Telling your spouse you want a divorce is something you should plan for; here are some tips on how to prepare and what to say.
If you have decided that divorcing is the best option for you, your next step should be to tell your spouse of your decision. Although the both of you may have discussed divorce as an abstract idea in the past, saying “I want a divorce” makes the situation real for both of you, and starts you and your spouse down a path that will eventually lead you to a final divorce. How you manage this conversation may well determine whether the divorce process is relatively smooth and free from drama, or a long series of battles that exhaust you physically, emotionally and financially. You will give yourself and your spouse the best shot at a peaceful process if you put some careful thought into how to have this discussion before you jump in with both feet.
You want to be clear in your intentions, but you also want to be as kind as you can. You want to deliver your message in a way that will assure that the message is received, but not in a way that will cause unnecessary hurt and anger.
You should initiate the conversation when you feel you are emotionally strong enough to manage your spouse’s reaction and your response to his or her reaction.
Consider the timing and setting
Your spouse should be the first person among your family and friends to know that you want a divorce. If you have shared this information with others, your spouse could hear of your wishes from someone else. This can add public humiliation to the resentment and anger that your spouse will experience upon hearing that his or her marriage is ending, and make the prospect of a smooth transition to divorce more difficult.
As people like to be out of the public eye when they’re feeling strong emotions, a private place – one that is free from either good or bad memories – is the preferred setting. Make arrangements for your children to be cared for elsewhere so you can avoid being interrupted at an awkward time. Avoid making this announcement on or around a special occasion to avoid turning little Johnny’s birthday into “the day my mom moved out.”
However, if you fear that you spouse may react violently to the news about the divorce, choose a public place like a park or a coffee shop for the conversation. If you worry that your spouse might engage in self-destructive behavior, you might want to consult with a mental health professional for advice about your situation before you have this talk with your spouse.
If you are engaged in marriage counseling or joint therapy with your spouse, consider telling your spouse of your intention to divorce during a counseling session. In a private session with your counselor, you can plan what you will say and how it will be said. Then, when you’re all together, the counselor can guide you through the conversation and help you get back on track if you veer off your original path. A counselor can also help you and your spouse deal with the strong emotions you are both likely to experience. One approach might be for both of you to be with the counselor for the first half of the session, then the counselor and your spouse can have the second half without you to process the message that you delivered.
Even if you don’t arrange for a structured, time-limited meeting in a therapist’s office, consider creating a situation where there is a designated end time. Your goal is to deliver the message that you want a divorce with as little drama as possible. Having an exit strategy will help.
In my next article, I’ll talk about how to deal with the range of reactions that might come from saying out loud that you want a divorce.
About the author: Jennifer Tull is an Austin-based divorce lawyer who specializes in collaborative law.