Divorce is a complex subject because it can be either an amicable or hostile process. However, there are many ways to make divorce less stressful and more peaceful.
Here’s how to ask for a divorce peacefully, according to experts.
Daniel H. Stock
Principal Attorney, Daniel H. Stock, PLLC
Consult with a divorce lawyer before deciding which method of divorce resolution to use
Ending a marriage is stressful, emotional, and exhausting. Divorce is the act that formalizes the death of a marriage, the severing of a relationship, and sometimes, the dissolution of a family unit.
Given the high-stakes nature of divorce and separation, telling your partner in a peaceful way that the marriage is over and that you would like to divorce is extremely difficult. But it happens. It happens in instances where both parties may fully acknowledge that the marriage is over and are jointly ready to move on.
The conversation can be over cocktails or even while brushing one’s teeth – and can be as simple as one party saying to the other without rancor or blame, “I think we are done. Don’t you?”
Or it may be raised by your family therapist in marriage counseling, who says, “Do you both want to stay together? Or separate?” It might even be family or friends (or even a child) who broach the subject, having listened to you both shout at each other for years: “Mommy, are you and daddy getting divorced?” Sometimes, the most peaceful way to ask your partner for a divorce is to have someone else tell you it’s over.
But what then? Assuming you’ve both peacefully agreed to end your marriage, what options are available to you that won’t leave more blood on the floor?
Depending on the issues to be resolved, including the grounds for your divorce, the division of marital or community property, alimony, and child support, custody, and visitation, the following list (ordered from least to most bloody) are the options available to you:
Do-it-yourself divorce using forms
You’ve asked your husband, ”Honey, you ready to get divorced?” And he’s agreed. Your plan is to part ways amicably.
If your marriage was of short duration, there are no assets, children, or high-paying jobs that put one of you at significant economic advantage, you can download forms from the Internet, fill them out, file them with the court, and get divorced that way.
However, if you and your husband have even a single issue that you cannot agree upon – even something as “minor” as who gets to keep the bedroom lamp – this method will not work for you.
Kitchen table divorce
Similarly, if one of you pops the divorce question over bagels and the other graciously accepts the proposal, chances are you can also participate in an amicable kitchen table divorce.
In this scenario, a husband and wife sit together – often at the kitchen/dining room table – hence the name, to discuss the details of their divorce as if they were planning a child’s birthday party or their grandparent’s golden anniversary.
This doesn’t mean they gloss over details or skip important decisions. Rather, as two reasonable adults engaged in a negotiation, they can resolve each and every aspect of their divorce themselves, with no outside help from relatives, clergy, lawyers, witch doctors, or other professionals.
Once the terms of the divorce are agreed to, both parties do have to retain lawyers to translate their wishes into “legalese” and to file certain legal documents with the court in the location where the couple lives. This is because:
- Divorce terms must take the form of a legal contract
- Documents submitted to the court that will be divorcing the couple must be crafted in a specifically prescribed format
For couples who cannot agree on every aspect of their divorce but believe they can reach a consensus by having a third party help them resolve their differences, mediation can be an effective choice. A mediator is a neutral person whose job is to help the couple resolve issues they cannot agree on using the principles of negotiation and compromise.
While mediation can be a relatively low-cost alternative to more adversarial forms of divorce resolution, this is an option in which divorcing couples should tread carefully because sometimes mediation fails, not because the couple cannot agree, but because the mediator the couple selected lacks appropriate qualifications.
How can that happen? Because in many states, mediators are not required to be licensed or even have a certificate of some sort to conduct business as mediators. Worse, some mediators advertise themselves as “divorce mediators,” a profession unrecognized in many states.
Also, in many states, mediators do not have to be lawyers. The unregulated nature of this field does not bode well for uniformly successful results.
When considering this option, be aware that mediators do not have a vested interest in the “fairness” of the outcome of your divorce. The job of the mediator is to produce a settlement, albeit not necessarily a fair one.
To evaluate the fairness of a settlement, a mediator would have to consider such factors as:
- The legal rights of the parties
- Whether the person in the marriage who raised children and forewent career opportunities will be adequately compensated for years she (typically the wife) spent supporting a bread-winning husband
- What amount of child support would be appropriate
- Many other factors
Typically, mediators are not equipped – or hired to – conduct such detailed inquiries. Those decisions would be hammered out by the couple themselves, under the oversight of the mediator.
It is also advisable to have lawyers “review” the agreement reached in the mediation process. However, that, too, is fraught with danger as the “review attorney” may not necessarily take the time to carefully evaluate all of the facts necessary to determine the fairness of the settlement.
Collaborative Divorce is a form of mediation in which a structured, team-oriented approach is used to help the couple arrive at a divorce settlement. It differs from mediation in that all members of the Collaborative Divorce team have had specialized training in this process. Collaborative Divorce is part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) movement gaining popularity as an alternative to litigation.
Although there are many Collaborative Divorce “models,” a popular one involves a team consisting of:
- Two lawyers – One each to separately represent the husband and wife
- Two mental health professionals, typically psychotherapists – Each separately representing the husband and wife
- One financial neutral such as an accountant or certified financial planner (CFP)- The financial neutral gather financial information from the parties and prepares a report that is then accepted as representing the financial aspects of the marriage.
Collaborative Divorce’s key advantage over mediation is that both parties are represented by lawyers who will be on the alert for anything that compromises the legal rights of their clients.
Collaborative Divorce attorneys are also expected to be experts in divorce law, so they will know whether a proposed settlement would be equally beneficial to their clients as one that might be reached through application of the law in a litigated setting.
The key disadvantage of Collaborative Divorce is that the couple agrees to give up certain legal rights they are otherwise entitled to in the litigation process, such as “discovery,” a formal process by which each spouse is required to divulge his financial assets, spending habits, and other details that will shed light on the finances of the marriage.
Regardless of how nicely you’ve asked your partner for a divorce, if you cannot agree on anything else, your option is litigation. Litigation is a formal legal process in which two adversaries, most often but not always represented by lawyers, seek, by legal means, to resolve some or all of the issues in their dispute.
The steps in the litigation process are:
- Filing legal papers to start a lawsuit
- Gathering financial and other information (“discovery”) to properly evaluate the financial and other aspects of the case
- If necessary, filing motions asking the court to issue orders regarding one or more aspects of the case
- Trial (if necessary)
- Appeal (if necessary)
For certain cases, litigation is the only option. Examples of such cases are where one or both parties has serious mental issues or domestic violence has been committed.
Litigation is also commonly used where there is major disagreement between the parties on the division of assets and over custody.
What’s the best method?
Except in cases of do-it-yourself divorce using forms and kitchen-table divorce, it is advisable to consult with a divorce lawyer before deciding which method of divorce resolution to use. Even the friendliest divorcing couples may have overlooked legal issues that, once brought to their attention, may impact their decision on what type of divorce resolution method to use.
For example, many people, having heard that mediation is a “friendly” or inexpensive way to get divorced, go that route and sign legal documents binding themselves to terms they later regret.
A word to the wise: Never get divorced using a method one of your friends used without evaluating whether it is right for your case. Divorces are like snowflakes — no two are the same. Just because mediation worked for your friend does not mean it is right for you.
