8 tips for ending your marriage with respect, honor & compassion.
I recently wrote about the reasons men have difficulty asking their wives for a divorce, and why staying in a marriage that has no hope of survival only hurts both spouses and the children in the long run.
It is not only making the decision to ask for a divorce that is difficult. Trying to figure out how, when and where to ask for one is a brutal psychological undertaking. This process of thinking it through, planning it out and taking the steps necessary for actualization are usually worse then the talk itself when it finally happens.
Just as so many men never ask for a divorce or break up with a long time girlfriend because they are concerned about hurting her, their children if they have them, and the life they have built together, there are also many situations in which men do indeed ask for a divorce or break up and allow themselves to be talked out of it by a partner determined to stay together.
Here are 8 ways to make the conversation less traumatic and set the tone for as peaceful a divorce as possible.*
1) Arrange a specific time and place to have the conversation.
If you keep waiting for the ideal moment to magically make itself known to you by the mystical pattern of the stars, you will not only be waiting for an eternity, you will be increasing the likelihood that one of these you will simply explode in a rage of pent up frustration, sending both of you off on a mad race to find the best (read most unnecessarily expensive) attorney in the city before the other one does.
Find a time you can both sit down at home with no kids and no meetings or otherwise calendared plans either of you will feel pressured or distracted by the clock.
2) Be brief and be honest.
If you have reached the point of deciding to get a divorce, chances are that the two of you have already endured arguments, therapy, discussions and cross-complaints. By the time most couples divorce, they have made each other well aware of each of their feelings of dissatisfaction with each other and with married life.
Now is not the time to rehash those arguments. Blame is irrelevant and why is no longer at issue. Marriage is complicated and this is a time for simplification. This is all that is necessary:
“We both know our marriage is less satisfying than either of us want or deserve. I appreciate you and I appreciate the life we have shared. I am ready for us to move forward now with a divorce.”
3) Allow your spouse to feel what he or she feels.
Once you’ve made the statement above, all you need to do is pause. There is no way to predict how your spouse will react. Yelling? Crying? Silence? Begging? Agreement? You can’t guess in advance so don’t stress yourself out trying.
Just let it happen. No need to argue back. No need to yell back or console or apologize or try to make it all OK. It isn’t all OK — that’s the whole point. Allow her to have her response and see number 4 below.
4) Choose a “conversational mantra” in advance.
Memorize these words, or something similar that feels more natural to your typical way of speaking, and have them in your mind and ready to share as needed.
“I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
She begs you to reconsider: “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
She calls you a mother f*cking a$$hole: “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
She asks why you keep repeating yourself: “Because I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
Like a tennis match, one person can only keep hitting the ball over the net so many times to a partner who refuses to hit it back. Eventually they will get tired, run out of balls and move on. (Pun not intended, but I kind of like it.)
5) Avoid agreeing to a trial separation if possible.
One of the worst habits of human nature is that we attempt to prolong the inevitable in order to spare ourselves pain. I know that never turns out particularly well for me. How’s it working for you?
The most complicated divorce cases I see are those coming on the heels of a lengthy separation. By the time a married couple have lived separate lives for 6 months, a year or more, there are already new complications laid in their path like fresh cement that may fully solidify at any given moment.
Maybe one of you has a new significant other. Maybe you each have new bank accounts and credit cards and investments along with the old joint ones, and you have been taking from one and placing into another and there is so much financial co-mingling you just bought yourself a full year with a forensic accountant. Maybe the kids are confused and anxious and struggling in school and adding to the pressure all-around. I promise you, it is never a pretty picture.
If the idea of a separation does come up, remember your mantra. “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
6) DO NOT bring legal actions or negotiations into this conversation.
This is not the time to have divorce papers served or tell your spouse you retained an attorney. You are sharing a decision about the status of your relationship, not telling her how custody and finances are going to be divided, what you have been told to do next, or what she will or won’t get.
If you reach a state of calm and she asks you something along the lines of “What’s next?,” you can tell her you would like to explore your options together. The two of you can each research divorce mediators in your area through Google or an online directory such as Mediate.com, or you can agree that one of you will select two or three local mediators to schedule consultations with.
Once you have selected someone with whom you both feel comfortable, the mediator will guide you through the process of filing, responding and negotiating all of the parenting and financial aspects of your divorce.
7) Discuss how and when you will tell the children.
You may decide to wait a few days to let it all sink in. You may decide to wait and see what your selected mediator suggests. You may wish to go to either or both of your therapists first. The important thing is that you and your spouse agree on when and how you will share the information of the divorce with the children together as a team, just as you will remain a team as their parents.
8) If the conversation cannot be completed in one conversation, set a time and place together for the next.
This can be a lot to get through with such heavy emotions in the air. If either one of you needs some time apart to think, talk to a therapist or trusted friend, or even just breathe, that is completely understandable and should be readily agreed to.
Take care to avoid just letting the conversation fade by asking when you can continue the conversation. You can choose a specific time and place, or agree one of you will touch base with the other by the next afternoon at the latest. You have come so far and taken this HUGE step. It would be a shame to allow your spoken decision to be brushed under the rug of her upset.
This is bound to be one of the most difficult conversations of your life. Keep in mind that you are not doing anything to anyone. You are gifting both of you with a key to freedom from the jail you’ve been living in.
You are not destroying a happy marriage, no matter what ANYONE says to you. A happy marriage requires two happy spouses. If your marriage was a solid and happy you wouldn’t be racking your brains right now trying to decide when and how to ask for a divorce in the first place.
*Extremely Important Note: These suggestions are not intended to address situations in which domestic violence has occurred or could be reasonable predicted to occur. Leaving an abuser is an extremely dangerous time for both men and women in such situations. Seek professional guidance if you have reason to believe asking for a divorce could endanger you or your children.
This post is republished on Medium.
Also by Arianna Jeret
Photo credit: iStock