Making the decision to divorce is never easy, and it’s a decision that usually comes after much deliberation. When you feel you’ve exhausted your options to salvage your relationship, you may wonder how to break the news to your spouse. With the decision often comes a mix of emotions including fear, shame, guilt and even sadness, and a feeling of hope that life will be improved for both parties on the other side.
Once you’ve made the decision to pursue divorce, the next step is to inform your spouse.
How to Approach the Topic of Divorce
There are a variety of ways you can choose to break the news. If possible, talk with your spouse in person, in a calm, honest, and direct way. While intimidating, this approach sets the tone for a healthy divorce process and future.
However you choose to proceed, following are a few tips for how to broach the subject with sensitivity, wisdom and compassion.
1. Do not idly threaten divorce or fling it at your spouse in the midst of a heated argument. Make sure you are committed to this decision, and are behaving logically, not emotionally. This decision should be made with care and thoughtful intention, ideally, after an honest attempt to work things out has been made.
For many couples, the “divorce” word can be a turning point in the marriage that is difficult to recover from. While you may not be certain that divorce is the right path to take, if you’re thinking seriously about it, it’s likely that something is inherently wrong with your relationship.
2. Prepare Yourself Ahead of Time: Before you bring up the topic with your spouse, it’s wise to spend some time thinking through your reasons for wanting a divorce. Working with a therapist can help you sort through your feelings and help you make decisions for your future. Working with a mediator can help you understand your rights and options, helping you plan and make informed decisions.
3. Avoid telling too many people before you talk with your spouse. It can be challenging to contain this information, but you want to make sure you share this news, and it doesn’t inadvertently reach your spouse. Similarly, it is very important to keep any written material or documentation regarding your thoughts or research of divorce confidential and privately safeguarded. For your spouse to accidentally discover the news or hear it from someone else sets a confrontational tone.
4. Write out and practice aloud or role-play how you want to deliver the news. This is a great time to involve a coach. When you’ve worked diligently to save your marriage, deciding that divorce is the appropriate next step may feel like giving up. Divorce isn’t a defeat—it’s a brave choice to shed toxic emotional baggage and intentionally change what isn’t healthy or working anymore.
Thinking out and practicing what you will say will increase your resolve and will alleviate some of your fears.
5. Focus on using “I” statements and describe in a kind, calm
6. Acknowledging that your spouse may also feel unsatisfied in the marriage is an empathic way to approach the issue.
A sample conversation starter: “As you may know, I have not been happy in our marriage for some time. I’m sure you are feeling unsatisfied too. This is not easy to say and it was a very difficult and painful decision to make, but I have come to the conclusion that I would like to pursue divorce. I know this will be hard, but I believe it is the best decision for everyone. I am confident that we can handle this process in a respectful and amicable way, for us and the sake of our children.”
7. Carefully choose a relatively private place. It’s important to give some thought to where this conversation will take place. Where you choose to discuss divorce is just as important as when you bring it up. This can depend greatly on the nature of your relationship and knowing your partner.
If you expect the discussion to go relatively smoothly, you’ll both likely appreciate a private, quiet location where you can spend the time you need without worrying about closing time, prying ears, or being unable to hear one another due to ambient noise. On the other hand, if you are worried about your spouse’s reaction (or your safety), a public place might be a better option.
8. Be firm. It’s important to realize that being considerate of your partner’s feelings does not mean being a pushover. If you have made up your mind, you can be clear and direct about the fact that you have already made the decision. Your spouse may not agree with your decision but they can’t keep you trapped in a dysfunctional marriage. The decision is yours.
As a no-fault divorce state, Washington State allows either partner to request a divorce on the grounds that they feel the relationship is beyond repair– regardless of the other spouse’s feelings on the matter. You do not need the permission of your partner to end the marriage, nor do you need a reason. The decision is yours alone.
9. Stay calm, especially if your spouse’s emotions begin to escalate. This first step in the process will set a tone of civility as you move forward. Do not retaliate, even in the heat of the moment. It is natural to want to defend yourself and justify your position, but doing so will not help you reach your desired outcome of a respectful separation process and a healthy co-parenting relationship.
If you open the discussion calmly and are met with anger and intense emotions, it’s best to physically separate until cooler heads prevail. Approach the situation with compassion and understanding, acknowledging that what you’re saying may be a surprise, induces fear and isn’t easy to hear. Imagine the conversation from the other side, and think of how you’d prefer to receive the same message. Empathy can set the tone for the future of your relationship.
10. Avoid specifics about how the separation process will work, where kids will spend Christmas, etc. This weighty conversation is just the beginning of the divorce process. Your spouse will need time and space to digest this information. While tempting, it’s wise to avoid discussing technical details of property division, spousal maintenance and child support. There will be time to work out details
11. If the situation becomes too intense, suggest a time out, and plan to revisit the subject when you can both commit to being calm and more rational. Divorce stirs up fear and emotions that may surprise you. Having a time limit in mind (an hour is best) and then plan to give your spouse time and space to process what you’ve shared.
12. Have an exit strategy in place. If current living arrangements become uncomfortable, consider staying with a friend or at a hotel for a few days.
Carefully following the steps above can help you feel more empowered as you broach the discussion with your spouse. However, as prepared as you are, be sensitive that this may be fresh news to your spouse. While you’ve had time to ponder and adjust to the idea of divorce, realize that this may be a shock to them. Be patient and help your partner process the many emotions that will likely arise. Stay firm in your decision, but compassionate in your response.
Divorce is an overwhelming, daunting endeavor. Our team can help you understand your rights and options, and successfully navigate the complex process in a fair and equitable way. Mediation leaves both parties financially intact and set up for success. By working together to come to agreement, you will minimize the toll on your family, your finances and your future.
Your Trusted Partner
Whether you’re contemplating a divorce, have already started the process, or are far into the proceedings, do you wish you had someone to share with you the inside scoop on how to save money, time, and emotional energy on your divorce?
Our team is available for Support On-Demand to discuss the many scenarios, options, and implications of separation or divorce, via telephone or videoconference during this time. Feel free to get in touch with us; we are here for you!