Never argue with or insult your spouse while your divorce is going on.
In today’s world, the vast majority of our communications are recorded electronically, easily accessed, and can be used against you if your case goes to court. Don’t help the other side make their case against you.
Always make decisions during your divorce based on rational objectives your lawyer can help you formulate. Do not be impulsive. If you are not sure how to deal with your spouse during your divorce, ask your lawyer.
Miles Mason, Sr. JD, CPA
Divorce Attorney | Founder, Miles Mason Family Law Group, PLC
Ask your prospective lawyer direct questions like, “Tell me specific strategies to keep this divorce peaceful.”
Once you have made your decision, arguing over the decision whether to divorce or not is rarely productive for either spouse. Here are some of your options:
- All business. Avoid all discussions of fault. “This is happening.”
- Shock and awe. Many spouses want to tell their spouse about the divorce after the paperwork and settlement is already drafted. Hand your spouse a proposed settlement at the time of dropping the news of divorce.
- “It’s not you; it’s me.” Accept your responsibility for the situation but don’t make any factual admissions. Leave it at that.
- “It’s you, not me.” Put the blame squarely on your spouse’s failure to agree to counseling, go to rehab, or change in some way the two of you have been discussing over the years.
- Ghost. Drop the bad news and run. If you are bad at conflict, avoid it at all costs. Be prepared to rely on your emotional support team of friends and family.
Time management for emotions to process
Unless you married a robot, expect some hurt feelings of guilt, fear, and anger. Working through the 5 stages takes time. Expect some days of highs and lows. Be prepared for your emotional response to your spouse’s emotional response.
In general, divorce settlements usually take place after some period of time for processing and adjustments. That can be 30 days, or that could be 18 months. Some spouses never get over the feelings of betrayal and loss.
You want your spouse to come to the realization, “Do I want to be married to someone who doesn’t want to be married to me?” Most answer, “no.”
Lawyer selection: can the divorce lawyer avoid throwing gasoline on a fire?
Know that lawyers can profit from conflict. Some lawyers cannot help themselves from causing conflict through unprofessional and toxic behavior. While those “thick-skin” skill sets really help in high-conflict divorces, those tactics can ruin the chances of a peaceful divorce.
Ask your prospective lawyer direct questions like, “Tell me specific strategies to keep this divorce peaceful.” If you don’t understand the answer, move on to someone else.
Once you’ve made the decision to divorce, first choose and meet with a family lawyer. Many divorcing spouses take this step before making the decision to divorce. There are several decisions you need to make regarding finances. Many experienced family lawyers will have very specific recommendations. Listen to them.
Even if you want a low-conflict divorce, the smart play is to protect yourself from a worst-case scenario. Avoiding costly mistakes can help keep tensions lower.
- Should you file first?
- Close joint bank accounts?
- Create a secret cash stash?
- Moving out?
- Change passwords for financial accounts and social media?
Develop a plan for all contingencies.
When telling a spouse you want a divorce, honesty may not be your best bet. You shouldn’t make admissions that can later be used against you in court. You must balance your desire to avoid drama with angering your spouse. An angry spouse will be reluctant to settle.
If you know your spouse is going to get angry no matter what, that may need to be assumed in choosing options.
Sabrina Shaheen Cronin
Founder and Managing Partner, Cronin Law Firm
Both parties must be willing to put aside their emotions and egos
Having been a family law attorney for over two decades, there has not been “one way” to ask for a divorce that has prevailed as the “best way” over any other. Every relationship is as unique as the two people who are in it.
Because no two people are alike, each relationship brings its own distinct circumstances and situations that only those two people, blended as they are, can bring. Take one of those people out of the equation, and insert any other person, and the dynamic of that relationship will change.
This all being said, however, in my experience, no matter how you try to leave a relationship, you should do it as peacefully as possible.
Hopefully, the decision to divorce your spouse was not made lightly, and you took your time to arrive at such a decision. Issues in a marriage may have taken time to develop, but if they are not resolved effectively, the same issues can continue to occur over and over again.
Additionally, one spouse may not be able to communicate his or her emotional needs effectively enough for the other spouse to understand. Sometimes this is due to fear, or perhaps emotional immaturity. Perhaps one spouse may not “hear” or “see” the needs of the other spouse well enough—despite ample communication from the other spouse trying to express and assert his or her needs.
Also, when couples argue or disagree, unless a healthy discussion and/or compromise ensues thereafter, resolving the conflict to the satisfaction of both parties, the same issues tend to repeat. When a marriage breaks down, communication is one of the major reasons why it is breaking down or perhaps it is a by-product of someone not feeling the love from his or her spouse anymore.
Hurt feelings, withdrawing, and isolation are by-products of communication gone awry, in some fashion. You should be clear with your needs and intentions.
Suppose you exhausted all your efforts:
- Communicating all your needs effectively and giving your partner an opportunity to meet those needs
- Speaking with a trusted professional who may help you navigate the issues that have caused you concern
- Making every attempt to resolve the issues in your marriage.
In that case, you should be clear and confident with your decision.
Communicating Your Decision
Your decision to divorce has been made. If you and your spouse are like a lot of couples, the fact that one of you wants a divorce does not come as a shock or surprise. Usually, your partner has some idea of your desire to divorce.
Even when marital issues have caused strife for years and the two of you have been in marriage counseling for a while, asking for divorce can still be difficult.
If, however, you and your spouse have not been openly communicating and discussing marital issues, or you believe your spouse has no idea you want a divorce, broaching the subject may seem impossible.
It is reasonable to have some apprehension or fear when needing to discuss your desire to divorce. Many people do not like conflict. If you fall into this category, and your fear is reasonable and not born out of any type of mistreatment or abuse, perhaps writing a letter to your spouse will be helpful.
You may write a letter to help you clarify what you would like to express verbally, never intending to share its contents. You may also write a letter to share it with your spouse.
- If you have suffered any type of abuse, please seek the assistance of a qualified professional. Taking the necessary precautions, having a well-crafted plan, and ensuring your safety is crucial and beyond the scope of this article.
You can ask to meet your spouse for coffee, at a park, or somewhere you feel safe, outside of the home. You can have your spouse read the letter you prepared or simply have it with you in the event you need to recall certain things you really want to express to him or her.
If meeting in person is too difficult for you, you can leave a letter for him or her, but some acknowledgment of your leaving it for him or her should be made. Now that most establishments are open again for business (in our post-pandemic world), I find that tempers and emotions are kept in check when two people meet in a neutral place.
Additionally, if one or both of the parties is in therapy, they may feel safest asking for a divorce in that setting.
Sometimes, for many reasons, your spouse may not know of your desire to divorce. I have seen situations where one spouse moves everything out of their home and files for divorce without any communication at all.
In my opinion, this is cowardly (unless, of course, they are leaving an abusive situation), and your spouse, no matter how little love there is left, deserves some discussion and communication. After all, you did love this person or thought you did and shared your life intimately at one point.
If you have children together, the lack of communication, heartless actions, and cruel behavior will bring years of tension and acrimony you and your children would be better off avoiding altogether.
