7 Steps to Overcome the Pain of Rejection When a Partner Leaves

Person with long hair has head bent over knees, holding up wedding ring and cryingOur first therapy session began …

The day I found her text on my husband’s phone is a day I will never forget. My whole life changed in an instant. I was stunned and in disbelief. I thought, “Is this really happening to me?”

I read it again. She wrote, “I love you more than ever. Can’t wait until we are together again.”

My heart began pounding like it was going to explode. I felt like someone punched me in the gut. My mind began racing: “Who is this woman? Why is she texting my husband that she loves him? Would he really cheat? We’ve been together for 17 years. I thought we were happy.” 

I called him. He immediately came home from work. He’d accidentally left his phone at home that morning. When he arrived, he couldn’t look me in the eye. He said, “I didn’t mean for you to find out like this.”

I responded, “You didn’t mean for me to find out what?”

He said, “That I’m leaving. I love you, but I’m not in love with you anymore.”

My thoughts started reeling. His words got stuck in my head: “I’m not in love with you anymore.” They went around and around and wouldn’t stop.

“When did this happen?” I asked.

“I haven’t been happy for a few years,” he replied. “You were so focused on the kids. I felt alone.”

“I was so focused on the kids?” I snapped back in exasperation. “Yes, I was! Isn’t that what I was supposed to be doing?”

“I just don’t have those feelings for you anymore,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

The rejection people feel when a partner leaves for someone else can be daunting. Not only do they feel the loss, the hurt, and the emptiness, they have to deal with the knowledge they have been “replaced.” No matter how you slice it, the message is: “You are no longer good enough. I’ve found someone better.”

I burst into tears. The pain pierced my heart. I could hardly breathe. The pain was excruciating. I felt shattered into a million pieces. My life would never be the same.

Over the next few weeks, we talked and we cried. I went from feeling anger and hatred toward him to feeling like I couldn’t live without him. I asked him to stay and get counseling. No matter what I said, his mind was made up.

I asked about the other woman. She was someone he worked with, of course. They took business trips together. He said she was in an “unhappy marriage” too. They had been having an affair for almost a year.

The day he moved out was horrendous. The kids were a mess. He promised he’d still be there for them.

It’s been a year, yet it feels like it happened yesterday. I still feel so rejected.

The only time my mind rests is when I’m busy with the kids or at work. I’ve asked myself a thousand times, “Why wasn’t I good enough? What did I do wrong? What could I have done to make him stay? What does she have that I don’t have? What’s wrong with me?”

“Is she prettier, sexier, more interesting, more fun? Of course she is. She’s new. She hasn’t had kids. They don’t live together. She doesn’t do his laundry. They don’t have to deal with children and carpools. He’s known her for one year. We were married for 17 years. Maybe he just got tired of me and our life together.”

The rejection people feel when a partner leaves for someone else can be daunting. Not only do they feel the loss, the hurt, and the emptiness, they have to deal with the knowledge they have been “replaced.” No matter how you slice it, the message is: “You are no longer good enough. I’ve found someone better.”

When a partner leaves, the first few weeks can be extremely painful. People respond by not eating, not sleeping, crying, withdrawing, and generally feeling like the bottom has dropped out. They may have a sense of unreality, like they are a character in a play. There is denial and disbelief.

Often, the worst part is going to bed. The mind wanders to the place where the pain of rejection dwells. It’s hard to escape. The thoughts keep coming. When sleep finally arrives, it is fitful. Waking up in the morning is no better. It’s a new day and the pain starts all over again.

How does a person recover from and overcome the enormous pain of being rejected in one of the most important areas of life? Here are seven steps that may help you heal from the devastation of being rejected by a partner.

