Our Best Tips For Bringing Up A Divorce To Your Spouse

Getting a divorce is a major life change, especially for the spouse who doesn't see it coming. Not only may it be shocking emotionally, but it can mean very different living and financial situations for both of you. Because divorce can cause some upheaval, it may feel difficult to bring up, even if you know it's the right choice and you've already worked through the grieving process. Worries that your spouse might not take it well can make it even harder. While you can't control how your spouse may react, you can control how you break the news.

If you're considering divorce, it's likely that you've been experiencing marital issues for a while. While some may be dealing with serious issues like infidelity or abuse, that doesn't mean something huge has to drive the decision. Feeling like you no longer share any common interests or have a strong connection can be reason enough to divorce for some. However, while the necessity for divorce might be super obvious to you, that doesn't mean it's clear to your spouse, even if they're aware things aren't perfect.

This is part of the reason why finding a gentle but straightforward way to introduce the subject is ideal. If you need to tell your spouse that you're choosing to end the marriage but are nervous about doing so, taking some time and developing the right approach can help reduce some of the stress in the situation.

Take time to make sure you're certain

Before bringing up divorce, it can be helpful to check in with yourself and make sure it's what you really want. If you raise the issue with your spouse, you may want to ensure you're committed to it, and that it's not just something you've been thinking about lately because you're going through a rough patch. While it's not unheard of to mention divorce in a fight because you want your partner to take you seriously, it could lead to insecurity and communication issues in your relationship, per licensed marriage and family therapist Jim Siebold.

It can feel difficult to sort out your emotions, especially when they've been building up for a long time. To Oprah Daily, author of "Unhitched: Unlock Your Courage and Clarity and Unstick Your Bad Marriage," Sunny Joy McMillan says that relationship confusion is "...usually a lie. We block our own answers and tell ourselves we don't know." Also, if you're ready, then you are likely prepared for the emotional consequences, like admitting to yourself where things went wrong, according to former lawyer, accredited family mediator, and high conflict divorce expert Emma Heptonstall. Beyond that, you can also take responsibility for your role in the issues in your relationship, and the fact that you are no longer interested in putting effort towards those issues. Someone who's ready probably also thinks about divorce often, even when things are going well, not just during fights or difficult times.

Plan out your side of the conversation

After you feel certain that divorce is the right step for you, you may need to plan what you will say to your spouse. Taking a little time to plan out what you'll say can help you feel more prepared and reduce some of the nervousness you're experiencing. Going over some of the main points you want to cover may also make them easier to remember in the moment when your emotions might be heightened. It's also good to keep in mind what your motivation is and why this is important to you.

Feeling guilty about hurting your partner could make you more nervous about bringing the topic up, but reaffirming why it needs to happen can help you feel more conviction. Sticking to some of the basic facts and big bullet points can help you keep the conversation focused on what's most important, according to Harvard Business Review. It may also help to rehearse the conversation in your head or to think over a few different ways the conversation might go, or responses your spouse might have, per Equitable Mediation. Your spouse's awareness level of the state of the relationship can also impact how the conversation goes. For example, if they saw it coming it may be a calmer conversation than if they felt it came out of nowhere. 

Do your best to manage your emotions

While you can prepare what you say to your spouse, you might not always be able to prepare for the emotions that arise when you start talking about divorce. Not only is it a nerve-wracking conversation to start, but your partner's reaction may also cause you to feel emotional. They may either intentionally or unintentionally say things that hurt your feelings and cause a negative emotional reaction. This could lead to you saying things you don't mean, or shutting down and dropping the subject altogether.

While you may not be able to completely control your emotions, doing things that support emotional regulation leading up to this conversation can be a good idea. Labeling your emotions as you experience them can be an ideal place to start with this writes psychotherapist Amy Morin in Inc. Magazine. When you label your feelings you have a greater awareness of them, and ultimately more control. Understanding your feelings can help prevent you from being overwhelmed by them while allowing you to fight back against thinking traps that can trigger your anxiety. The more you can identify your feelings, the more empowered you are to make choices about how to respond to them.