Showing care and concern for your spouse’s well-being is a minimal “ask,” and a high-quality person would want to ensure their spouse is treated kindly, even if no love remains.
Sometimes, when there is not even respect left, and there are no children shared, no business shared, or otherwise you do not have to deal with this person ever again, people do not care to divorce peacefully, let alone respectfully. Frankly, they do not even care to ask kindly for a divorce.
In these situations, perhaps Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” should be your guide.
All joking aside, when it comes to asking for a divorce and going through the divorce process when children are involved, especially minor children, it is always better to err on the side of kindness rather than acrimony. No matter what stage in the process you and your spouse may be, learn to bite your tongue for everyone’s sake.
Now is not the time to win the argument, prove your point, or need to be right. Now is not the time to be retaliatory, air dirty laundry, tell the world how victimized you were, argue in front of your kids, or ask friends and family to defame them on social media. You already made the decision to divorce. Now just do it.
Maintaining peace throughout the divorce and beyond
With tension, hurt feelings, and anger, how can you possibly discuss divorce peacefully? Why should it even matter? If you have children together, it matters.
To divorce peacefully, both parties must be willing to put aside their emotions and egos and anything else getting in the way of peaceful interactions, including the bad advice of others.
You should always put the needs of your children first. This is not an easy task, but no matter how difficult it is, it is necessary for the well-being of your children and the future of their mental and emotional health.
Discover the best way to communicate with your soon-to-be-ex
If you want to keep your attorney’s fees at a reasonable level during the divorce process, you should discover the best way to communicate with your soon-to-be-ex. If you have children, communication is essential. Find out what works best for you. If one of you is extremely hurt or angry, perhaps keeping communication to texts or emails is best.
Over time, it is better to try to discuss issues over the phone because people often tend to infer or imply certain “tones” or intentions never meant by the other person. When discussing issues during the divorce process, try to keep the tone professional.
If you are dealing with someone, who cannot be trusted or changes his or her mind often, once you discuss things verbally, make sure to confirm what was discussed and summarize the contents of the communication in writing via email or text.
Try not to negotiate any terms during the divorce process that you and your attorney have already discussed would be your attorney’s job to do. It is very difficult to undo a negotiation you may have already set in motion.
Hopefully, over time, and with some support, you can grow to become a stronger person, learn from the mistakes of this relationship, and learn to better yourself so that you do not repeat similar patterns that do not work for you.
With time, your anguish, sadness, and anger should diminish and you can have a more peaceful relationship with your ex. When you share children, it is important to have a harmonious co-parenting relationship.
As time goes on and your life changes, no one cares whose fault the divorce was, how many extramarital affairs he or she had, how much money he or she blew, or how many lies he or she told.
Sadly, and unfortunately, it often does not even matter how physically or emotionally abusive he or she was to you unless, of course, this toxic behavior continues against you or the children.
What matters is that your children feel safe, happy, and healthy. They need to feel loved.
You should never disparage the other parent. After all, your children are half of them. Can you imagine the pain your children must feel to hear negative things about one of their parents?
If there was a great deal of arguing or tension in the home leading up to the divorce, that was difficult enough for your family. Do not continue to allow your children to relive the pain and negativity with disparagement and hostility toward the other parent.
What I have seen in my professional and personal lives is that the truth always surfaces. Sometimes it takes years. I have also found that the ones who “behave” better throughout the marriage are the ones who “behave” better during the divorce. The ones who put forth more effort in the marriage are usually the catalysts for a kinder, more respectful relationship post-divorce.
Their whole approach is putting the needs of the children first.
If there are no children involved, people who are more empathic and compassionate are typically kinder souls and will be more peaceful at every stage of the divorce. Being outwardly compassionate and sincere while possessing an inner strength will assist you in knowing to your core that what is right for you will eventually be right for everyone involved.
Simply put, no matter how the other person is behaving, you should always be kind and respectful. This is not easy.
When you have no strength in you, remember the faces of your children and be the person you would want them to admire. Gain inner strength, be kind, and show your children how awesome you are.
If you are the one on the receiving end of the divorce, whether you have children or not, try not to look at this person’s divorcing you as you are not good enough or you did something wrong. Use this challenge to propel you forward to become more self-aware, self-introspective, and more sympathetic.
Most of all, be kind and respectful to yourself.
Do not worry about the friendships the two of you shared. Do not worry about which side someone may be taking. Let go of the hurt, keep your head held high, and move forward with confidence, knowing that you are taking charge of your life.
Related: How to Move on After Divorce
Erica Cramer, LCSW
Clinical Social Work/Therapist, Cobb Psychotherapy NYC
Express your desire to get a divorce in a diplomatic way
When people get married, they plan on a lifetime of happiness rather than irreconcilable differences. Life happens, and sometimes as we grow, it’s apart rather than together. Our wants, our needs, the things that make us happy just change.
People get divorced for many different reasons that range from a sordid affair to simply not getting along. Ending a marriage or any partnership is hard but sometimes necessary or unavoidable. Ending in a peaceful manner, especially when there are children involved, is crucial.
Ideally, we would all like to be able to separate from people and the elements in our life that no longer serve our needs without ever becoming contentious, but that just isn’t always the hand we are dealt.
Your partner will likely react one of four ways (and as they go through the stages of grief over the loss of the relationship, these reactions may change):
- The closer: They’ll accept the information and proceed with candor;
- The oblivious: They’ll feel blindsided and shocked – regardless of how foreshadowed this ending was to you;
- The beggar: They’ll attempt to salvage the relationship and delay the inevitable – maybe asking for therapy, counselling or a fresh start; and
- The reactor: They’ll get angry; blaming the problems in the relationship on you, deflecting responsibility and with hurtful words and actions / refusal of acknowledgement.
Before even touching on this conversation, it’s important to assess who your partner is likely to be in this situation and prepare for that.
- If they don’t see this coming, think about poignant memories in the relationship that make this clear, and the kindest way to point them out.
- If they want to salvage the marriage and you do not, prepare to use non-ambiguous statements to close the door while respecting that this is something they do not want to give up on.
- If they are likely to get angry, try to plan for an environment where they may be calm, do not engage and prepare yourself for the hurtful things that they may say or do, and do not internalize their hurt.
If you are planning to start a peaceful divorce proceeding and have allotted for the above or feel your partner is capable of closing the chapter, the best way to start is by expressing your desire to get a divorce in a diplomatic way. Timing is everything.
You know your partner, and you’ll know when they’re in the right frame of mind to have this type of conversation.
For example, do not initiate the conversation after they had a long day at work or you are in the midst of a massive fight. Select a time when you feel your partner will be most receptive to what you have to say and that extraneous factors will not influence the result of the discussion.
Start by telling your partner the reason you fell in love with them and/or what you have enjoyed most about your lives together. Whether you were always going on new adventures or would laugh until your stomachs hurt, these are memories worth reminiscing about and validate the relationship and what your time together has meant to you.
Tell them your feelings about the current status of the relationship (this is usually the reason you want a divorce). Things like:
- “I feel like our relationship is no longer a priority.”
- “I don’t think either of us has been good to the other in a long time.”
