While all parts of the divorce process can be difficult, asking your spouse to initiate a divorce can be one of the most difficult parts of the process. Learning how to ask for a divorce can be a daunting task when one spouse has decided that separation is the best thing for the family. Even when divorce is inevitable and the relationship seems beyond repair to both spouses, acknowledging what everyone already knows can feel overwhelming. There is no one way to predict how a person may act when their spouse requests a divorce, and so many spouses grow incredibly nervous thinking about having “the conversation.” Finding a way to approach the topic peacefully and respectfully while protecting one’s safety and boundaries is not an easy task, but with careful preparation, planning, and practice, starting a conversation about divorce can be done peacefully and respectfully, even in cases where strong emotions are present. This article will examine the ways that one spouse can approach the topic with their spouse and the ways that they can prepare to have this conversation to hopefully achieve the best result possible.
Before having a conversation with a spouse, it is important to understand what divorce is and what the process looks like to ensure that it is what will be best for the couple and their family. Divorce is the legal separation of spouses that ends the marriage between them. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but the most commonly cited reason in divorce proceedings is irreconcilable differences, also known as an irreparable breakdown. These terms mean that the spouses have grown apart to the point that their relationship cannot be saved; however, the courts do not require that the parties show any steps taken to reconcile. The parties may make the decision themselves. Choosing to divorce means that the couple has chosen to separate their lives and move forward as single people. Divorce acknowledges that the marriage existed from the time of the marriage until the present, separating it from voiding a marriage. It is also a final decision unless the spouses choose to marry again later on, but it cannot be voided.
Preparing to Ask:
The first step in asking a spouse for a divorce is to prepare for the conversation. In some cases, the words may come tumbling out during a fight or disagreement. However, it is often best to have thought carefully about bringing up the idea and have created a plan for the safety and respect of all. Some important considerations include:
- Safety: The number one priority in having this conversation is safety. This includes physical and emotional safety for the spouse initiating the conversation, but it also includes considering the safety of the receiving spouse as well. Because of the strong feelings that will likely be present in the conversation, there could be threats to safety. Understanding any potential threats is key to preparing the best situation for the conversation. Importantly, if the spouse asking for the divorce has suffered abuse in the past, the conversation should not be held in private, and in some cases may not happen at all.
- Timeframe: If the divorce needs to happen within a certain timeframe for any reason, the process of actually being able to file for divorce and the process itself needs to be considered. In some states, the parties will need to be separated for a given amount of time before a divorce can be legally initiated. This means that the spouses will need to plan to be separated. Additionally, the actual divorce process can take quite a bit of time. Therefore, if a spouse is operating under a time crunch for any reason, they should consider the time needed and make sure the conversation happens early, but should also ensure they have had adequate time to prepare.
- Communication Style: It is important to consider the communication styles of the parties involved to best plan for the conversation. If the parties can have open and honest conversations with each other, a civil and honest conversation may be best. If the receiving spouse needs things laid out bluntly, consider cutting right to the chase. If the receiving spouse needs time to get to the big part of the conversation, it may be best to have a conversation about the relationship in general. While the relationship is not doing well now, the parties were able to communicate respectfully and lovingly at one time, and this conversation is the time to remember how communication was when it was at its best.
- Next Steps: While it may seem like having a plan is a given, many people enter into the conversation having planned only for the conversation and not what will happen immediately after. There will need to be decisions made about who will move out, when that will happen, what will happen with the children if there are any, how to tell the children and many other considerations. Receiving the ask for a divorce without a plan presented can feel overwhelming, so giving the receiving spouse options for a plan moving forward can help them receive the information in a better way.
- Divorce Mechanism: There are a few ways that a divorce may proceed and be finalized, and it can be helpful to have an idea about which one could be the best for the specific couple because no two divorces are alike. Knowing how a divorce may proceed can help the receiving spouse feel confident in the process and agree more easily. The different options for a divorce will be discussed below.
Once the initiating spouse has created a plan for how to approach the conversation, it is time to have the conversation.