  1. Feel the feelings. Allow yourself to experience them. Don’t try to hide from them or push them away. Let them come. Feel them. Let them out. You may worry they will never stop, but remind yourself it will get better. No matter how hard we cry, at some point we stop.
  2. Understand you will go through the stages of grief. The loss of a relationship is like a death. Feelings of disbelief, shock, anger, hurt, bargaining, sadness, fear, and depression are normal. When a partner leaves for someone else, the grief can become even more complicated. The loss occurs, but the person is still there. They made a purposeful decision to leave. Acknowledge your feelings, journal about them, and soothe them.
  3. Think of your pain like a wave. There will be times where, for a brief period, you may “forget” about it—and then it will hit you all over again. If you fight the feeling and try to push it away, it will grip you harder. Imagine yourself diving into the emotional wave. Let it come, observe it, and allow it to wash over you. Let it go.
  4. Gather your support system around you. You may feel like withdrawing. You may have little energy for others. You may want to stay in bed. Reach out to others anyway. Allow people to be there for you. Let them listen. One day, you may have the opportunity to give that back. Let them provide comfort.
  5. Stop the self-blame. It’s natural to turn the blame on yourself and ask what you did wrong, why you weren’t good enough. Remember it is not your fault. It takes two people to make a relationship work and only one to end it. You can invite a partner to go to therapy with you, but they have to make the choice to participate. Partners leave for many reasons. It may have more to do with their baggage than what happened in your relationship.
  6. Practice self-care. Try to eat well and get enough rest. Take a walk. Do things that help you relax—meditation, relaxation techniques, changing negative thoughts, prayer. It’s a time to find your “self” again. Be kind to yourself. Spend time around people who love you.
  7. Find a therapist who can help. The journey of recovery after a partner leaves takes time, support, and patience. If you are struggling with the loss of a partner, consider contacting a therapist. We are here to support you through crises like this and will help you overcome the pain of rejection.

“The loss of love is not nearly as painful as our resistance to accepting it is.” —Tigress Luv

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori W. Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Daryl

    April 16th, 2018 at 6:21 PM

    I agree with these steps accept when mentioning ‘prayer’. Really? Which imaginary god should we be praying to? That’s a terrible a piece of advise

  • Diane

    April 17th, 2018 at 11:07 AM

    Daryl- I am sickened by your obvious lack of focus on the subjec. But rather choose to pick out ONE word “PRAYER” (which many find great strength in) to seemingly discredit the article, the writer, our higher power (whichever beliefs we follow). I hope you aren’t looking for 👍 from anyone reading this. As this may be when they need something stronger than themselves to believe in somewhere to channel their energy. I wish you luck and I’ll pray for you

  • Lori Hollander

    April 18th, 2018 at 1:29 PM

    Hi Diane, I can see that the comment about religion struck a nerve for you. Hope the article was helpful. Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    April 18th, 2018 at 1:27 PM

    Daryl, I hear you, that religion is not one of your “go to’s” in times of crisis. For others, it is the very thing they rely upon to get support. Glad the other parts of the article were helpful. Lori

  • Judith3

    April 18th, 2018 at 11:45 AM

    Why is it so hard to feel the feelings? :(

  • Lori Hollander

    April 18th, 2018 at 1:34 PM

    Judith, I don’t know your specific circumstance; but generally it’s hard to “feel the feelings” because we become locked up inside ourselves, experience a sense of disconnection and isolation from the world. We are wired as humans to feel best when we are “connected,” with a partner, and/or other family and friends that care about us. When people feel deep emotional pain, they often withdraw and that makes it worse. Lori

  • akisha t.

    April 19th, 2018 at 8:35 PM

    Prayer helps. Giving yourself daily affirmations help as well. Abandonment is a real issue that is triggered in many circumstances. I noticed that when I’m in a certain place, I’m triggered. When I leave, I fine. It’s not my place of employment so I really don’t have to be there. Should i continue to go; what about flight/fight response? I feel it’s best to avoid this place but I don’t wanna run away.

  • Lori Hollander

    June 11th, 2018 at 3:51 PM

    Hi Akisha, If you don’t need to go to the place that triggers you, I wouldn’t go. Your job is to heal and if you keep ripping the scab off at this point, it just stays open. You aren’t “running” from this. You are choosing to give yourself time and space to keep your fight/flight as calm as possible. Best wishes, Lori

  • Stef

    June 9th, 2018 at 4:46 AM

    This is almost the same exact experience I’m going thru. It is very difficult for me to get out of bed and function. I have two young children and I try my best to hide my pain from them.