Avoid statements that assign blame, for example, “I do not feel like you make our relationship a priority,” as this will only cause them to be defensive. Explain your perspective as neutrally and thoroughly as possible.
This is the opportunity for them to know the reasoning behind your request and for you to get these feelings off of your chest. After disclosing your feelings, clearly tell them you want a divorce. Do not leave any room for ambiguity, and let them know this is on the horizon.
Give them time to process the information, as obvious a solution this was to you; it might come as a shock to them. You will likely get into the nitty-gritty details at another point in time. Then, end the conversation on a positive note.
Make sure you are genuine and avoid making trite statements (such as “You will always have a special place in my heart”). Things to tell your partner should be from the love and sentiment you began your relationship with like:
- “I genuinely wish you only the best.”
- “You have been an important part of my life, and I will always think fondly of the times we spent together.”
Avoid dragging the details out here because it only convolutes the conversation, and it is likely their thoughts are elsewhere anyhow.
After the conversation, give them time to process the situation. You know your partner and the general amount of time this will take. You may not be able to give them a month but can certainly give them a week or two. Once that period elapses, start the divorce proceedings in a calm and compassionate manner.
Partner, Wesley Clark and Peshkin
Have the conversation when everyone has downtime afterward so there’s time to digest the news
Clients constantly tell me that reaching the decision to get divorced is their light switch moment, where they go from wondering “should I?” “could I?” – to the sudden realization that they are done with their marriage and divorce is a certainty. Once this occurs, the focus often immediately turns to how they will deliver the message to their spouse.
Of course, many people are served divorce papers, which becomes the first notification of their spouse’s intentions.
If you are seeking a more peaceful or amicable approach, planning a thoughtful discussion is in order. Remember, there is no right way to start the divorce conversation, but how you start the dialogue can set the tone for the entire process.
For many, it happens organically, and for others, it’s well-planned out.
Be cognizant of where your spouse may be in the process of thinking about a divorce
If you are preparing to have this conversation, it’s important that you are cognizant of where your spouse may be in the process of thinking about a divorce. If the idea of divorce will come as a surprise, be patient and plan to have the conversation when you have time to talk and privacy.
Your spouse will need time to process the news, if possible, give them time to catch up.
When to tell your family about your separation or divorce
The next decision, when to tell your family about your separation or divorce, is a personal one. You will want to tell your children about the divorce before they hear about it from someone else. If possible, arrange a time to tell them when both you and your spouse will be there. With both parents present, you will be able to present a unified front.
It’s important to answer their questions but to do so in an age-appropriate way. Depending on their age, your children may not need to know the details of why and how the separation will happen, only the information that will directly impact their day-to-day lives. Plan to have the conversation when everyone has downtime afterward so that there is time to digest the news.
After giving them time, be sure that follow up with to see if they have any questions and to offer support.
After you have discussed the decision with your spouse, family members, and close friends, the focus often turns to “how can I do this quickly, efficiently, and without spending a ton of money?” Once the light switch moment has occurred, that is the ideal time to find the right professionals to help you.
Your spouse may be on the same page, but often people go through this process at a different pace than their spouse. Interacting with your spouse in a way that is considerate of where they are in this process will have significant impact on the cost, duration, and feel of your divorce process.
I appreciate when a client contacts me at this stage so that we can work together to develop a plan to get things going while also meeting their spouse where they are – so we can all move on to the next stage together.
Exploring the many paths to divorce and selecting the one that will be the best fit for your family
The next stage in the process involves exploring the many paths to divorce and selecting the one that will be the best fit for your family. Some couples can work through their parenting plan and the division of their assets and debts on their own and only need an attorney to formalize the legal paperwork.
Two paths that offer substantially more support than this “do it yourself” option but still allow the spouses to work together amicably are mediation and the collaborative law process.
In mediation, you will hire one professional to serve as a neutral guide to both of you. The mediator does not represent either party but rather leads the couple through the process and ensures productive communication – by assisting you through conflict and encouraging compromise.
The collaborative law process is similar to mediation but, again, more supportive. Here, the spouses commit to working together to develop a separation agreement. This will be done through a series of meetings where each spouse will be supported by their own attorney. The conversation will be led by a neutral party, like a mediator, with a specialized background that offers the couple additional support (think – a financial or mental health professional).
Collaborative divorce is designed to encourage cooperation and communication. It is not adversarial and often produces the best outcomes for families.
There are some circumstances that require the involvement of a judge, but even here, the way in which the couple treats each other and proceeds through the process can have a long-lasting impact. Even in the case of divorce litigation, there are steps that a couple can take to ensure that they will get through the process without overspending or enduring a stressful contentious process.
The first step is finding the right professional – one that shows compassion for your situation, knowledge of the law, and a desire to move you through the process efficiently.
One of the best things a person can do for themselves and their family after deciding to proceed with a divorce is to connect with a like-minded professional and set up a solid support system. Your mediator or attorney should have the same philosophy and goals for the process as you do.
This should be clear upfront – from the very first meeting.
In addition to obtaining the right professional support, determine who your people are – who can you call to vent, get advice from or lean on when you need to blow off some steam? In the context of a divorce, your support system may need to be different from your usual “go to’s.”
Again, be sure the people you bring in for support have the same perspective as you when it comes to what you are going through.
Michael O’Connell, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Joyful Counseling Indy
There is no one correct way to ask for a divorce but there sure are some missteps. Approaching your spouse about divorce is extremely difficult and unique to each couple. So, while one size does not always fit all, here are some basic suggestions.
Monitor your emotional level so that you can be clear and concise
At the heart of discernment is self-awareness. If you have decided to make this decision, being aware of your own emotions and boundaries will go a long way. Monitor your emotional level so that you can be clear and concise. Try not to fall into old patterns of emotional distress. Trust that you can speak this decision that is best for you.
Know the ins and outs of divorce and what your rights are
Knowing information is a good thing, and you do not need to wait to do it together. Have an understanding of what divorce entails ahead of time. Many find divorce to be an overwhelming concept and hold onto misconceptions or even myths about the process.
Do not be afraid to seek answers so that you know the ins and outs of divorce and what your rights are.
Seeking this information or even speaking with a professional will help you to understand this process so that you can feel confident when discussing it with your spouse. The laws in every state are different in decoupling a relationship. Knowing your options will go a long way.
Set yourself up for success
This is a big conversation! Do not randomly do it. Think through the where, when, and how questions so as to set yourself up to be the most successful.
- Where and when feels most comfortable for the two of you? Do not do it in front of the kids.
- Should we be at home or away from home? If you or your spouse is going through a moment of intense stress, it may be okay to wait for a better time.
Thinking through these questions will help you at the moment.
Be clear and understanding
Your spouse is going to respond in the best way they know-how. It is not your responsibility to manage their response. It is your responsibility to speak what you know to be true and monitor your own emotional response. It is important that you are clear with your intentions.
Do not leave openness to interpretations. Use “I” statements instead of “we” statements. For example, “I feel it is best for me to seek a divorce.” Instead of “We need to get a divorce.”
