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Preparing to tell your husband or wife that you want a divorce

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Divorce - telling your spouse.

The decision to leave a marriage is not an easy one. How to explain your position to your husband or wife is often more harrowing than coming to the realisation that your marriage is over.

For the party "leaving" the marriage, here are some suggestions for preparing to tell your spouse that you want a divorce. These tips are designed to minimise the distress caused to both parties and encourage the continuation of a civil relationship through the divorce process.

  • Pick your words carefully. There is a clear delineation in most divorces of "the leaver" and "the left." The leaver is usually in the stronger position psychologically as they will have had some time to come to terms with what they want to happen. On the other hand, the left person feels wounded and is often shocked. The harder the "leave-taking" statement, the worse the wound. The worse the wound, the more likely to trigger "wounded-animal" type behaviours. Think carefully about how, when and where you tell your partner that the relationship is over. Avoid triggering their buttons.

  • Prepare for all sorts of guilt to be laid on you (bad wife or husband, bad mother or father, bad person, cruel, selfish, etc.), and for verbal abuse. Be prepared to respond calmly. Know what you will say.
  • Prepare for promises to change. If you are a woman, be aware that men who are frightened, but unable to express that emotion, may channel it into anger directed at you, or into promises that they will change. Do not expect alcoholism, gambling or drug abuse to change, despite promises. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that once you say you are going to leave, your spouse's problems may become even worse. Sometimes, they become temporarily better, but, without therapy or other interventions, they usually become worse fairly soon.
  • Use "I" messages, not "you" messages. "I feel that I need to start a new life." "I feel that this marriage is not working for me." Do not say, "You never did your share. You were a lousy husband/wife." etc.
  • Be confident. Talk firmly. Be physically as much at eye-level as possible. Speak calmly. Be prepared to drain yourself of anger before you begin, and during the conversation if you feel it welling up. You can feel sorrow, yes. Anger, no.
  • Consider the children. If you have children, assure your partner that they are still father/mother to the children and that this is important to you. Bolster their esteem in any reasonable, honest way you can. Reassure them that their relationship with the children need not change. Discuss how you will tell the children and plan to do so calmly and ideally together. This is important for the children.
  • Prepare the ground. It may make sense to prepare your spouse over time. Discuss divorce as a growing likelihood. Consider breaking this message in a public place with some privacy – a coffee shop or restaurant. The public setting will encourage your spouse to respond in a restrained and rational fashion. Think about when you will have the conversation, break the news during the daytime. Morning is best.
  • Keep calm. During the conversation, take deep breaths to relax. Don't listen to abuse if you can avoid it. Say "I understand how you feel, but I do not think it helps either of us to have you go on this way" and leave or hang up and suggest you speak again when they have had time to take stock.
  • Be ready to separate. Often it is best, after the "I want a divorce" conversation, for immediate physical separation. You should have a place to go selected, even if you hope to remain in the home. You can go there if your spouse refuses to leave.

Having come to a decision to separate and had the difficult conversation with your partner it is important that you consider fully any legal implications of your separation or divorce. For advice call Woolley & Co on 0800 321 3832 or complete our online form.

Tamara Glanvill

Divorce Solicitor, St Neots, Cambridgeshire

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