Six Tips to Help Break the News if You Decide to Ask Your Spouse for a Divorce

When you have decided to end your marriage, you should give serious thought to the manner in which you tell your spouse. Presumably, you want to find a middle ground between slipping away in the night and booking the Wednesday slot on Maury Povich for a surprise announcement. This conversation will possibly set the tone for the whole process, so if you can lessen the hurt and anger here, it could help later. Here are some tips to consider when talking with your spouse about divorce.

When and where

Your spouse should be the first to know you want a divorce. If you have already told friends or relatives, there is always a chance your partner will hear about your intentions from someone else first, which will only amplify the resentment. Consider whether he or she would respond better to your announcement in private, at home, or in a public place like a restaurant or park. For example, if your fear a violent reaction, it might be wise not to be alone with your spouse. If your fear he or she will be self-destructive, you may wish to seek the help of a professional for advice ahead of time.

Consider your timing

You don’t want to end up screaming your request during an argument over something else. So you should plan for a relatively stress-free time in your week to have this discussion. If you have children, perhaps arranging for them to be with friends would be helpful. It may be tempting to pick a holiday or special time when your family is together for your announcement, but consider whether you really want to turn your son’s birthday or Thanksgiving into “the day Daddy left.”

Be kind

A surprising number of people who are divorced had no idea how unhappy their partners were. So, even if you have been miserable and thinking of moving on for months, your spouse may be shocked at your request. If asked why, give a reason (if you can) without being hurtful. Refrain from rehashing every fault you believe your partner has. Your spouse’s self-esteem already will be fragile enough. If you have met someone else, consider whether this is the best time to say so, or to act on that new attraction. After years of unhappiness with a distant husband who rarely helped with her four children, Linda* finally decided to ask her husband for a divorce.

Unfortunately, the catalyst for her decision was a brief fling on a cruise she took with friends. Her husband found emails from the other man and quickly focused the blame for all the marriage’s problems on her. He used all his resources in a bitter fight to be sure she lost her house, children, and most of her income. Remember, the more drama you can avoid, the easier the separation process will be.

You probably feel guilty over the hurt you are causing your spouse, but be clear about your own feelings, too. Consider how to respond if your spouse asks you to go to counseling, if you haven’t tried it already. Is there a chance this could help and even change your mind? Remember that you have probably had several weeks or months to consider life without your marriage, and your partner will need some time to deal with emotions you have already gone through.

Plan ahead

Think about the details. Where will you live? Do you plan to move out immediately, or stay in your home until the divorce is final? What is your vision of how child-rearing will be shared? Having some kind of plan to present may lessen the fear and confusion your spouse immediately feels. You probably can’t work out all the details of your financial arrangements ahead of time. But if you suspect your partner will react to your request by cleaning out bank accounts, take half the money out of your joint savings accounts and put it in a new account ahead of time. Try to leave it there, untouched, until the legal divorce settlement is final. Cancel joint credit cards if you feel your spouse might abuse them, but be sure to tell him or her you have done so.

What if Divorce Isn’t Your Idea?

If your spouse has asked you for a divorce, possibly you are shocked, and surely you are angry, hurt, and confused. These feelings are normal, but here are some things to consider as you examine the situation.

1. Don’t let anger get in the way.

In his book Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life, Sam Margulies says, “In every divorce, each partner must make a critical choice. You can act out your immediate feelings, and get short-term emotional satisfaction, or you can manage those feelings and pursue long-term interests. You can almost never do both. This doesn’t mean that you will not feel anger, loss betrayal, jealousy, a thirst for revenge — only that you should not act on those feelings to the detriment of your future. This may not be the time to clean out the bank accounts, break all the heels off her shoes, destroy his old sports treasures or post unflattering photos on the Internet. In the scheme of things, you will do yourself, and your family, no favors by acting on anger alone. In a court case, for example, destructive actions can be presented as evidence that most judges will not view favorably.”

2. Take steps to protect your interests.

Try to learn as much as you can about the family finances, savings, and insurance accounts. If your spouse has not already done so, take half of savings accounts and put the money in a new account in your name. If you don’t have credit of your own, apply for credit cards in your name while you are still married. The more you can plan ahead, the fewer details you have to consider as things get more stressful and confusing.

*name has been changed.