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Transition Institute: Telling Your Spouse You want to Split

Transition Institute: Telling Your Spouse You want to Split

Mental Health: The Dos, Don'ts of Telling Your Spouse You Want a Divorce


Q. I’m seriously thinking about asking my husband for a divorce. When is the right time to tell him and is there one way to say it that is better than another?  

Much of how this question is answered depends on whether or not your husband has any inkling of your feelings. If he is aware that you have not been happy in the marriage, or if the feelings are mutual, you will have more options. 

Telling him when you’re calm and have time to talk about it together (such as at the beginning of the weekend) is often a good idea. As far as what to say, stating your feelings about the relationship is much more powerful than naming what you think he has done wrong in the marriage. For example, “I feel sad that we don’t spend time together any more and that we’ve grown apart,” is more compelling than, “You never do things with me anymore, and it’s your fault that I feel lonely.”  

If you haven’t yet told your husband that you are contemplating divorce (or you have but he hasn’t heard you), then how and when you tell him will be important to think through. It’s always kinder to give your spouse notice of your unhappiness. This gives him a chance to respond and to improve the situation. Saying something like, “I haven’t been happy for quite some time. I’d like to tell you what’s going on and see if we can work on things,” is a good place to start.  

When the time comes for you to ask for a separation, the best policy is to be direct but kind. For example, “I know this may be hard for you to hear, but I feel that this marriage is over and that we need to get divorced.” Springing news of this magnitude without prior warning is mean and will set you up for a much more difficult transition if for no other reason than that he will be experiencing the early stages of grief (denial and anger) while you are farther along in accepting that the marriage isn’t working and wanting to move on with your life.
If you’re at all concerned about your safety, you may choose to tell him in front of a trained professional such as a therapist or you may want to tell him in a public place where there are plenty of people around you. You can’t control how well your spouse takes the news but there are ways that you can reduce the upset and encourage understanding. 

More Dos and Don’ts of Telling Your Spouse You Want a Divorce:  

1. Do tell him you want a divorce when things are calm.
2. Do tell him when you have time to talk about it.
3. Do give your husband notice that you are not happy.
4. Don’t use the “D” word as an idle threat.
5. Don’t blurt it out in the heat of an argument or be disrespectful.
6. Don’t spring such big news on him when he doesn’t see it coming.

Susan Pease Gadoua is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the founder and director of the Transition Institute of Marin (T.I.M.). Based in San Rafael, Calif., T.I.M. provides support and education to divorcing women and men. Susan is the author of "Contemplating Divorce: A Step by Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go", "The Top Ten Misguided Reasons to Stay in a Bad Marriage," and "Stronger Day by Day: Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce." She can be reached at susanpease@tiofmarin.com.

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