How to Talk to Your Spouse about Wanting a Divorce

February 12, 2020 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

This article by Emily Heird, a Licensed Professional Counselor, on her blog is of interest.

How to Talk to Your Spouse about Wanting a Divorce

Are you entering this new year making a resolution that you are not going to have another year like the last x number of years? Have you been thinking seriously about pursuing a divorce for a while and now that the holidays are over, you’re ready to have discussions with your spouse?

Regardless of when you’re reading this article, here are tips on how to talk to your spouse about wanting a divorce and some action steps.

Request a time to sit down, the two of you, without any distractions.

Stating you want a divorce at the end of a fight is not the best time to discuss this. You may both have thrown out divorce in previous fights and no steps were taken, so it may not be taken seriously. Let your spouse know you have something you want to discuss and ask when a good time for them would be. Make sure the kids (if they are in the home) are taken care of. Perhaps they can go over to a friend’s or stay with a relative. Or hire a babysitter so that there is uninterrupted time. Turn off the cellphones and any other distractions.

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Use “I” centered language.

In order to reduce defensiveness as much as possible, keep the discussion centered to yourself and how you are feeling about things. “I am feeling disconnected and have for some time.” “I have been thinking and internally processing about what I want in a relationship.” “I am not healthy in this relationship anymore and this relationship is not healthy.” “I want to pursue a divorce and transition our family to two homes.” This is not the time for the laundry list of grievances and saying “you this” and “you that” to your spouse.

Take responsibility for your part in the conflict and decision.

Your spouse, regardless of how long things have been unhealthy and bad, is likely to feel blindsided by this conversation. Even if they can acknowledge things have not been good, they probably didn’t expect this would actually happen. Or maybe they did and you’ve openly been discussing this for a while. My experience with most couples is one feels blindsided. You can acknowledge that you have been thinking about this, processing this for a while and didn’t include them in these discussions and decisions. You can acknowledge your part in conflict or roles that contributed to distance or unhealthy dynamics. And own the fact that you are asking for this and you understand it is hurtful to your spouse.

Have empathy, compassion, and give space.

Your spouse is likely to be upset and have an emotional reaction to the discussion. As hard as it is, try to emotionally regulate yourself, take deep breaths, and remain calm. Be empathetic that this is a difficult conversation for your spouse to have and be compassionate that this may be devastating news. Give them space to express their emotions (unless it becomes emotionally unsafe), cry, be upset, etc. Just listen. Don’t try to justify or defend.

If your spouse becomes emotional, take a break and decide when to come back.

You can always pause the conversation, give your spouse time and space to process and resume the conversation later. No need to push forward and have the conversation erupt.

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The “why” question

This is one of the hardest questions for spouses to wrestle with. Spouse A has their experience and perception in the relationship and Spouse B has theirs. And then there is the interaction between the two, which creates the relationship dynamic. Figuring out the piece of the puzzle “why” do you want a divorce is the question that plagues the processing of the decision. Your spouse is trying to make meaning and sense of this decision. And it is likely that no matter the reasons you give your spouse for why, they aren’t going to understand or agree, and/or will want to try to work on and fix things. If this big question comes up in the initial discussion, give a few of your reasons and acknowledge that they may not understand or agree and that you can keep unpacking later.

If they want counseling

If your spouse is now called to action and wants to work on the relationship and fight for it, they may suggest marriage counseling. I’ve worked with many couples who come to see me where one wants a divorce and the other does not. To the spouse who does want the divorce, I encourage them if there is any sliver of hope or desire in their minds to have an open mind about the possibility of reconciliation, then proceed with marriage counseling. If they have completed closed the door and have firmly decided they want a divorce, do not do marriage counseling just to “check off the box” or appease the spouse. This gives them false hope and drags out the pain. Marriage counseling must be approached with an open mind for the process itself – “lets’ see what happens” – rather than the outcome – “is this going to work or not?”

There are counselors out there trained in discernment counseling to help spouses decide (in a structured, time-limited fashion) if they are going to a) keep the status quo and do nothing, b) invest in 6 months of marriage counseling with divorce off the table, or c) proceed with a divorce.

You can also seek a counselor who can help with separation counseling/coaching and has experience in helping couples navigate this time. Be clear that your agenda is to pursue divorce and your spouse does not want this to happen. The counselor can help the two of you understand the dynamics, help your spouse understand your reasons for divorce, and help your spouse process the grief and eventually be ready to move forward.

Refrain from talking about legal stuff in this initial conversation.

This is a heavy conversation and a lot of information to process. Throwing in language about talking to attorneys or filing for divorce or jumping 15 steps ahead and talking about who gets what and who is going to move out is likely to escalate the conversation and create fear on your spouse’s part. If your spouse asks what’s next, just say that you want to give him/her time to process and then the two of you will set aside time soon (you can decide when) to discuss the next steps. If “how and when are we going to tell the kids?” comes up, again, take a pause and say we can set up another meeting to discuss our plan.

Reiterate you want to keep things as amicable as possible

Reassure your spouse that you don’t want to go to war in a divorce. (If you do, or if circumstances dictate an attorney-heavy divorce, then the approach in this blog may not be appropriate for you.) You understand there will be conflict, tension, emotions, and this will not be easy to navigate, but that you want to go about it in a healthy manner to minimize the conflict.

As much as you may want this divorce to proceed forward quickly now that you have solidly made this decision and shared, being patient and taking steps to do this wisely will benefit you and your family in the long run.

Source: How to Talk to Your Spouse about Wanting a Divorce (Emily Heird, Januatu 1, 2020).

How to Talk to Your Spouse about Wanting a Divorce was last modified: February 11th, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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