  • Lori Hollander

    June 11th, 2018 at 4:55 PM

    Hi Stef, So sorry for your pain. In the beginning, it is extremely hard to function. Many people describe feeling like they were “punched in the gut,” “had the wind knocked out of them.” A lot of my clients say they feel a heaviness, as if they are carrying 1000 pounds of weight around. It is very difficult to keep functioning, yet having the kids gives you a reason to get out of bed and keep on. At times when you can’t hide the pain from them, explain to them that just like them, moms get sad sometimes and cry too. That it’s ok to cry when you are sad. And that you will feel happier again. I hope that is helpful. It takes time to grieve the loss. I would recommend seeing a therapist if the sadness doesn’t seem to be decreasing in it’s frequency/intensity over the course of a couple weeks. Take care, Lori

  • Lukas

    October 10th, 2018 at 3:38 AM

    This was very helpful to read. Some humans are able to cope with the loss better than others. I was not married to my partner or have children with them yet in my heart it is still hurting very badly and it has been over two years. Thanks for the well written advice, I’m sure many people out there are in the same boat and could really use the advice. Danke schön again.

  • Stephen P.

    August 9th, 2019 at 12:34 PM

    Hello from New Zealand. My partner and fiance has just announced our break up after 6 of the most incredible years. Unbelievable she offered no reason other than a loss of feelings for me and for generally everything. Is it Anhodenia? She says she is on a necessary spiritual journey after a womens retreat she attended dealing with deeply buried family issues. We are both 56 and have been very very happy together with all the adventurous plans in the world to fulfil. I am shocked, disillusioned and devasted by the sudden and quiet loss of the future we planned. This included sailing the world on the yacht I live on. She says I gave her a world she didn’t know existed. Now she has suddenly rejected it. I saw her light go off. She says she doesn’t. She says she wants to remain friends which I am healthily skeptical of but I don’t want to lose her completely from my life. In fact, I’d like it to return to as it has been. I am still ‘in love’ with her. Everything says about cutting the connection I kind of understand, however my love and friendship for her also makes me want to be there to help her, to be there for her. She is not well. If it was a disease or an accident I would be there for her. After a couple of months of her being disconnected and rejecting me I pleaded that she tell me what and why this has happened. She finally called it yesterday at my insistence that she speak her truth. Now suddenly I feel a profound loss. The finality worse I think than the dwindling hope I held before yestarday. Some of her reasons felt ridiculous and certainly not deal breakers in any good strong relationship which I’m sure we both felt we had. Her adult daughter and Grandson are just as devastated for us. I don’t want to cut them all out of my life. They are my new family. I am stuck thinking, in this early stage I want her back, want her to be happy. I realise that may not happen. In time if she is gone I will be OK again, we were both single for a long time before and it suited us. My emotional dilemma is between saving my own heart and self at this stage and cutting contact, decluttering my home of all her beautiful things as goes the advise. But because I still love her, being there for her to help her through this very dark time in the hope she will return. I gave her my commitment when we got engaged 5 years ago While she now gives every intention of us no longer being together on this path though remaining friends I do not know what part I should now play in her life and her in mine? Please help as I can see two futures, but is one just memories of a happy past masquerading as the future she suddenly didn’t want. I don’t know what to be either for her or for me now?

  • Lawrence

    November 21st, 2019 at 7:06 PM

    Thanks for sharing Stephen. I can resonate with a lot of your feelings. I am sorry for your loss and the troubles you faced. I lost my lover and best friend, during the very best years of our marriage. She was not honest, I think, about her happyiness. She left me for another man. Blamed me for everything…I was devastated. I fought a solid 3 years to make it work, I went to counselling to become a “better man”…most of it was pretty good, I learned to listen better, understand her pain better, and sincerely enjoyed serving her and my family through that rough time….but it was never enough and the last fight, over the stupidest thing, pushed us apart. We have now been separated for 1 year. I found out during the 3 years she almost left her kids for this man who ended up rejecting her. I appreciated the times she was honest and was moved to love and cherish her anyway. I am still working on my identity, growing personally, and being a good father to our 3 kids. I cant say I would have done it differently, I learned later she left the marriage emotionally a long time ago but could never bring herself to leave physically. When she did leave, instead of letting go, I kept hold of only the good, and only focused harder on the good and how to be a loyal loving husband. I dreamed of growing old with her. I was not willing to let go of my dreams. Reality is, the hatred she has for me now is the same as it always was…I feel immense rejection for all my attempts to love her unconditionally and her alone being pushed aside. It is not easy for me to realize, the love has never reciprocated, I will always hold on to the good memories of her, but now I will balance those with the bad memories too…..I hope you have grown since and are living with hope and a bright future Stephen.

