When you start thinking about divorce, you can find yourself in a lonely place. Your spouse is probably the person who you would normally talk to when you’re facing a big decision or grappling with a serious problem, but if you’re in a space where you’re considering divorce, then there’s a good chance that your spouse is not filling the role of trusted confidant for you at the moment. You may be afraid of your spouse’s reaction to being told that you want a divorce. You may also be afraid of hurting your spouse – even if you don’t want to live with them anymore, that doesn’t mean that you don’t care about them. What’s the right way to let your spouse know that the marriage is over? Take a look at some tips for having this difficult conversation with your spouse.
Your personal safety is the first thing to consider. While most people won’t react violently to the news that their partner wants a divorce, it can’t be ignored that some do. If your spouse has been abusive in the past, if he or she has threatened violence in the past, or if you have any other reason to believe that your spouse might hurt you, themselves, or someone else, please take safety precautions before informing them of your intent to divorce.
Safety precautions can mean different things in different situations. It might mean having the divorce conversation in a public place, or in your therapist’s office. On the other hand, it might mean removing yourself from the house first, then contacting your spouse via phone, internet, mail, or through legal channels. While it might be preferable to have the divorce conversation face-to-face in a private place under ideal circumstances, don’t risk your safety if your circumstances are less than ideal. Be honest with yourself about your spouse’s history and temperament, and don’t take unnecessary risks.
If you’ve firmly decided on divorce, you’ve probably been ruminating on the idea for a while already. In your own mind, you may have already gone through the first few stages of grief over the end of your marriage. You’re in a different place, mentally and emotionally, than your spouse will be when you tell them for the first time that you want to get divorced.
Even if your spouse suspects that this conversation is coming – if you’ve been drifting apart for a while, if your relationship has been especially volatile lately, or if you’ve already been in marriage counseling or therapy for intractable problems in the marriage – hearing you actually say the words “I want a divorce” can be a huge emotional blow. You can – and should – be clear about what you want and whether you’re willing to consider another path forward, but it doesn’t cost you anything to say it as kindly as possible.
Whatever you do, don’t blurt it out in a heated moment or during an argument. Threatening divorce to shut down or win a fight is manipulative. It’s also unkind. Wait for a moment when both of you are calm. Acknowledge that what you’re saying will be hard for your spouse to hear. Try not to turn the discussion into an airing of grievances. Keep in mind that if nothing else, the process of divorce will go easier if you and your spouse can avoid turning it into a battle. Furthermore, if you and your spouse are parents, you’ll also want to remember that they’ll probably never be permanently out of your life, and you’ll need to find ways to work together in various situations as your children grow up. It’s best if you can try to salvage some type of civil relationship.
Keep Kids at a Distance
If you’re a parent, for the sake of both your spouse and your children, don’t spring the divorce discussion on your spouse in front of your kids. Even if you can’t arrange a time to talk to your spouse about divorce when the kids are out of the house, you can at least wait until they’re in bed.
When it’s time to tell your children about the divorce, you should tell them together with your spouse if that’s possible. Preferably, you’d decide together what to tell them, when to tell them, and how to reassure them and answer any questions they may have. It’s the first in a long line of decisions and discussions that you’ll be dealing with as co-parents, but not as a married couple. But even if it’s not possible for you and your spouse to work together on that conversation, the initial divorce conversations still shouldn’t happen in front of your kids. Even if one or the other of you must break the news to your children alone, that will still be less upsetting for them than announcing it to them and your spouse at the same time.
Don’t Wait Too Long
It’s fair if you need to take some time to really reflect on your feelings, consider your options, and even research your financial standing and possible legal strategies. But when you know that divorce is inevitable, don’t wait too long to talk to your spouse. It’s not fair to let your spouse go on thinking that things are fine – or at least fixable – when you know that not to be the case. It’s also not fair to yourself; putting off the divorce discussion is putting off the beginning of the rest of your life.
Discussions about divorce are difficult even in the abstract or in a hypothetical sense. They’re even more difficult when you’re discussing a definite plan to divorce in the near future. But putting off the discussion won’t make things any easier.
Understanding your legal options is important both before and after you have the divorce discussion with your spouse. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you understand your legal options and prepare yourself for divorce court without costing you a fortune.