How Do I Tell My Spouse I Want a Divorce?
Not infrequently, when someone first calls me to discuss the possibility of divorce mediation, they will mention that they have not yet brought up the subject with their spouse. The caller (the initiating spouse) typically describes a marriage that has not been good for some time; the marriage no longer works for him or her and it needs to come to an end.
Even though the non-initiating spouse may be just as miserable in the marriage, he or she may not have thought through the next step (divorce) to the same extent as the initiating spouse. Thus, they may well be at different stages in coming to terms with their failed marriage.
Obviously, this is a difficult situation, and one that needs to be handled sensitively yet pragmatically. And it’s likely, since this is the first serious discussion on this subject, that the other spouse will either be defensive or aggressive in responding.
So, when the initiating spouse asks, “How do I tell my spouse I want a divorce?” I suggest the following guidelines:
1. No Defending Yourself
Your spouse may start blaming you, calling you names and labeling you all sorts of things. Your response is simply, “Okay, that’s who I am.” You say it gently, kindly and let it go. You do not defend yourself. Every time you defend yourself, try to correct the record or otherwise disagree, you are fueling the same old conversation you have been having for months or years.
2. No Persuading
You will not persuade your partner by reminding him or her that your marriage has been over for a while, or neither of you are happy, or the kids are miserable, or we’d be better off not fighting. Those points just fuel more of the same conversations that you have already had. Let’s face it, it is extremely unlikely that he or she will stop, listen, and say: “You’re right, that makes sense, we should end our marriage.”
3. No Negotiating
Another typical reaction is: “Fine, you want a divorce? You’re not going to get anything. No house, no retirement money, no nothing.” Don’t respond by saying “That’s not fair; that’s not legal; you can’t do that.”
Your spouse is looking to trigger your anger and start an argument, which is a useless conversation. You will have either a mediator or an attorney to guide you through this process. You do not want to negotiate at your kitchen table when you are both scared and angry.
4. Next Step
You then say: “We can choose to do this cooperatively or not. We can meet with a mediator or we can both make appointments with separate attorneys. It’s your choice. We just need to get started by…[set a specific date].” And then stick to it!
After your initial discussion, your spouse may again attempt to draw you into one of the above kinds of conversations. Remember that you need to stay cool and kind and determined; do not engage in the old conversations.
Managing these discussions is like being on a diet. You need to refrain from engaging in those old conversations just like you refrain from eating a cookie when you are on a diet. Some times will be harder than others, but if you stay determined and firm, the choices for moving forward will emerge. As with a diet, ambivalence will sabotage you. You need to plan every day to not engage in the old conversations.