How to Talk about Divorce:
Even with all the planning in the world, there will be things that will arise during the conversation that will not be expected. Understanding how to keep the conversation respectful and safe for both parties will be key to achieving the best possible outcome. Some things to remember when having the conversation are:
- Begin Directly: While it can feel scary to even initiate having the conversation, it is important to signal to the other spouse that the conversation will be serious and likely difficult for both spouses. Beginning the conversation or planning to have the conversation with a phrase like “I want to talk about something that may be hard for the both of us” can signal to the receiving spouse that the conversation is important and is not good news.
- Be Clear: This conversation is happening so that both spouses can leave the conversation with a clear understanding of expectations moving forward. It does not help either party to be too gentle with the news or backtrack when talking about the divorce. Once the initiating spouse has decided that they want a divorce, it is best to be gently firm and clear with what has made them come to this decision.
- Show Your Work: When bringing up the idea of divorce, the initiating spouse needs to be clear with their spouse about what they have considered and why they arrived at the conclusion that a divorce would be the best option. This involves being honest about one’s feelings, understanding what other options have been considered, and sharing the steps that have led to the decision. Showing the receiving spouse these steps can help them see the fuller picture of why the decision was made and can help them arrive at the same conclusion. At the very least, it can help them feel as though it is not a spur-of-the-moment decision and that the best thing for the family is to look at divorce.
- Leave Space for Discussion: The receiving spouse will react to the discussion in some way, likely with big emotions attached. Understanding that this conversation is a conversation, it is important to leave some room for the parties to discuss the reasons that divorce is necessary and to process some big emotions and reactions. Unpacking the feelings of both parties will likely be exhausting, but it will help the parties leave the conversation in agreement that the best thing for them is likely a divorce.
- Do Not Overload: While it is important to have a plan for how things may work once the parties have split, it can be overwhelming for the receiving spouse to have to hear all the information at once. This could lead to a fight that is exactly what both parties are trying to avoid. Consider how it would feel if the roles were reversed. Allow them to ask questions and only provide the information they need or want at the moment, and choose to hold some of that information back until they are ready to discuss it. Another way to approach the conversation is to treat the ask for a divorce and the plan for divorce separately. Ask for the divorce and have a conversation about that, and then offer to answer any questions about the process after that conversation is over. Let the receiving spouse control the amount of information shared.
- Leave Open: It can be helpful to signal to the receiving spouse that this conversation does not end with this conversation. The separation and divorce process will be an ongoing topic, and many areas of their lives will need to be discussed. Allowing a partner to come back to the conversation will help the parties feel confident that they will be heard at each step of the process.
- Get Help if Needed: If the divorce conversation did not go well or the initiating spouse is not confident that the conversation will go well on their own, they can ask for help with the conversation. Many mental health professionals will be able to help the parties have the conversation in a way that is beneficial for them and their families. This could involve having the conversation with a therapist or having a therapist walk the initiating spouse through the conversation. Having this conversation is difficult, and it is best to be prepared and ready for the situation.
Having this conversation is difficult, but knowing what to expect and how to conduct oneself can help the initiating spouse feel confident that the conversation will begin the divorce in the best light possible.
Options for Divorce:
Once the parties have had a conversation about starting a divorce, the parties need to have a conversation about how they may like to get divorced. Several options may be possible for the parties depending on their needs and the way their family is set up currently. No two divorces are the same, so it is important to tailor the process to meet their specific needs. Some options include:
- Joint Petitions: In many states, the parties can fill out a petition together and submit it to the court for approval to make it official. This works best for couples who can agree on all aspects of the divorce.
- Mediation: Mediation is a process where the parties sit down with a neutral mediator who helps them divide their lives. This works best for parties who are willing to work together, but need help with some of the negotiating.
- Collaborative Divorce: Collaborative divorce is a process where the parties each hire a lawyer that is a collaborative divorce lawyer whose goal is to help the spouse reach an agreement on the divorce. This process is great for parties who need extra attention to assets or children because the process allows for a team to work with the parties on finances and custody.
- Litigation: Litigation is the adversarial process in a courtroom. This process can be long and expensive, but it is best for couples who are not able to reach an agreement or for those that cannot negotiate because of abuse.
Divorce is not an easy process, and asking for a divorce may be one of the hardest parts. With some consideration and thought, the parties will likely find themselves in agreement that a divorce is the best way forward.