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How to Talk to Your Spouse About Divorce

May 17, 2014
Adults / Mental Health
“Staff Tips and Strategies” and a drawing of a family in green


JSSA Child and Family Staff

How you tell your spouse and what you tell your spouse about wanting a divorce is of critical importance because it can set the tone for how the divorce unfolds. Enrolling in counseling can help you prepare for how to break the news and also how to manage the reaction of your partner.

Here are Some Tips to Help you Prepare for the Conversation:

1. Be Thoughtful
Prepare yourself to be gentle. Approach your spouse with the kindness you would use if you were telling someone that a loved one has died. You are about to break some bad news that will, in all probability, evoke some strong emotions. Determine in advance that you will not use strong language or an angry tone, regardless of your spouse’s reaction.

2. Use Neutral and Clear Language
When telling your spouse that you want a divorce you must use neutral and clear language. “I have been in pain for a long time about our marriage and no longer believe we can fix it,” is neutral language. “I’m sick and tired of your laziness and selfishness and I can’t wait to get away from you,” is provocative and will only assure defensiveness, denial and retaliation.

3. Plan the Time and Location of Discussion
Choose a time when the two of you will have some uninterrupted time. Turn off the phones and make sure the children are elsewhere and fully attended. Consider talking outside of the home so there are less distractions. If you do meet outside of the home, you need to have separate transportation so that you are not driving back home together.

4. Do Not Defend or Accuse
At this point, there is no need or benefit of giving a lengthy explanation of why you want to divorce or to list the complaints you have about your spouse. It is vital that you do not defend yourself and that you do not critique your spouse’s failures and deficiencies. There is a higher need to begin working cooperatively, civilly and respectfully from the beginning of the divorce process.

5. Take Responsibility
You must acknowledge that both of you have contributed to the erosion of the marriage and that it is pointless to try to figure out who is more to blame. Do not engage in a conversation about blame. Instead, focus on talking about how to build a future for the family so that you all come through the process able to rebuild and thrive.

6. Give Your Spouse Time
Your spouse will need time to digest this news. The two of you will have to negotiate many decisions and you will need to work together to get a fair and reasonable resolution. But this is not the time for those discussions. That will come when he/she has had the time to reflect and feels ready to begin.

7. Provide Reassurance
Your spouse may respond with a flurry of questions and concerns. Here you reassure him/her that you will be fair and that you are confident that the two of you will work out a reasonable agreement. But tonight is not the time to do it. Instead focus on giving him/her the message that you are not looking for a tortuous divorce, that you do want fair results, and that you want to choose professionals carefully.

8. Suggest Using Collaborative Divorce and/or Counseling
Explain that you have been doing some reading and believe you should use a Collaborative approach to help negotiate agreements. A collaborative team can help address all areas of the divorce with experts in the fields of the law, finances, children, and communication. Ask that your spouse consider using a trained collaborative professional and then provide him/her information about Collaborative divorce and a listing of professionals in the area.

9. Agree to no immediate changes
This is the time to maintain the status quo. Your relative parenting roles, upcoming expenses and living arrangements will be negotiated soon. Until you make agreements with the help of professionals, explain that you do not plan to make any immediate changes until each of you are ready.

10. Acknowledge the end of the first discussion
Communicate your availability to talk about it later. “I know this is upsetting. We can talk about it again later if you wish.” In the future, continue to use the same strategies and communicate with your spouse as if he/she were a colleague. Use respectful communication and focus on the future instead of the past.