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How To Tell Your Spouse You Want A Divorce (The Right Way)

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Ending a relationship is never easy. We choose partners for a variety of different reasons, create intense emotional bonds with them, and often spend years building a life together.

Ending a marriage is particularly difficult, especially if there are children and long-term investments to contend with.

When things fall apart to the point where they’re just not salvageable anymore, we’re faced with the prospect of changing basically every single aspect of our lives.

If you’ve reached this point, and you’re the one who wants (or needs) to end the marriage, you likely have a difficult road ahead of you.

Telling your spouse that you want a divorce isn’t going to be easy, but if it’s now necessary, there are some tips that may help you.

How To Approach This Conversation

Like all situations, approaches will differ depending on the people involved.

Is your spouse the type of person who appreciates forthright behavior and matter-of-fact, rational logic? Or are they fragile and need to be tiptoed around?

How do they react to difficult conversations? Do they remain calm and discuss things as adults? Or are they likely to start crying and getting argumentative and/or petulant?

These traits need to be taken into account when you’re trying to determine how to bring up the topic of divorce.

If your spouse is quite emotionally stable and likes clear, honest communication, then that makes things a lot easier. You’ll be less likely to contend with hysteria, and can work things out smoothly together.

Look at your respective schedules and determine when would be a good time to talk. Early in the weekend is a good idea, so emotions can cool a little before either of you has to face the work day/week.

Saturday works because you’ll have taken Friday night to decompress from the work week. If you have kids, see if you can shuttle them off to a friend’s place for the day, leaving you two several hours to talk.

It’s a good idea to have notes handy with talking points that you can refer back to during the conversation. We’ll get into that more shortly.

Explain Why You Want To Split Up

If you haven’t already sorted this out for yourself very clearly, then make it a priority.

Ending a marriage isn’t something that should be done on a whim. You should have a clear list of reasons why you don’t believe this relationship is salvageable.

For example, do you feel that the two of you have become sibling-like? Have you grown apart?

That said, you may have a crystal clear, single reason for leaving. You may have seen a side of them that you never want to see again. They may have done something unforgivable, such as being physically violent toward you or your children.

Or you may have experienced a life-changing event, and being married doesn’t fit within your new life paradigm.

What To Say During This Discussion (And What NOT To)

Basically, the things you want to cover during this talk are:

– You feel that the relationship is no longer salvageable.

– You don’t want to be married anymore.

– You’re not enemies; you’re just no longer suitable as a married couple.

– The two of you need to work together as part of a team to move forward.

This isn’t the time to go into fine detail about custody arrangements, dividing co-owned property, or selling your shared burial plot. Those aspects can be sorted out later.

ALL that needs to be touched upon right now is that you feel this marriage is over, and you want out.

How To Deal With Their Responses

Remember that bit about having notes to refer back to during this conversation? Yeah, it’s important to have those written down so you can keep bringing attention back to the matter at hand whenever it gets derailed.

People react in a number of different ways when faced with a situation they don’t want to hear about or contend with.

Some shut down and walk away, refusing to acknowledge it or deal with it at all. If your spouse does this, don’t just go with it.

They might go out for a few hours and come back pretending like nothing happened. This might be a denial coping mechanism for them that has worked in the past, but unless you want to stay stuck where you are, you’ll have to bring up the topic again.

Do so immediately rather than waiting for another opportune time. You’ll need to make sure they are perfectly aware and clear about your intention.

Some people cry and fall apart because they feel like they’re being abandoned. They might apologize profusely and beg you to stay, promising to be different, to be better, etc.

This might have been a recurring situation for you that you’re quite tired of at this point, so be firm about your intentions.

They may get really passive aggressive and emotionally manipulative. Be prepared for them to bring up old wounds or perceived wrongs in an attempt to hurt you. After all, you’re hurting them, so they might try to retaliate. You may get guilt trips and accusations, or a laundry list of everything you’ve ever done to upset them.

If and when they do that, do not engage.

Try to stay calm, and bring the conversation back to the talking points you have on your list. If they refuse, and get increasingly dramatic, then you may need to take a break and go for a walk or something.