Remember, you have already thought this through. Your spouse may or may not have. If you are able, allow some space for them to catch up. Just because they respond with anger or understanding and empathy go a long way in these moments, even in times of great pain.
Think of the kids
Children have to take the lead from their parents. Even while decoupling, parents can lead the way in caring for the emotional wellbeing of their children.
Let them see that you can be supportive and understanding in parenting, even if you can no longer be as spouses. That way, they will know that it is not their responsibility to take care of you when it is your responsibility to care for them.
Divorce upsets an entire system. Have your support system at the ready. If you need spiritual or emotional advice, seek out a trusted therapist or minister. Have a close friend at hand.
Be conscious that this moment may also impact your support person as well, so be considerate when you choose who to lean on.
Family Law Attorney | Certified Life and Divorce Coach, Dignified Divorce Coaching
There isn’t an easy way to tell your spouse that you want a divorce. Of course, you could avoid the discussion and simply file and serve the divorce papers on your spouse. However, I can guarantee that blindsiding your spouse will inevitably lead to a very messy and contentious divorce during an already difficult process.
The way you approach your divorce influences how the process will unfold and the outcome you’ll likely have. If you have to co-parent children together post-divorce, it’s crucial that you try to maintain a positive or cordial relationship with your spouse.
Below are five tips on how to peacefully ask your spouse for a divorce. Of course, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but these tips will help you set the tone for the conversation to go as smoothly as possible.
Make absolutely certain that you want a divorce in the first place
Divorce is a life-altering step. Once you utter the words to your spouse, you won’t be able to take them back. If you try to backtrack, you’ll only hurt and anger your spouse. You also run the risk of not being taken seriously or met with cooperation.
Make sure to speak with a therapist, go to marital counseling, and make every effort you can to save your marriage if you have doubts or fear you may regret this decision.
Prepare for the conversation in advance
Considering ahead of time where your spouse is emotionally can make a big difference in how you approach the topic of divorce.
- Is your spouse as unhappy as you are about the marriage?
- Have either of you mentioned divorce before? Is it the first time? Will it be a surprise to him?
Knowing how aware your spouse is to the state of your marriage can help you be prepared for how to talk about divorce and how they will likely react to the news.
It’s important to also be prepared for your spouse’s reaction. Your spouse may retaliate if asking for a divorce comes as a shock to him. Don’t let the conversation turn into an argument – this is not the time to blame, accuse, or revisit history. It’s easy to be defensive or react if your spouse verbally attacks you.
Do your best to support your spouse in dealing with his feelings and try to stay calm.
Using “I” statements instead of “you” statements help to avoid placing blame and starting a fight. Listen quietly, and don’t interrupt. Try to practice active listening so that your spouse knows you’re hearing what is being said, and reassure them that although the marriage is over, your relationship is not.
Even if he agrees and feels the same way, there are a lot of emotions that come with a divorce. Your spouse will likely be grieving the loss of the marriage, so be patient and let him come to terms with it.
Choose a good time and place
There is no good time to bring up the topic of divorce but the timing matters. Think about where and when you should have this conversation. Make sure you won’t be interrupted and will both have plenty of time to talk without distractions or annoyances.
Make arrangements for the children, so they aren’t around.
It’s best not to have the conversation coincide with other major events in your life if possible. For example, if your spouse is sick, has been recently fired or laid off, is experiencing another major trauma, it’s best to wait, so you’re not adding more stress to an already stressful situation.
Be gentle yet firm
Consider the most appropriate way to tell your spouse the news. If you approach the conversation with anger or frustration, it is highly unlikely that he will respond calmly either.
It’s best to be firm in your decision but gentle and kind. Allow your spouse to process what you just said and give him time to grieve. Remember that you’ve had a long time to think about your decision, and your spouse will be at a different emotional place than you.
Try to avoid discussing the details right away
Resist the urge to start talking about dividing property and discussing timeshare with the children. It’s too soon to discuss these details at this stage, and it could backfire if you start negotiating a settlement without the appropriate guidance from a professional.
Even if you have consulted with an attorney or other experts, he may not have had the chance to himself. Wait to talk about the details until you’ve both had a chance to get proper guidance.
Morghan Leia Richardson, Esq.
Matrimonial Partner, Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP | Creator, The Divorce Artist
The decision to divorce is sometimes made by one spouse before the other spouse is ready to hear it. I frequently have clients ask me how they tell their spouse they want a divorce. Many times, the spouse who isn’t ready to hear the news will ignore it until they are handed divorce papers.
This can sometimes set the stage for a very bitter contested divorce.
Most people are uncomfortable with conflict. But you cannot afford to “ghost” out of a marriage when you have kids and property to divide – you must confront the divorce. If you haven’t told your spouse that you are unhappy, the news of a divorce will be even more devastating to them.
So how can you avoid surprising your spouse and set the stage for a “friendly” divorce (if at all possible)? Here are a few tips for approaching the divorce conversation with that goal in mind:
Let your spouse know that you’re willing to give them some time to do that emotional catch-up work
The person who initiates the divorce generally has the advantage of time: they have moved forward in their mental and emotional process and feel more comfortable in their decision to divorce.
After all, the spouse seeking the divorce has come to terms with what this life change will mean. The other spouse may not have arrived at that same space yet emotionally. Let your spouse know that you are willing to give them some time to do that emotional catch-up work and come to terms with the divorce.
Once you’ve made your decision to divorce, talk to your spouse about it with certainty and confidence
This will help convey to your spouse that you are not asking for permission, and this isn’t just another fight – you have come to this decision and are not willing to argue about whether they believe divorce is the “right choice” — it is the right choice for you.
Raise it as a conversation, and not in the heat of an argument.
Avoid fights about the past
Troubles and wrongs are all things that you can hash out with a therapist, not your spouse. Getting into disputes about the past when you break the news about your decision to divorce will only lead to unnecessary arguments.
These past problems may be the reasons you are getting divorced and if you couldn’t solve them during the marriage, you won’t solve them at the end of it. Focus your energy forward on the future and what your lives will look like apart.
Set meetings with your spouse to discuss how to organize the divorce
Set a few meetings with your spouse to discuss how to organize the divorce and figure out what areas you both agree on. Or research and locate a mediator or divorce lawyer who is willing to approach your case with an aim to keep things amicable and provide that information to your spouse.
Steer your conversations to focus on the positives of how you are reimagining your futures.
Continue to remind your spouse that your goal is an amicable divorce, and that will benefit you both in terms of a shorter, less expensive process, and if you have kids, on keeping things friendly for future co-parenting. Just a little information about the start of the process can go a long way in establishing that you are using the divorce process as a tool, not a weapon.
Make sure you get on the same page with approaching the children about the news
Before talking to the kids about the divorce, get a few age-appropriate books that speak to them about divorce. Work hard to make decisions together about what you are each saying to the kids – and whenever possible, approach them together.
Kids hear and understand more than parents realize.
Creating a unified front will let them know that even when you are apart, they can expect unified parenting from you.
Brian Waller, Esq.
Divorce Attorney and Mediator, Sequel Law LLC
As a divorce attorney, I engage with people at all stages of the divorce process. There are two big steps on the divorce journey that you will have to take if you are initiating a divorce:
- Deciding that you are getting a divorce
- Telling your spouse that you want a divorce
No one can make the decision to get a divorce but you, so let’s assume you are at the point where you need to tell your spouse.