Trying to reframe how you think about the situation might help, too. Instead of focusing on the apprehension about the conversation, thinking of it as anticipation to get something important off your chest may help you see the situation in a more positive light. 

Prepare for your partner's emotions

When bringing up divorce, it isn't just your emotions you'll have to contend with, but your partner's, too. Even if their reaction is mild, it may still be tough to see them feeling hurt. However, you may need to prepare yourself to see a wide range of emotions.

They may express shock, sadness, or confusion, which is normal, or they may become abusive, which is not. As Katie Hood, CEO of One Love, tells Psych Central: "If something feels off about your relationship or dating situation, it probably is." In this case, you might need to take extra precautions, like enlisting help. In seriously abusive situations, per Psych Central, it may be advisable to ensure that you, your children, pets, and important documents are all in a safe place before bringing up divorce.

Even if you're not concerned about abuse, you still need to give your approach some consideration. Avoiding topics or words that you know will trigger negative reactions can be beneficial. Focusing on problem-solving can also be a good idea, according to Hello Divorce. Being goal-oriented and maintaining a positive attitude about your ability to come to an agreement may not ensure things will go perfectly, but it can be more helpful than going into the conversation ready to argue.

Choose your time and place carefully

The time and place you choose to bring up divorce is also key. If you decide to launch into this conversation right before they need to leave for work, you may not have enough time for the discussion, and they may be too distracted to focus on your words. If you bring it up when your children are around or right before you plan to have company over, it could end up making the conversation more uncomfortable than it needs to be. Texting your spouse that you want a divorce may also not be appropriate, according to Professional Counseling.

Hurling the "D" word at them in a noisy coffee shop or a packed restaurant may also be inappropriate. With too much activity around you, it could make it difficult for both of you to focus. Besides that, not allowing them to soak in the information in a quiet and private space could potentially come off as disrespectful, and even create some resentment. If possible, letting your partner choose a time to talk that works for them can give them a greater sense of agency when it comes to the conversation, per Helene Brenner, a licensed psychologist and co-author of "The Art of Feeling: How to be More Emotionally Connected in a Disconnected World." Of course, a caveat to this is if you feel it wouldn't be safe for you to have this conversation alone or in private.

Avoid you statements

When bringing up divorce, the more that you can do to avoid inciting an argument, the better. At this point, your focus should be more on seeking balanced solutions so that you can both move forward rather than taking digs at your partner. However, even if you don't outright attack your partner or their behavior, certain language can come off as accusatory and put them on the defensive. This can be true even if you are just trying to explain your position and reasoning for wanting a divorce.

This is where being conscious of "you" and "I" statements come into play. Directing a "you" statement at someone can make them feel attacked or accused, whereas using an "I" statement to describe a situation can allow you to discuss your feelings without pointing the finger at your spouse, according to Relationship Center. For example, saying, "You are always angry," can come off as a negative assessment of your spouse's character, whereas saying "I feel like you're frustrated with me," can allow you to discuss something without having to place direct blame on your spouse. This allows you to express yourself honestly while also diffusing some of the anger or upset your spouse might feel if you tied these feelings directly to them.

Don't rehash the past

When you tell your partner you want to get divorced, you might be dropping an emotional bomb on them. Or, they might've seen it coming, but are still upset that the relationship is ending, despite the fact that they may also have been unhappy. Either way, it can feel like a significant blow. Whether your partner is reeling from shock or is already working through acceptance, they are likely not in a good place mentally to start discussing in detail why you want to divorce them, according to Psychology Today.

While they may want to know why you're making this choice or they need some information for closure, getting too deep into complicated issues could be confusing and overwhelming. Bringing up old arguments isn't likely to be constructive at this point, and could end up creating more tension during divorce proceedings, especially if what you have to say makes your soon-to-be-ex feel resentful towards you. Even if you feel that it's important to get off your chest that your partner didn't help you enough with the children or that their quick temper made it hard for you to connect with them, now is likely not the time to spell it out. It's also possible that your spouse might try to draw you into a conversation about who failed who, or who caused what issue. Stopping this kind of conversation in its tracks can help prevent you from starting your divorce off on a contentious path. 