Keep a cool head, and make it perfectly clear to them that your decision has been made. That you will not engage in this kind of behavior, and that you’ll talk to them more once they’re prepared to have an adult conversation about it.

Your spouse might get incredibly defensive and argumentative, and lash out at you horribly. You’ll need to be prepared for that possibility as well.

Speak to a divorce lawyer ahead of time so you know what your rights are regarding child custody, dwelling rights, shared property, etc. This way, you have a strong stance to support your responses to them.

If they threaten to “take” full custody of the kids to punish you for leaving them, make it very clear to them that you have already spoken to your lawyer, and that isn’t going to happen.

Are they yelling and demanding that you leave THEIR house? Again, discuss this with the lawyer beforehand. Even if the property is in their name, you likely have every right to remain in the dwelling until you’ve signed a separation agreement. The parameters differ from state to state, country to country, so be sure to discuss the fine print with a professional.

Try to avoid being cruel or scathing during this discussion. You’ll need to rise above whatever poor behavior they display, even if that’s really difficult to do.

This isn’t just the right thing to do, either: how you approach this discussion may reflect upon a judge’s decision during your divorce proceedings. You may say something in retaliation to their emotional upheaval now, and they’ll bring it up as abusive or cruel in a court.

Weigh your responses well and don’t say something you may regret later.

If You Think Their Reaction Will Be Awful, Take Initial Steps Now

You know your spouse pretty well by now. As such, if you think they’ll be an absolute nightmare as soon as you bring up the “D” word, create an exit strategy and safety net for yourself before broaching the subject.

This is especially important if you’re leaving because of mistreatment or outright abuse.

Speak to a lawyer about your rights, as mentioned earlier. Then, if you have close, trusted family members and friends who won’t go and report you to your spouse, bring them into your confidence about the upcoming split. They can likely offer you support, and/or even be there with you for protection when you break the news.

Start separating your finances, even if it means starting a secret bank account with enough funds for an escape plan. It’s not unusual for a controlling spouse to cancel the other’s access to finances, or empty a shared bank account completely. This can either be done to prevent their partner from leaving, or to punish them for doing so.

Make sure you have a safe place to stay lined up so you can leave immediately. If your partner has a history of abusive behavior, make sure to tell your lawyer this. You can even talk to someone at your local police station. If your spouse has ever had assault charges lain on them, you may be entitled to police presence/protection to help you when you’re ready to leave.

You May Be Surprised

Although you may feel like you’re bracing for an emotional backlash, you may be surprised to discover that your spouse also wants to split. This could very well be a situation where both parties wanted to end the relationship, but neither one wanted to be the “bad guy” by initiating the breakup.

If this is the situation, that’s awesome. Sit down with a big pot of tea and some biscuits and write down all you’d need for a mutually beneficial separation.

This is often the case if the marriage has dissolved into a sibling-like rapport, but you still care about each other deeply. There’s really no need for any ill will or argument. You can discuss the situation and work together toward a mutually beneficial solution.

Hopefully you have a strong support structure to help you through this process. Although some marriages end smoothly, most partings have to contend with some measure of hurt and discomfort.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for help, especially if you’re prone to anxiety and depression. If you have a counselor or therapist, keep them apprised of the situation: they can likely offer additional guidance, and will be prepped to help you as things unfold.

Most importantly, take care of yourself.

If you’ve reached this point, then you’ve likely been hurting and suffering for quite a while. Be patient and forgiving with yourself, take time for self-care, and grieving the loss of this relationship.

And remember: an ended marriage hasn’t “failed” – it has merely reached its natural end, just like leaving a career that no longer nurtures or supports you.

You will be okay.

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About The Author

Catherine Winter is an herbalist, INTJ empath, narcissistic abuse survivor, and PTSD warrior currently based in Quebec's Laurentian mountains. In an informal role as confidant and guide, Catherine has helped countless people work through difficult times in their lives and relationships, including divorce, ageing and death journeys, grief, abuse, and trauma recovery, as they navigate their individual paths towards healing and personal peace.