The messiness of divorce has been well documented. Often, there are lawyers involved. And custody battles. And a lot of conflicting emotions. But when you are sure — absolutely sure — you want to go through with one, perhaps the most difficult part is deciding how to tell your spouse you want a divorce. What’s the best way to do it? In movies and television shows, perhaps the most common source of divorce behavior, it’s often blurted out in the midst of a heated argument, with one partner or the other dramatically shouting “I want a divorce!”
In life, of course, things tend to go a bit differently. And, if you want the ensuing legal battle to be civil, it’s in everyone’s best interest to pause and really determine how to tell the person you vowed to spend the rest of your life with that it’s over. So how does one deliver this particularly life-altering bit of news? There’s no one way to do it. But there are some guidelines to keep in mind.
Timing Is Everything
To say that telling your partner you want a divorce is delicate is an understatement. It is an enormous decision, one that, when broached, will alter both of your lives forever. As such, you want to make sure that you choose to have the conversation at a time when your partner is emotionally capable of receiving the news. In other words, don’t tell them you want a divorce when they’re stressed or emotional. “You know your partner better than anyone, so don’t make the disastrous mistake of bringing up divorce in the middle of an important life event,” advises relationship coach Alice Wood. “Be patient and remember that the announcement can wait until a moment when its impact will be the least damaging.” Is this obvious? Yes. But it’s essential.
When the time is right to bring up the topic of divorce, Kelly A. Frawley and Emily S. Pollock, partners at the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres and specialists in matrimonial and family law, suggest not getting into the details of how the divorce will work, custody arrangements, or any other specifics, as they will only overwhelm your partner further. “If he or she is just hearing about the possibility of divorce for the first time,” they say, “don’t go into detail about how you are going to divide the brokerage account, who should have the kids for Christmas this year, or how you are already looking for a new apartment.” The key is to give the person time to digest the concept, show emotion, and ask questions.
Find the Right Location
Ideally, you want to break the news in a private, quiet space. Don’t have the conversation in a crowded restaurant or even at home when the kids are in the next room. Benjamin Valencia II, a partner and certified family law specialist at Meyer, Olson, Lowy, and Meyers suggests that, if the couple is in therapy, the therapist’s office might be a good location. “In this way, both parties can feel safe and free to ask questions and/or gain an understanding of what the other party is thinking without erupting into an argument,” he says. “Further, the therapist can help create healthy boundaries moving forward, which can prove invaluable when the going gets tough.”
Choose Your Words Wisely
Telling your partner you want a divorce is undoubtedly difficult. There’s no need to make it worse by blaming your spouse for their shortcomings or using phrases like, “You should have,” “You don’t,” or “You didn’t.” You also need to be honest about what you’re feeling and why you believe this decision is the right one. So, when talking about divorce, you have to be specific in your language — this isn’t the time to be vague. “If your words are ambiguous, you may leave your spouse/partner with a glimmer of hope that the marriage can be saved, when that is not your intention,” says Craig S. Pedersen, a partner at Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers. “That can only create further problems down the line.”
Acknowledge Your Mutual Unhappiness
Even if a divorce is more one-sided, chances are that neither party in the marriage is particularly thrilled about the way things have been going. With this in mind, it’s wise to open the conversation by laying the cards on the tabled. “I usually will suggest that they start the conversation with a statement such as ‘As you know, I have not been happy in the marriage for a long time. I also think you have not been happy either,” says New York divorce lawyer Jacqueline Newman, author of the Soon to Be Ex series of books. “If the other person can acknowledge that he or she is also unhappy, it makes it an easier conversation to have as it is not so one-sided.”
Consider a Team Approach
Rather than focusing on the fact that you and your partner are separating, it’s essential to shift the perspective a bit and talk about how you both will work together to make this whole process as easy as possible. “Divorce does not have to be a battle,” reminds Valencia. “Especially if you have children, your common goal should be what is in their best interests. Approaching a divorce by listing the common goals will help both parties realize they are in this together and cooperating behooves both of them.”