Sometimes telling your spouse you want a divorce comes naturally because you are both expecting it or have discussed it before, but other times it can come as a complete shock. There is no easy way to tell someone you are going to make a huge change to their life, whether they like it or not.
Here are a few things to think about when you are ready for that step:
Bring up the subject in a neutral location
If you are broaching the subject for the first time in a perfect world, you should try to bring it up in a neutral location so that neither of you can retreat to your own space if the conversation doesn’t go well.
If you are planning on having a long, in-depth talk about the future, try to take a walk, go to a park, beach, or somewhere that removes any of the power dynamics that may exist in your home.
Be sensitive to what is going on in your partner’s life
When you bring up divorce might be more important than where. You should be sensitive to what is going on in your partner’s life. If they have a big project for school or work, a trip with friends, or something else that they have been looking forward to, maybe wait for that to pass.
Heading into the holidays is also not a great time because you both may be forced to put on a happy face for relatives if you aren’t quite ready to share the news with the world. This is part of the reason January tends to be the busiest month for divorces.
There is no perfect time, so you will always have to navigate some recent or upcoming event, but being sensitive to that can go a long way.
How to say it
There is no easy way to say it, but you should try to keep calm and say it as simply as possible. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- It should be a statement, not a question or something that your spouse has a say in at this point. If you are ready to tell your partner, you should have already done your waffling on whether or not this is the best thing for you, tried counseling, a couples retreat or anything else that may have stopped you before you made the decision.
- A little “it’s not you, it’s me” may go a long way, even if you have figured out that it is much more them than you.
- Don’t instigate or throw in any jabs at your soon-to-be-ex. Keep it civil, and take the high road.
- Practice. Seriously. You can do it while you are alone in your car or out for a walk, but saying the words out loud a few times will make it much easier and much clearer when you actually tell your spouse.
I won’t sugar coat it; it will probably suck.
You will probably feel bad. But, you will feel relieved, and there is a lot more to do and to think about now that you both know a divorce is coming. There is still a long way to go, but you can’t get to the finish line without taking the first few steps.
Accept the fact that you’re going to feel awkward
There’s no way around it; discussing divorce with your spouse is going to bring up uncomfortable emotions. The key is managing those emotions to have a productive conversation and not a blowout fight.
Set a calm and peaceful tone, be mindful of timing. The middle of an argument is probably not the best time.
If you or your spouse are already emotionally activated, discussing divorce will not be productive. If you feel you need a third party to help guide the conversation, a couple’s or conscious uncoupling therapist can be very helpful.
Remember that you’re on the same team – even if it doesn’t feel like it
Bring up the topic directly and gently to feel it out. Explain that you have been thinking about divorce, that you might both be happier with that path. Try asking a question framed in the best interest of your family, such as:
- “If we do get divorced, what would be important to you? What would feel fair to you?”
Practice genuine, effective listening.
Even if you disagree with your spouse, just listening to their concerns will help set a peaceful tone, which can serve you well during the entire process. If you have kids, this exercise is even more important. Remember, you’re on the same team.
Both of you have a shared goal:
- To detangle with as little financial and emotional expense as possible
- To protect your kids
- To move on in a way that you can both live with
Jon M. McAvoy
Family Law Attorney, JacksonWhite Law
Knowing your rights in a divorce and the process for obtaining one will be immensely helpful
In most states, there is no need to ask for a divorce. If you want a divorce, the Courts will likely give you a divorce. The question is, how can you begin the conversation about the divorce as peacefully as possible.
Here are some tips:
Before the conversation
Beginning the conversation is tricky, especially if one spouse wants out and the other spouse doesn’t. You may first want to consider your reasons for asking for a divorce.
Write them down on a piece of paper. Sometimes doing this may actually help you find a path toward reconciliation, but at minimum, it will ensure that you will be able to express yourself clearly when the time comes to discuss your desires with your spouse.
Talk to an attorney. Knowing your rights in a divorce and the process for obtaining one will be immensely helpful in your conversations with your spouse.
Beginning the conversation
Find the time and place when you will have some privacy and be away from any children. Involving children in the divorce discussion can be very damaging to their emotional well-being.
It is best to discuss the divorce with the children with a united front and assurances that both parents love them immensely, but at minimum, you do not want the children to be a witness to the potential emotional reaction of your spouse learning of your wishes for the first time.
Having the conversation
Remember, nobody is a robot. Be ready for your spouse to react emotionally to the request:
- They may be hurt.
- They may be angry.
- They may have seen this coming.
- They may be blindsided.
No matter what, don’t lose your cool. If your spouse is emotionally ready, have a conversation with them about your reasons for your decision and about the path forward (the one you planned out with your attorney). If they are not emotionally ready, give them a few days to process your request, and revisit the conversation with them.
If they refuse to discuss the issue, seek out a family law attorney to help assist you.
What if you’re afraid of your spouse?
If you are afraid of your spouse or are a victim of domestic violence, speak with an attorney before doing anything and discuss your concerns with your attorney. Your attorney may determine it is best if he or she breaks the news to your spouse with you as far away as possible.
Jamie N. Berger, Esq.
Co-Founder, Jacobs Berger, LLC
Communicate and listen
Remember, you know your spouse better than anyone (even though you want to divorce). With that, you should have a grasp of their communication style, and you should approach this topic by communicating in a way that your spouse responds to most positively.
As a family law lawyer, I understand that communicating in a positive fashion can be difficult for most people because, let’s be honest, if you have reached a point of wanting to file for divorce, it is likely that communication with your spouse is either:
- not great
Before you bring up a divorce with your spouse, think back to a time when communication was more free-flowing and try to channel that former style of communication. Also, be ready to listen—really listen—to your spouse as you discuss this topic.
Be selective of where or when you have this discussion
Before you approach your spouse, think about the environment (place and time of day) that you communicate this information with them. It’s important to do what you can to ensure it’s a “safe space” for you both where you can effectively talk about this heavy topic.
For example, it may sound silly, but if your spouse is not a morning person, I do not recommend that you try to have this conversation the second they wake up.
Prepare a plan of action
Have a plan for what a peaceful divorce means to you and ideas to discuss with your spouse about how to accomplish that goal. Identify, together if you can, what issues may be more difficult to tackle than others.
In my experience, if this conversation happens early, it takes away the feeling for either partner that they are “blind-sided” during the process. Research (or consult with a qualified attorney) regarding alternative dispute resolution options and discuss those options.
Having a plan in place will make the notion of a peaceful divorce feel real.
Divorce Recovery Specialist | Certified Professional Co-Active Life Coach
So you’ve tried your best and cannot figure out a way to keep fighting for something that you just don’t want. What you do know is you want: a divorce.
Yet, the thought of moving forward with one comes with a range of emotions that blind you from knowing how to approach the conversation. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, unfortunately. However, there are ways to ask for a divorce that allows you to be respectful, kind, and caring.
Be sure you are prepared emotionally and mentally
First, be sure you are prepared emotionally and mentally and know where your spouse is as well.
