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How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

Posted by attorney Howard Lewis

Telling your spouse that you want a divorce makes your decision real and sets into motion a life change with far-reaching impact. Even as you act to end your marriage, this is the moment to lay the foundation for a collaborative transition that is smooth, reasonable and considerate as possible.

Preparing for the talk

  • Anticipate your spouse's reaction, but don't be surprised by anything.

Even if you have worked through the decision together, you can't be sure what your spouse's reaction will be. Be prepared to be firm. Remember that emotional reactions are normal, and that it may take time to accept the reality of divorce.

  • Control your reaction.

Stay calm. Sympathize with your spouse's feelings, but do not apologize for your decision. Remember, you want your spouse's cooperation in many things, including telling your children and negotiating financial and custody details. Anger and defensiveness will only work against you.

  • Manage your expectations.

Don't expect immediate understanding. Remind yourself that there will be many discussions ahead. Anticipate emotional reactions of your own and plan ahead to deal with them later.

Conducting the talk

  • Pick a quiet time when your spouse is ready to listen.

Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV and phones, and arrange for your children to be somewhere else. Tell your spouse you have something important to discuss.

  • Clearly state that you want a divorce.

Be specific and straightforward about your key reasons. State them calmly with consideration and conviction. Too much detail only invites conflict.

  • You've made your decision; be firm about it.

You don't have to be cruel to be clear. Mention how carefully you considered the decision and how you tried to save your marriage. Express that you are sure that divorce is the only answer.

  • Do not defend yourself. Do not attack your spouse.

Resist any temptation to defend yourself. Avoid the blame game. You've gone through all that and made your decision. Listen carefully as your spouse responds and express your understanding.

  • Ask for collaboration

Acknowledge the difficulty of the process and allow your spouse time to adjust to the new, separate you. Say that you intend to proceed with care and consideration for all. Express confidence that each of you has the ability to be reasonable and fair.

  • Talk about the kids

Be very clear that you intend to respect your spouse's relationship with your children. However, it's best not to talk about custody, visitation and how to tell the children until later.

Concluding the talk

  • Limit the scope of this discussion.

Hearing "I want a divorce" can be shocking even for a spouse who is keenly aware of marital problems. It helps to limit the scope of the conversation to a clear statement and general reasons for your decision. Give yourselves time to settle your minds. For now, save discussions of issues and specifics for another time.

  • Reassure your spouse.

As you conclude the discussion, remember that you are laying the groundwork for a collaborative divorce process. Reinforce your intent to be fair, decent and reasonable. Acknowledge your spouse's feelings. Express that you understand the process will be challenging but that you are confident that you can work together for everyone's benefit.

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