It’s hard to tell your spouse you want a divorce, but it’s even more difficult dealing with the reaction that follows this terrible news.
No matter how unhappy your marriage has been, it’s a shock to face the reality of divorce. Deciding to divorce is an important step so don’t make the decision when you are upset or angry. Do everything you could to fix your marriage first and make certain you really want the divorce before you tell your spouse. The reaction you get will depend on whether your spouse wants the divorce or would like to save your marriage.
What About Reconciliation?
Don’t be surprised if your spouse wants to give your marriage another chance for the sake of the children. If this happens, be clear about what you are willing to do. If you agree to marital counseling, make certain your spouse knows whether you are trying to fix your marriage or only working on post-divorce co-parenting. When your mind is made up and you definitely want out, don’t allow your spouse to believe you are willing to reconcile.
Everyone interprets what they hear in ways that protect their ego, so be clear about what you say to your spouse and how you say it. Don’t give your spouse false hope that the marriage can be saved if you definitely want a divorce. Misleading him or her will make things worse when your spouse learns later on you never seriously tried to save the marriage. Be careful about being affectionate or supportive after you say you want a divorce. Maintain a respectful physical distance so you won’t confuse him or her about your true feelings.
Things to Avoid.
After you tell your spouse you want a divorce, if he or she gets upset you may feel like saying, “don’t worry, I will take care of you and the kids after the divorce.” Avoid broad reassurance such as this because it creates unrealistic expectations. Instead, tell your spouse you want what’s best for your children after the divorce. Avoid settlement discussions immediately after you tell your spouse you want a divorce because that’s not a good time to negotiate. Focus on his or her feelings and practical arrangements about where you will live, how to share finances, and management of the children. Assure your spouse you will be reasonable and fair during the divorce, but don’t discuss a settlement at this time.
When Your Spouse Gets Angry.
Don’t be surprised if your spouse attacks you when you tell him or her you want a divorce. Think about how to handle your spouse’s anger beforehand. Don’t get defensive or argue if he or she attacks you. Instead, listen attentively because arguing with your spouse will make the situation worse. Give your spouse a chance to vent his or her emotions. When there’s a pause in the litany of things you have done wrong, calmly say “I hear you are angry and hurt and I understand how you feel. I intend to be fair with you and will try to avoid making the divorce harmful for us or the children. But, arguing isn’t productive.” Steer the conversation toward neutral topics and away from strong emotions. It’s also important to avoid blaming each other for the divorce.
The Blame Game.
If your spouse tells you that the divorce “is all your fault and you are a terrible person,” listen calmly and don’t argue with him or her. Blaming each other will escalate the conflict and get you both off track. Remind your spouse that you will have to negotiate difficult issues in the future and you intend to be fair and amicable throughout the divorce, but now is not the time to assign blame because that’s not constructive. Don’t engage in blaming–instead, simply remind your spouse you want a divorce, you won’t change your mind, you intend to be amicable, and you don’t want to fight with him or her. Let your spouse know you are not interested in who is at fault. Give your spouse time to think about what has happened and suggest you both take time to calm down before any more discussion.
Discovering your spouse wants a divorce is devastating to a person’s self-worth and sense of security. He or she will likely feel frightened, may strike out in anger, and blame you for the divorce. It’s essential to avoid getting defensive, arguing with your spouse, or engaging in blame because none of these things is productive. Instead, focus the discussion on taking care of your children, the future, and your intention to be fair and reasonable about the divorce. Finally, call a collaborative attorney to help you through this difficult process with professional guidance and less damage to your family and finances.