Make sure to listen

When you're preparing to bring up divorce to your spouse, you may be focusing heavily on what you need to say to them. You might be so eager to get it off your chest that you forget about the importance of listening to your partner. Listening is a key part of effective communication, and when you're getting divorced, being conscious of how you communicate with your soon-to-be ex-spouse is extra important, especially if you and your partner have struggled with poor communication. While divorce may seem like the end of a relationship, if you have children together and need to co-parent, it is really just the beginning of a new type of relationship, which will involve communicating.

Once you've told your spouse you want a divorce, you may need to give them a little time or space to soak it in, or ask questions. However, at some point, they may have things they want to say to you in return. Of course, some of these things may not be pleasant, but if you want to communicate well, it's best to not react defensively, according to Psychology Today. Choosing to be empathetic and truly take in their view of things can help you gain a better understanding of their feelings. Not only may this help them adjust to the new reality better, but it can also show them that you respect them, their feelings, and their opinions.

Don't bring up any major life changes

Getting a divorce means that big changes are ahead for both of you. Your living arrangements will likely change, and your financial situation will probably change as well. If you share children, the end of your relationship will mean lots of changes for them, too. This can cause significant stress. According to Psychology Today, divorce and all the changes that come with it can have some long-term consequences, like increased mortality rates, higher rates of depression, and increased substance abuse. Because the conversation about divorce is already stressful enough on its own, it may not be helpful to pile on a discussion of more stressful topics so soon after telling your spouse you'd like to divorce.

Your spouse may still be absorbing what you've told them and might be overwhelmed with emotions. This means that they (or you) may not be able to hash out details in a logical or fair way. Anger about the divorce could make your spouse less agreeable to arrangements they might normally be fine with, or their worry about the future could lead them to agree to things that won't actually work out long-term. Similarly, if you're feeling upset or anxious, these feelings could also cloud your judgment and hinder your ability to negotiate properly, according to Psychology Today. By saving the details for a later conversation, you can provide both parties the opportunity to cool down and consider what is best for each of you.

Know your boundaries and stand firm against objections

While you should be gentle with your spouse during this conversation, you also need to be firm, especially when it comes to boundaries. Healthy boundaries help ensure that each person feels respected and heard, and can help you avoid future conflict, per Forbes. This can be especially important when it comes to navigating divorce proceedings. Your partner may object strongly to your choice to get a divorce. From guilt tripping to begging or even anger, they may employ an array of tactics to get you to change your mind, especially if they felt blindsided by your decision, according to Psychology Today. 

Taking time to think about your boundaries before the conversation can be a good idea. The more you have your boundaries set in your mind, the easier it may be for you to take action and end the conversation if your future ex crosses them. Also, as Psych Central states, working through some of your fears about divorce, like the pain it might cause or what others might think, can be helpful, too. While it may be beneficial to be willing to negotiate when it comes to making arrangements for your future, that doesn't mean that you have to let your spouse talk you into staying in the relationship or into anything else that isn't in your best interest.

Give your partner space for acceptance

When you tell your partner you want to get divorced, they may be shocked that you want to or shocked that you didn't bring it up sooner. While you might've been aware of your marital issues for a long time, you may not really know how your spouse has been viewing your marriage up to this point. Even if things had clearly become emotionally strained, they may have expected the relationship to continue or had hope that it could be fixed. They may realize that they, in fact, want a divorce, too, or they may feel confused about what is happening. The reality is that there are many valid reactions to being told your spouse wants to get a divorce.

If you want to be able to cooperate throughout the divorce process, your spouse needs space and time to accept your decision. This way they can work through their emotions and gain some understanding of the changes ahead, according to Professional Counseling. While it may make you feel insecure not knowing what they're thinking after bringing up divorce, giving them a little breathing room can show your spouse that you acknowledge their need to work through things on their own and that you respect their right to do so. This can also allow them to cool down, and return to the conversation with more mental clarity, so that you can discuss the necessary details and take your next steps toward moving apart, together.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.