How to Have the “I Want a Divorce” Conversation
Coming to the realization that you want a divorce can be an incredibly difficult experience. You have your own perspective on your marriage and of everything that has led to this moment. Having reached the point of decision, you are likely unsure about how to move forward with the “I want a divorce” conversation.
It is normal if you and your spouse’s individual perspectives of the marriage don’t align and your individual truths are singular and complex. For this difficult conversation, it is important to respect each other’s right to a unique perspective and to schedule some uninterrupted time for a face-to-face conversation. Unless there are safety concerns, it is likely unhelpful to try to have this conversation over your cell phones. Focusing on your spouse’s well-being, as well as your own, can lead to productive conversations about divorce.
Before reaching the decision to divorce, many spouses seek out marriage therapy or marriage counseling. When spouses are having difficulty and they are both committed to doing hard and uncomfortable marriage work can often help them to solidify their marriage. However, for many, therapy is not a workable option, after all, it only works when both spouses are committed.
Even if you are the person initiating the divorce, it is normal to experience feelings of loss. It is important to give yourself plenty of time to prepare and to get the help of a family therapist or marriage counselor if necessary.
If you are in a domestic violence situation, and you fear your spouse’s reaction, it may be wise to have the conversation in a public place or if you may want to consult with family law professionals before having the initial conversations. Sometimes spouses are less likely to engage in verbal abuse if a professional is present but the professional must be fully apprised of the situation ahead of time to best help you.
Discussing the situation thoroughly with professionals, such as a divorce coach, or divorce lawyer is typically more productive than asking for the advice of family members.
The divide between you and your spouse may have occurred suddenly or may have been developing for years. If, after carefully weighing your options, you decide to divorce, it is not uncommon to feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. You may choose to take smaller steps along the way such as trial separation or legal separation.
You have made the decision to divorce, but you have no idea how the process will go. The thought of taking that first step — talking with your spouse about divorce– is likely one of the most stressful things you can imagine. Be prepared for the potential of an emotional roller coaster ride and plan ahead to give your spouse the time they need to adjust.
Reading about how to handle the first conversations about divorce will likely positively affect your first conversations and your entire divorce process. How the topic of divorce is introduced and addressed can lead to a contentious explosive court battle, or it can develop into a healthy respectful divorce with minimal cost and minimal conflict.
The Power of Kind, Direct, Honesty
Begin by taking a deep breath. Even though your current situation is less than desirable, you can acknowledge and honor the past you have shared. It can be important to remember and appreciate the loving feelings you shared at one time. Likely, you have each made mistakes, of varying degrees, in your relationship.
To begin the conversation with your spouse, consider the old cliché: honesty is the best policy. It is worth some planning to ensure that you convey your honest opinions in as kind a way as is possible. Throughout your discussions, doing your best to be conscious of your spouse’s feelings and how your words might be affecting them, will make a world of difference in how your divorce will proceed. This can be quite difficult, especially when you have recently been hurt, but will facilitate a respectful divorce process.
To facilitate communication, marriage therapists often recommend using ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements. This is a simple device for keeping the conversation at the lowest level of conflict possible. Imagine the type of reaction you might get to the following statements:
- “I” Statement –
“I no longer feel happy in our marriage. I feel that we no longer have things in common and have grown apart. I understand that this may be very hard to hear, but I want to get divorced. I want our divorce to be as painless and peaceful as possible.”
- “You” Statement –
“You should have seen this coming! You destroyed our marriage! It is your fault that we have come to the point of divorce!
The greatest difference between these statements is that the “you” statement assigns blame to your spouse and can easily lead to a defensive response. If you are able to limit blame, as in the “I” Statement, you will also limit the potential for a defensive reaction, thereby improving the likelihood of a productive discussion.
Be Prepared for a Reaction
No one can be certain how their spouse will handle the first conversation about divorce. To best prepare, it is wise to consider how you might feel if the tables were turned. How would you likely react? Would you appreciate being treated with respect and compassion?
However your spouse reacts, avoid letting the conversation spiral into a fight. Remember that even the most seemingly disconnected or uncaring spouses may experience intense hurt and sadness during this initial conversation. Intense emotions may lead them to say or do erratic and spiteful things. Keep in mind that they will likely be able to respond in a more thoughtful and respectful way after they have had some time to process.
