How To Tell Your Husband or Wife You Want a Divorce
Coming to the decision to end your marriage is one that is made with careful thought and consideration. It is not one that is taken lightly and it is important to look at ending your marriage from all angles before making the decision. If your mind is made up, then it is critical to carefully plan the conversation with your husband or wife. It’s always helpful to get some professional help from a Coach or Therapist to get clear on the decision and plan the next steps of this turning point in your life and your husband or wife’s life.
The reasons for a marriage coming to an end are nuanced. This is a basic framework of what to consider in a fairly streamlined situation. Of course, there are many reasons for a marriage to end, and sometimes having the ability to carefully think things through and prepare for the conversation with your husband or wife is not always possible.
When you are clear on the decision to end the marriage, this next phase of telling your spouse can be extremely overwhelming and is sometimes not easy to navigate. Ultimately, you want to be able to tell your husband or wife that you want a divorce in a carefully thought out way so that it doesn’t cause more distress for both of you than what will already be. What you really want is maximum support, understanding and continued civility between the two of you, as you officially begin the journey towards the end of the marriage, the shift in the family ecosystem and ultimately the divorce.
Your husband or wife may or may not be prepared for this juncture so thoughtfully preparing for this conversation is key.
Prepare Yourself In Advance
It is important to prepare yourself emotionally and psychologically for this conversation in advance. If you want to minimize damage, then thinking about the where, the when and the how you plan to let your husband or wife know that you are done is critical to having a healthy conversation, or as healthy as it can be.
Taking care of yourself prior to the conversation is important so that you can think clearly and plan thoughtfully. Try not to take on extra stress, including at work, other people’s issues or overloading your plate as a distraction. Minimize, eat healthy and consider staying clear of alcohol so that your clear and focused for this turning point.
Prepare yourself by thinking through all the different directions that the conversation could go, so you can be as prepared as possible, and have your own personal coping skills prepared and ready so you can remain as calm as possible.
Prepare Your Words
Take the time to thoughtfully prepare your words. It is important to use “I” statements not finger pointing “You” statements. Shape this as your experience and where you are coming from not what they have done. Creating a script that is focused on what you want to say can be a good tool for you to stay organized, clear and as calm as possible. Know yourself and whether or not you can keep your script it in your mind’s eye and be able to stay emotionally regulated, or perhaps consider writing it out and reading it. Some people read it in the form of a letter, and this gives an option if the conversation gets interrupted, or things go off the rails, then at least the letter is complete to be able to eventually reference back, or your husband or wife can choose to read it when they are ready. This tool also helps to keep you focused on what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Having a script also helps to eliminate the defence you may jump on if things get heated. You can try to bring things back to civility by continuing to read.
Prepare For the Immediate Reactions
As we mentioned, of course if your husband or wife, is caught off guard or surprised by this news, this is going to come as a massive shock, which results in fairly intense emotional responses.
While you cannot control their reaction or response, it will help the two of you in the moment, if you can anticipate how the conversation may go and carefully plan your words, your script iand your own coping mechanisms in advance.
As we stated above, If your husband or wife is not expecting this, it’s more than likely that their reaction will be intense. This will likely include an outward emotional response such as exclaims of shock or surprise and denial, crying and/or yelling/screaming. Be prepared for this, and think about where and when to have this conversation so it’s not in front of the children and your spouse has the space to be able to react and respond.
As hard as it is, and likely harder to witness when you are the one to cause the emotional distress with the declaration of the end of the marriage, we have to let our husband or wife process so it is important to allow space for them to react and feel, which is not easy, especially if you are already done with this person in your life.
It is important to carefully prepare in a way that keeps you safe. If their emotional reactions typically translate into anger, and there is reason to believe that you may not be safe having this conversation, consider having a third party present or having this conversation in a public space.
Prepare for Bargaining, Guilt or Pleads
Sometimes in these situations, husbands or wives go down the road of denial and bargaining to keep things together as the end of the marriage comes with so much intense change. Be prepared to remain firm in your decision and also empathetic to their position. This bargaining may cloud your thinking, but if we know in our mind and in our heart that the marriage is over, its important to anticipate this happening and not let it confuse us or ultimately confuse our spouse or give them false hope.
It’s likely they could also start finger pointing and laying on the guilt of ending the marriage or ‘breaking the family’. This point in time is not easy for anyone, and the overwhelming change and feelings of being uprooted are very real and sometimes come on very quickly and very intensely.
They may be relentless in trying to understand why. Be empathetic and also firm in your words and not lose patience or control. It’s not an easy place to cause someone distress, especially your husband or wife.
Telling Your Spouse When You Have Children
It is critically important to separate the conversation with your husband or wife, from the conversation you will be having with your children. During the conversation with your husband or wife, it is imperative that you choose to have the conversation when the children are not present for a number of reasons.
- This will allow for space to have an adult conversation between the spouses
- The potential for an intense emotional reaction by your husband or wife is highly likely, and this will allow them to be able to react and respond freely without impacting the kids
- It is a completely separate conversation and experience for the kids when parents are divorcing so it is critical that you have considered that and are ensuring that you have a plan for telling the kids you’re getting divorced when the time is right and in the right way, with thoughtful care and consideration for them.
Your husband or wife may not be in the right headspace about this particular topic during the conversation between you and that can have an impact on the children’s emotional and psychological health if they are not thinking clearly, especially if they are angry or triggered.
Ensure that you remain calm and clearly emphasize the importance of what is in the long term best interests of the kids regardless of the feelings between the two of you. Sometimes anger can get the better of us, so its really important to be clear on making sure that your husband or wife doesn’t tell the kids through their anger or sadness. They may see it as an opportunity to bond with the kids over you ending the marriage but that is never the case, instead, it causes them more distress than necessary. Their relationships with their parents is different than your relationship as spouses so start the process by not putting them in the middle.
Sometimes it helps to take a break from each other. Maybe the conversation hasn’t gone smoothly and the best next step is to take some space. Without making an issue of who should stay or go, consider having some options for physical space between you both after the conversation. It’s important to again consider the kids in this moment – try not to make it tense, stressful or obvious to them until you have your plan to share the divorce news with them. Perhaps it’s one of you staying elsewhere after the kids have gone to bed, or at least staying on a different floor of the home.
The aftershocks will be real in the coming days and likely weeks. There will be lots of questions, lots of emotions and likely many feelings with fingers pointed towards you. It’s important to take things in small steps and at a pace that is right for you and for your family.
A plan for the next conversation might be helpful, especially if the conversation goes off the rails, individuals can take some space from each other, and come back to the conversation at a another time with clearer heads.
It is important that you both seek support and professional advice on the next steps. Hiring a divorce coach and seeking legal advice is critical so you both understand your options, manage your emotions, consider your position and have clarity through the process. It can be very daunting and there are many falsehoods out there around divorce and the rules, so knowing and understanding your legal rights as well as thinking through the outcomes that you want will be integral to a solutions focused process.
Explore the options of next steps, and what is available to you to come to fair and reasonable solutions for you, your husband or wife and ultimately your family.