  • Kristin

    January 5th, 2020 at 11:52 AM

    My situation is a little different but many of the emotions are the same. I have been with my spouse for 20 years. When we first got together i was 21, he was 36. The age difference honestly has never been a factor at all for us especially in our day to day interactions, conversations, thoughts, expecations etc (event now) until a few years in he really wanted to have kids. My career was really getting going and I told him i wasn’t ready and wanted more time. Looking back I probably didn’t express it as clearly nor did we lay out a plan of when. Time passed…and passed and now i am 39 and 54. We both want kids but feel like i really dropped the ball and life got ahead of us…time got away from us. I want kids, he wants kids but it hasn’t happened on it’s own. He feels i have not tried hard enough. Looking back i can say he’s right but i can’t convince him i truly want kids. He feels like i lied to him and i should have “told him the truth” years ago. He says if i had told him in the beginning that i didn’t want kids (not true but i can see how over so many years, conversations, tears, arguments etc it can look that way) he would have walked away and ended the relationship to find someone that did. That cuts deep. That hurts. Life can really suck some times and I don’t know how to get through to him or show him…make him believe me that i wasn’t leading him on. I feel helpless but not saying anything makes things worse. When we take this topic and shove it down and don’t talk about it or think about it our relationship is good. We laugh, we connect but this is a big problem and i feel helpless to resolve it. I would consider him my best friend and he says the same but i have really hurt him deeply. he feels rejected. It doesn’t help that in his previous marriage there were no kids either but because that relationship was toxic. He feels i have stomped on his manhood and that he doesn’t have a purpose in life…that has humans we have a purpose to procreate and keep a lineage going, have family, have memories. I agree with him. I think i was young, naive and looking for some fairytale…”the clock ticking”, maternal impulses tugging at my heart every time i saw a child, some sign that the time was right. I feel so stupid that i didn’t have faith in us that we could make it work with two crazy jobs, not enough time in day and never enough money. All around me i see people who work too much, don’t have enough time and dont have enough money but they have happy thriving families. Yeah they have challenges and struggles too. I think i was looking for some idealism that just doesn’t exist and in the process of trying to be heathier to have a baby, thinner to have a baby, more financially sound to have a baby, work less hours to be a better parent the years just went flying by and i’ve pushed him away as a consequence. I dont want to loose him but i feel like i already have and i am so lost. I feel like in order for us to move on and start healing from this situation i need to tell him “you are right, i lied, i never wanted to have kids” although that is entirely false. I have to be true to myself and what i was feeling, thinking etc. but i don’t want this to eat at him anymore. i would gladly say what he wants to hear in order for us to heal if it thought everything would go back to normal — fun, laughter etc and no rejection but i feel like we are so far past being able to solve this. I dont think me saying those words would actually help but i dont know how to make him understand. I feel so helpless. On the opposite side of our relationship, we own a business together, a house. walking away at this point seems like impossible and i don’t believe it is what either of us really want but we need to come to some resolve on this. it’s killing us and i just feel so helpless. This year my husband is turning the same age as when his dad died so i know that is one of the things that he is struggling with too. I dont feel like i can talk to my family about this as they will take sides and I don’t need any animosity created.

  • Nobody

    September 24th, 2020 at 4:33 AM

    Kristin –
    You explained it well in your paragraph here. Have you presented this to him?

  • Lily

    November 7th, 2020 at 7:40 AM

    My experience is quite painful, am a single lady, my man rejected me whilst pregnant, and this has really broken me

  • Maryann

    February 16th, 2021 at 5:56 PM

    Daryl, just because you might not believe in God, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a God. Don’t be rude to those who know that He exists. Thanks.