You may experience pushback and your spouse may feel separation is not necessary. By not allowing initial resistance to set you on the attack, and by being patient, you are more likely to clearly, calmly, and consistently communicate the message that you want to move forward with a divorce. Despite any initial dismissiveness, your spouse will be able to more easily accept the reality of the situation if you steadily repeat an honest message in as kind a manner as possible.
If you are unsure about how best to talk with your spouse, it may be helpful to work with a marriage therapist who can help your spouse to hear and accept your message. A professional marriage therapist’s goal will be to provide support to both of you, in spite of the outcome.
Choosing the Best Setting
By being mindful of where and when you initially raise the issue of divorce, you can set the tone of the conversation. Raising the issue during a fight, or when you are in a rush, will likely yield poor results. Instead, find a quiet, private setting when you each have ample time to express yourselves. If you are currently meeting with a marriage therapist, you may let your spouse know of your intentions during a counseling session where you both feel supported.
Consider the timing and if possible, avoid beginning divorce conversations during major life events, such as job loss or death in the family. Although the topic may come up at a less than opportune moment, or in a less than idea setting, you can always focus on conveying your message in a kind manner.
Avoidance Does More Harm than Good
Having your spouse served with divorce papers, as a way of communicating your desire to get a divorce, is not recommended. Under normal circumstances, avoiding an honest and open conversation in this way is less than desirable. Being served with divorce papers is likely to cause conflict. However, if you are concerned for your safety, it may be the only reasonable option. Outside of this rare exception, trying to avoid the conversation by having your spouse served with divorce papers will most likely backfire.
Take a moment and consider how your spouse might react to the following:
Surrounded by their colleagues, a deputy sheriff arrives at their office, hands them divorce documents, and announces to the room, “You have been served.” They have just learned, in a very public setting, that you want a divorce. Your spouse reads the Petition, with a long list of extreme demands concerning every issue of divorce, which was drafted by your aggressive divorce attorney. They read a little further and notice they only have 20 days to file a formal Response, in which they must either “Accept” or “Object” each demand.
After the shock and confusion subsides, your spouse’s pain may quickly turn into anger—consequently causing them to hastily react by hiring a divorce attorney of their own. The first act of conflict has taken place in what will likely become a harmful divorce battle.
By sitting down with your spouse and having a respectful conversation about your desire to divorce, you establish the setting for a collaborative, respectful divorce process. Once you have both had a chance to be heard and to accept the situation, you can begin the discussion of how best to complete your divorce process. You can discuss the benefits of mediation and invite your spouse to attend a complimentary consultation with The Aurit Center to learn more.
You Will Each Process Divorce in Your Own Way
Behavioral Science professionals agree that divorcing spouses can experience a grieving process similar to the process of grieving the death of a loved one. As you each process the end of your marriage, you and your spouse will likely proceed through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance at different speeds and in a different order. Each individual’s process is valid.
You may have reached ‘acceptance’ before you even inform your spouse of your desire for divorce. Your spouse may be completely unaware that you have been considering divorce. When you begin to discuss divorce, keep in mind that they may need some time to sort through their feelings and catch up to you emotionally. Your emotional state will often dictate how quickly you want to proceed with the divorce process.
The Goal is a Low-Conflict Process
You can have a healthy, respectful divorce if you are strategic in what you say, how you say it, when you say it, and what you leave unsaid. Being thoughtful and considerate of your spouse’s feelings can be challenging, but extremely rewarding.
Divorcing means you and your spouse will be setting new individual goals. While addressing these issues may not be easy, your mediator will lead solution-focused discussion with the goal of reaching agreements that ensure stability for both of you. Under the guidance of a professional mediator you will be able to successfully reach mutually-beneficial agreements.
To Learn More about Healthy Divorce
The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation offers a 1-hour complimentary consultation in which you and your spouse will learn how divorce mediation works and how it differs from divorce litigation. We will explain mediation in great detail to ensure that you each know exactly what to expect.
As a way to begin the discussion about how best to complete your divorce process, consider forwarding our email to your spouse, and reviewing the provided material with them. This can help keep you both on the same page and help you to make informed decisions about how best to proceed.