- Is your spouse ignorant of what you are about to discuss?
- Are they as unhappy as you are?
- Have you brought up the “d” word before, or will it come as a shock?
It is really important to know what you are walking into so you can prepare how to respond when they react to the news. Many times speaking with a therapist or coach can help you sort through your emotions and prepare you for the conversation through role-playing.
Find an appropriate place and time to have the conversation and ensure your children are not home
Second, find an appropriate place and time to have the conversation and ensure your children are not home and you can be uninterrupted.
While there is never a “good” time, there are ways to prepare to mitigate any unforeseen circumstances that will lead to an explosive reaction. Being in a neutral space that is private and with zero time restrictions is best.
Be kind, respectful, firm, and empathetic to your spouse
Third, be kind, respectful, firm, and empathetic to your spouse. This is crucial as it will set the stage for and help determine the way in which the divorce will unfold. You have had more time to process the decision, and they are just being made aware of your feelings. So be sure to listen and hear their perspective on the news.
Taking the high road will mitigate them feeling blindsided and allow for compassion.
Use “I” statements instead of “you”
For example, “I am unhappy” vs. “You make me unhappy.” The latter points the finger and blames your spouse for your choice when it was ultimately a decision you arrived to based on your own emotions.
You get to take responsibility for your decision and allow your spouse the time and space to process their own emotions without you blaming them.
At the end of the day, it is best to be prepared ahead of time and be thoughtful in your decision. You get to think about the relationship you want to have with your spouse when the marriage is over and starting the process with as much kindness and peace as possible.
David Badanes, Esq.
Divorce Attorney, Badanes Law Office
Each situation has to be analyzed to see what works best for the divorcing couple
Telling your spouse that you want a divorce can be emotionally daunting. Each marriage and relationship is unique, so there isn’t a “one size fits all” way to approach your spouse with the news that you want a divorce.
Some of my clients will come to me and state that they want an “amicable divorce,” however, they are not sure how to go about it. The following story of one of my clients is a good illustration of how to achieve a peaceful divorce.
A woman came to me and informed me that she was married for about five years, had no children, and wanted a divorce from her husband. The wife didn’t have any animosity towards her husband, rather the reason the marriage failed was that her husband was often away on business for weeks at a time.
When he was home, they just “grew apart,” and she wanted to start a new life. She just wanted “what was fair” and something “quick.”
She would be satisfied with taking much less spousal maintenance (alimony) than what the law provided. Her only other request was that her husband pays the bulk of her attorney fees.
Although her husband knew that their marriage wasn’t “perfect,” he probably would be surprised that she wanted a divorce. Therefore, she was concerned about approaching her husband with the news that she wanted a divorce and, more importantly, wanted to make sure that he knew that she wanted an amicable divorce, one where she was not looking to “bleed him dry.”
Her husband was out-of-town and was scheduled to return in a few weeks. She and I agreed that the best way to approach him was for me to draft a full-blown Settlement Agreement with a cover letter explaining that she wanted an amicable divorce.
Once her husband was home, she had a heart-to-heart discussion with him, explaining how she was unhappy in the marriage and wanted the divorce. She then handed him the packet of documents I had drafted.
Her husband decided to represent himself. He only had a few minor changes to the proposed Settlement Agreement. Once those changes were made, he signed the Settlement Agreement, and the divorce went through very smoothly and peacefully.
There is no “cookie-cutter” method to get divorced peacefully. This divorce illustrates that each situation has to be analyzed to see what works best for the divorcing couple, but a peaceful divorce is, in fact, possible.
Certified Divorce Coach | Licensed Social Worker | Author, “The Best Worst Time of Your Life: Four Practices to Get You Through the Pain of Divorce“
It’s natural to want to seek a peaceful divorce early on in the process of parting. Unfortunately, peaceful divorce processes require the cooperation of two people. The better goal is to seek to be a peaceful person as you walk through your divorce. This starts with how you first introduce the concept.
When approaching your partner about a peaceful divorce, you need to make sure the conversation covers these four important elements:
Seek to connect on what you observe in your marriage
Note what has been hard for you, what you suspect has been hard for your partner, and what the general tone of the relationship has been.
Put the relationship in a context of years and months so that you can communicate that your request to divorce comes from a bigger story, one that has been unfolding over time.
Acknowledge where effort has been made
Notice where your partner has been attempting to grow, change, or support positive changes in your relationship and celebrate those efforts. When you acknowledge where effort has been made, you let your partner know that you see him or her.
It turns down defensiveness and turns up your empathy.
Share that while you do want a divorce, you are afraid
This can be challenging, but offering your own fears makes you human and creates appropriate vulnerability. List out your fears neutrally and carefully. Don’t expect your partner to address them or even offer you concern in them.
Share them because they offer the opportunity to soften the conversation and bring it to the peaceful level you seek.
Tell them how you hope to walk through the divorce process in a peaceful way
Speak your own commitment to how you hope to walk through the divorce process in a peaceful way. You cannot control your soon-to-be-former partner’s response. Your statement is that you will choose the peaceful way regardless of what path they need to choose.
Together these actions let your partner know that you see them, that you appreciate them, and that you seek to walk through this process differently and thoughtfully. Once you have covered all four elements, the final and most important step is to allow your soon-to-be former partner to feel how they do in response to your news.
Do not insist that they appreciate your good efforts at peace, and do not expect them to see the relationship as you do. The greatest love you can offer them in your parting, the most peaceful thing you can offer, is permission to be fully themselves.
Lawyer & Partner, The Clark Law Office
Opt for an uncontested divorce since it follows a shortened process
The best way to get a divorce peacefully is to opt for an uncontested divorce since it follows a shortened process. According to the Census Bureau, uncontested divorce makes up 80% of the total number of US divorces.
If both spouses want a quick and peaceful divorce, they can resolve and settle the issues amicably before it reaches the court. If you can get an uncontested divorce, it would be more peaceful, amicable, and affordable since you need not get legal services, and there won’t be any trial.
A default divorce can also be peaceful since the court grants the divorce even without the participation of the other spouse who has either left the marital home without reason or could not be found.
Another way to get a divorce peacefully is to go for summary divorce, which is common for marriages that lasted no more than five years. Couples who have been married for a short period of time may not have children or even property or debts to settle or quarrel about.
However, asking for divorce peacefully is not always the case, especially when you are divorcing an abusive spouse, in which case you have to seek legal assistance.
If you seek divorce due to domestic violence, it may not be as peaceful as you want it to be. You need the help of a lawyer to ensure your safety and to provide you with legal advice on alimony, division of property, and child custody.
Richard I. Segal
Attorney | Founding Shareholder, Segal Zuckerman
Hire professionals that have a similar mindset as you
Asking a partner for a divorce may be one of the hardest conversations a person has in their lifetime. There are many emotions involved, and the steps following the conversation are likely not quick and easy.
To ask for a divorce peacefully, you should hire a professional, such as a divorce lawyer, to help make the process smoother. This way, you will have already spoken with a professional and are prepared to have the conversation and have the answers to any questions your partner may ask.