  • Maryann

    February 16th, 2021 at 6:11 PM

    I am going through this very thing as of right now. Feeling the feelings is super difficult, because the experience of feeling them, letting them go through my body, is super uncomfortable. It is quite painful. I’d rather have someone hit my arm with a shovel, or endure some sort of physical pain, than to feel this awful emotional discomfort/pain. I have an enormously high physical pain tolerance, but when it comes to my heart getting hurt, no thank you(especially when it is intentionally done by someone who I thought I could trust). Getting back up again and being even stronger, is vital, especially when it seems impossible. Most times, the person who says, “I am just not in love with you anymore”, is the one with the major issues, problems and unsolved, deep-rooted crap. What I hear when I hear that sad excuse is, “I don’t even love myself, so how can I love you?” So, let them go. Let them move on to the next person, who they won’t be able to have any kind of love for, either, while you use your solid, loyal heart on someone who can and will accept it and will reciprocate. It will be lovely.

  • bev

    March 10th, 2021 at 9:07 PM

    been married for 43 years how do i cope with him not here he cheated on me 20 years and wouldnt leave

  • Robin

    September 13th, 2021 at 9:27 AM

    How can I let my boyfriend continue to live with me in my bed after 3 years of a relationship? I now realize that he just wanted someone to do his laundry, cook his meals, help him clean up, fix his place and regular sex. Few weeks after my mother died and I was diagnosed with a prolapsed uterus, he tells me that he wants a friendship. This means no sex until I get fixed. I’m not sure how to deal with this… I feel hurt and betrayed…

  • solomon

    September 28th, 2021 at 12:11 PM

    It’s hard and shameful to be rejected in a relation that you had put all your trust on. Like it happened to me but your advice is opening my eyes to see beyond my sight

  • euphamia

    December 31st, 2021 at 1:29 PM


  • ZZZ

    March 28th, 2022 at 2:59 PM

    Though I sympathize with the woman in the story, she made one mistake. Your marriage comes first. Dead stop. Let it sink in.
    My grandmother had 4 kids. She was happily married to my grandfather for over 50 years. Her secret? “My husband comes first.” Really, it is that simple. The children have a place, but they too will suffer if their needs are elevated above the marriage. I know people don’t care to hear that, but none of those critics will ever be happily married for 50 years. By neglecting your husband, you opened a door that should have remained closed. It is your job to make sure that door stays closed. If you refuse your spouse and put them off, you might as well kick it wide open and invite the whole town in. If you do not prioritize your marriage FIRST and FOREMOST above all other things, don’t act surprised when it vanishes. While I feel for her, she needed to take care of this before it got anywhere near this stage.

  • Arlene

    April 2nd, 2022 at 9:42 AM

    My husband walked out the door two weeks after I followed him to his mistresses house. We shouted at each other and I sobbed and sobbed. I went for a run at dusk and when I got back he was gone that was it. He moved in with her and they got a new house together recently. I only sued for divorce six months later thinking it was a midlife crisis as I begged for him back which was degrading in retrospect but at least I can say I tried. She was married several times before so he got lots of advice and simply removed himself from my life as if the 22 years meant nothing. I have three daughters at university who took it very badly and they are now involved with her like a stepmother which added to the hurt as I felt excluded so it all happened very quickly and intensified the pain. He just left and I sent desperate messages and felt pain like I have never experienced before I felt like I could die from a broken heart. I gave my life to my husband who was a heart patient and family and to be alone and left out was terrible. What made it worse was she was part of his friendship circle and I also got rejected by them as well I can say to the author above you can give both to your family and spouse and be left high and dry so being a good mother does not make you a bad wife in fact the biggest gift is to love your children’s mother. I found a therapist although I initially resisted this and started going back to extreme running races but after 10 months it still hurts like hell. My faith kept me going and I made many new girlfriends along the way. Someone my husband knows who got divorced told me in the supermarket to surround myself with people who care for me, be good to myself and not rush in to something new which I definitely could not do anyway. I hope everyone else that is rejected and hurting after years of being faithful and good also finds healing and peace you are not alone. Remember love hurts if it did not you never truely loved them but if they throw you out they have lost what is actually good from their lives so it is ultimately their loss…

  • Prudence

    November 11th, 2022 at 7:36 AM

    I’m always rejected in relationships no matter what I do for the relationship to be successful, right now I feel very lonely. I cry a lot & I snap for very small things

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