies, and builds no trust. So I would ask how long in your life have you used silence or listening as a way of avoiding “conflict?”? Wow.

          Say more, please. Me interested. Reason I am focusing on you is that is something you can do something about. And my guess is he needs to see change in you to change his patterns. that’s good news.

        • Oh thank you thank you. It is wonderful to have someone focus on me and be interested. People always come to me with their problems but nobody ever asks about me.

          I don’t want to be quiet, but anytime I’m less than joyous, he blames himself. He gets miserable and withdraws. But I don’t know how to talk to him that I’m unhappy without him shutting down from guilt and shame that he has done something wrong. He says I’m the only one he can talk to and he always remarks that I know him so well, that I give the best presents, that I always know exactly what he needs. He said some of those things the day he left me, but it’s like it just fuels his guilt instead of helping him.

          I don’t know how to work on myself visibly because he is convinced the problem is him. I disagree, but that is what he believes. I’m wary about being available minimally because that kind of behavior is what caused the problem. I looked at the site about inviting, and that is always what I have done, but it does not give me a response.

          I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. I can’t talk to him without triggering his guilt, but staying quiet builds up his guilt even more.

        • Well, friend, that certainly seems like a rock-and-hardplace situation that deserves to be gotten rid of. And I am really glad you are reaching out to change it. Sounds as if your partner is doing the same thing. If you’ve read my Map of Relationship you’ll recognize this as one typical ending of the Power Struggle. I don’t think of it as the most common, but still a very interesting one.

          At this point I believe the thing to do is to teach both of you about Boundaries, and since I’ve got you in front of me that means teach you and not worry about him for the moment. But even for that I can share the critical things I learned. Guilt/Blame are a trap often passed on by parents and you two have to get out of the trap. His behavior is never your fault and your behavior is never his fault. I suggest you devour these essays and put the signs up where you can see them many times a day.

          And because you are the “listener” who really misses having someone listen to you, I strongly suggest you find a counselor somewhere nearby who specializes in CoDependency. As you call around, tell em Al says so – CoDependency. And tell your husband all about this, maybe in little bits at a time. You can always say, “I’m working on this cuz I still can’t figure out which part of this mess is yours and which part is mine.” And you can tell your parents that you are working on figuring out which part of your troubles are your parts and which parts they taught you. (In my humble opinion you can charge them for the counselor.)

          So back to that curious question that you didn’t answer. How long in your life do you think you have been using “listening” as a way of avoiding “conflict?” I’m curious. Oh also how old your are, how long you’ve been with this guy, a name, etc. Oh, are there drugs/alcohol or powerfully active religion in your families.

          I’m just curious about you.

        • Kind and generous Friend, I can’t believe you’re curious about me. That is so rare and you have no idea how good that feels. I’m sorry I didn’t answer the question. That’s a bad habit I have, dodging questions and turning the focus to the other person. I guess I’ve been listening forever, but I don’t feel like I’m trying to avoid conflict. People talk and want to be heard, so isn’t it natural to listen?

          I’m almost 40 and he is 37. We are Amelia and Joseph. We have been together 6 years. No drugs or alcohol. I was raised religious but became atheist as an adult, which my parents are appalled by. He is not religious and not raised religious.

          I am on a waiting list for therapy, but I googled codependency and it says that a codependent person feels a need to always be in a relationship. I can’t imagine having that problem. Being around people is exhausting. They keep me up all night talking about their feelings but never ask about mine. They need favors all the time but never ask if I need anything. They want company all the time and never let me have a minute alone. Jo is a very rare exception, or at least he used to be. Codependents want to be liked? I hate being liked. Being liked means getting no peace. Lots of people like me and I wish most of them would stop liking me and leave me alone.

          Regarding the boundaries site, I don’t feel that anyone sets fire on my village. I feel like beggars keep knocking on the door asking for food. I wish I could dig a large moat and pull up the drawbridge, but I can’t because starving people are clawing at the door begging for food.

          The other link was interesting. When he felt guilty that he did something wrong, I always reassured him that it was fine and then resigned myself to not bringing it up again. Should I have gone the other way and validated his guilt? It seems counterintuitive to encourage him to feel guilty, but it is one thing I haven’t tried.

        • Hello Amelia, Hope things keep moving along. Grab up the wisdom I pass a long or you find anywhere.