Managing emotions is one of the hardest aspects of a dissolution of marriage, and it’s best to avoid provoking the other spouse, which may force one of the parties into making knee-jerk emotionally-filled decisions as opposed to what is in the best interest of both parties.
Financials are a huge aspect of a divorce, and hiring a professional to go over options prior to asking your partner for a divorce could make things more peaceful. Parties can attempt to see if the situation can be worked out in pre-suit negotiations (i.e., prior to filing a lawsuit) in an effort to keep costs down.
I often recommend mediating the matter, and even if the entire conflict cannot be resolved, often a portion of it can.
Listen to the professional’s advice and strategy. They work with people in these situations for a living and want to make sure that you are comfortable and prepared when asking your partner for a divorce.
Be completely transparent with your partner about the professionals that you have spoken with, and let your partner know that you are open to answering any questions that they may have.
Relationship Coach, Synergy Coaching
We start out our marriages with the highest of hopes. We imagine that even if things are tough, they will work out and draw us closer. Love doesn’t always turn out the way we expect.
Sometimes we have to make the hard decision to leave a marriage. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.
Many people fantasize about what it would be like to be single again, but most of us don’t imagine having the conversation when we ask for a divorce until we are close to a decision to leave. That is because it is very likely to be painful, even excruciating.
So, how can you have that conversation with your partner with any hope that it will go well?
Here are some tips:
- Be clear about where you are in the relationship before starting the conversation. You need to have a clear decision about getting a divorce yet, but be clear for yourself where you are at that moment.
- Do not, I repeat, do not bring it up in the heat of an argument. This is the worst time to tell your partner that you want a divorce. Many times they won’t even believe you. Start this conversation at a time when you are both calm.
- Don’t blindside your partner. If you are considering divorce, give them an early heads-up that you are weighing whether this relationship can last or not.
- Expect to go slowly. You have had time to process the idea of divorce already. Your partner will need some time to catch up and figure out what they want from the situation. Taking each step in a divorce slowly gives each of you time to adjust to the new circumstances.
- Be prepared to be more than fair. Fair is such a hard balance to achieve. You will probably each think that you deserve more than the other will readily agree to. Understand that you will probably get less than you predict at the beginning.
- Expect it to go poorly. You will need to be the calm one in the situation. You can try to guess how your partner will respond, but you could be totally wrong. I’ve seen all of these reactions:
- Expected them to fight for the relationship, but they seemed relieved and readily agreed.
- Expected them to shut down, but they lay on the floor crying in agony.
- Expected them to blame you, but they start blaming themselves and believe they are worthless.
- Expected them to agree because they were acting like the relationship was over, but they decided to fight for it.
In fact, your partner might respond in all of these ways over time.
Whatever you do, remember that this conversation is going to change every part of your life and that of your partner. So go into it with as much integrity and kindness as you can muster. Then, do the best you can.
You are only half of the equation, and you can’t really control how your partner responds.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly
Clinical Psychologist | Speaker | Author, “Date Smart: Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly“
Ask for a quiet sit-down to discuss “an important matter”
Asking for a divorce in a peaceful, honest way can be very challenging, depending on the nature of both partners and the situation itself. The best approach depends on the emotional intelligence level of each partner, marital friendship, and the level of conflict in the relationship.
There are three general types of pre-divorce situations based on these various factors.
In relationships where both partners have a high level of emotional intelligence, solid friendship, and low level of conflict, the best approach is often to ask for a quiet sit-down to discuss “an important matter.” Then, in a quiet and undistracted space, the “I would like a divorce” conversation can unfold.
The person requesting the divorce can offer a few thoughtfully prepared comments explaining why the divorce is desired—and taking care to offer a few proactive words of reassurance. This may be as simple as:
“I love you deeply, yet I feel the urge to be single. This has been coming off for quite some time, and I’ve been trying to work through it. There’s no one else on my radar—I’ve been completely faithful—so this is all about my need to move in a different direction. You are my dear friend, and I will always hold our relationship sacred.”
Even if the divorce request comes as a complete surprise to the other partner, the deep friendship within the relationship—as well as the mutually high EQ levels—will generally pave the way for a respectful, consciously loving divorce. And, of course, those with high EQ levels will be able to process their thoughts and feelings in a loving and connective way.
Depending on the EQ, friendship, and conflict factors, adjustments to this script can be appropriate. And, if a marriage is in high conflict, it can be important to have the discussion in a safe place—even if that is a marriage therapist’s office.
Owner, Christian Counseling Austin
The way you ask for a divorce can shape the way the rest of the divorce process develops. It’s important to carefully think through how you have this hard conversation with your spouse.
Consider where your spouse is at emotionally:
- Are they also unhappy?
- Are they blissfully unaware of your unhappiness?
Depending on their feelings, you can gauge how they may respond to your request. Make sure to think this through as you plan how to approach the conversation.
It’s also important to choose an appropriate place and time to have this conversation. You should bring up the discussion in a private place without distractions. If you have children, you should raise the issue when they are not present so you aren’t interrupted, and they won’t be exposed to an adult conversation.
You also want to ensure that there are no time pressures so that you have as much time as you need.
Get professional help
The guidance of a trained professional like a counselor or therapist can be valuable when you ask for a divorce. You can meet with them before asking for a divorce to help sort through your feelings and prepare for the conversation.
They could help you “role play” to prepare for the discussion and offer feedback on how to express your feelings clearly and sensitively.
A therapist’s office could also be a good place to have this conversation if your spouse is willing to attend therapy with you. A counselor can help keep the discussion civil and constructive and mediate if emotions run high.
Dating Expert, Datingscout
Be prudent when it comes to the time and place
Divorce is tough on everyone. It will be tough on all parties involved, no matter how civil the negotiations will be. The best way to break the news and ask for a divorce is to find the right timing. While there is no perfect time for a divorce, there are still better situations in which you can tell your partner what you want.
Opt not to have the kids (if you have any) around. Be sensitive enough to ask for a divorce when they are not going through heavy personal problems such as the death of a relative, unemployment, and others. This way, you can help make it easier to accept the news and not add to other problems that might complicate the separation even further.
Stress that your decision is final
Have a sit-down conversation with your partner and let them know that your decision is final. Explain why you reached the point of divorce but avoid sounding like you are blaming them for it.
Accept your part of the mistake and point out that it would be the best option for both of you. Let them express what they feel but be firm with your decision. Finally, acknowledge that the relationship is at its end, and it would be better for the both of you to go on separate ways.
Career Expert, Zety
Choose a moment when your spouse isn’t struggling with personal challenges
One of the best ways to ask for a divorce peacefully is to pick a suitable place and time. Before you initiate a conversation with your spouse, consider where and when you want to deliver the news. Ideally, you should pick a place that doesn’t have any potential distractions and ensure your children (if you have any) don’t get involved.
It might be at a counselor’s office, at home, or at a quiet cafe or restaurant.
Time-wise, there’s no perfect time to ask for a divorce, but if you want to part ways peacefully, it’s best to choose a moment when your spouse isn’t struggling with personal challenges, be it a layoff at work, death of a relative, or personal health-related issues. Otherwise, you’ll likely get a more acute reaction.
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