          I don’t’ think you were born to listen. Had to learn that along the way. I do gather that in the past people, your caretakers, must have not listened to you to a critical degree. What’s that phrase, “Children should be listened to until they feel they are seen.” (Harville Hendrix) All about building self esteem.

          And the first part of Codependency are for me a weakness at saying, “No.” And my favorite definition is “an addiction to submitting to others.” Add that to my Boundary metaphor of the castle and and I see zombies attacking with their needs/their hunger. Ah well.

          Let me know how things go.

  2. Can I just say that I found it very helpful to use another tool I found on your site in this situation? Mirror and validate the fact that they want to leave. If you’re trying to talk with them and they don’t want to, or get counseling and they don’t want to, or delay moving out or filing divorce papers and they don’t want to, then mirror and validate that they don’t want to.

  3. I had a horrible breakup with a woman who I was seeing for more than 7 years. It was something sudden but rather a fading over 6 months that I tried very hard to avoid. Looking back on it, this was exactly the problem: My insecurities that I was doing something wrong that needed to be fixed.
    After the breakup, I tried very hard to contact her to try to get “closure” which is a laughable concept, because there is never any closure. The relationship just ran its course. But this is what is so hard for people to understand at that moment is that the absulte worst thing you can do is to try to get closure because that in fact pushes the other person ever farther away.
    So here I am three years later, feeling a bit embarrassed for what I did back then. Time does heal everything and I thank her for time and gift she gave me of getting to know myself better..
    If there is anything I can advice to people is that when she leaves, she has already made up her mind long time agon and there is no amount of bargaining, pleading or whatever that is going to change that. The best thing you can do is turn around, walk away and never look back, because it is not you but she who decided to end the relationship and you disagree with that decision.

  4. My husband of four years left two months ago. We come from broken homes and have our own issues. I thought we were working on them together. He feels he can’t trust me because I would lie smally out of fear and I feel he’s controlling. When we’re good we’re great but when we’re bad it’s hell. He stays at his mothers now yet everything is still here at our home, he doesn’t want anyone to know and tells me to show him I’ve changed but then tells me nothing will change his mind and then the next breath he wants nothing more than us to be a happy family again, raising our children and growing old together. I’m in therapy once a week and he swears he’s cured for all his issues. I try to be unavailable then he just shows up. Boundaries apparently don’t exist. In my gut I don’t feel we’re over. But I am painfully confused and don’t know how to go about this. I have been trying the four approaches above, am I doing this wrong?

    • It sounds, Meg, as if you are doing just right. Probably it’s just the beginning of your path of learning. Gotta rebuild trust, gotta learn how to deal with controlling, gotta learn how to deal with each person’s need for space within the relationship, gotta learn good Boundaries, etc. and all so that you can help those kids grow up well. I wouldn’t give up.

      Step one is the 4 steps you’re doing. Step two is that third step, work on yourself, and to learn those skills you didn’t learn before now. First thing I’d do next is read the Map of Relationships. Absorb it. It kinda lets you know where you are with him and helps you make better choices.

      Good luck and keep a going.

  5. If he doesn’t contact you, is there a good way to reach out to him without pressuring him?

    This is actually why we broke up. He never asks me to spend time with him. He says he needs me to ask him. He was always incredibly loving and affectionate when we were together, but he waited for me to suggest we meet every time. This made me feel insecure and we fought about it more and more. Then we had a big fight about it and he dumped me and he hasn’t spoken to me in two weeks. We have been talking to each other every day for 3 years, usually long and intimate conversations, so this is very painful.

    I scared him with my anger and he’s mad at me for not understanding that he is afraid to ask. I sent him an apology text the day after he dumped me, but he still hasn’t replied. If he doesn’t want to be with me, I will accept that, but I have to at least try and reach out. I just don’t know how to do that in a way that makes him feel safe and not pressured.

    • Ouch, Melanie, I hear your pain. Three years of good chatting. Well I’ve heard lots of relationships take about that long to get into the heavy lifting stuff.

      I sometimes think it takes that long to find the leading edge of what you don’t know and what you need to know. Well, my website is all about what people need to know.

      Read on, and ask questions as you go. It’s all about learning – and the painful stuff that forces you to learn.

      • Thank you, Al. I will do that. I see what you did there – validating and empathizing with my pain. Thank you, I appreciate it and it comforted me.

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