It is the conversation you’ve been secretly dreading. The one you’ve been putting off for months, maybe even years, even though you know it’s inevitable. It’s like that shooting pain in your upper left molar that fires down your jaw when you drink something cold. Yet you keep putting it off because the anticipation of getting a root canal seems much worse. The thing is you don’t even know that you need a root canal. You simply anticipate the worst and continue to live in denial always trying to chew on the right side.
For most divorcing parties, the discussion probably does not come as a surprise. It’s hard to imagine how a couple could reach the point of divorce and not both be somewhat aware of the problems that exist. The truth is many spouses will say they had no idea it was coming. They thought everything was fine. Either way, the anxiety associated with anticipating how your spouse might react, can be much worse than actually breaking the news. But it is what comes next after this difficult discussion that often sets the stage for an adversarial, take-no-prisoners divorce war that destroys everything in its path and breeds a lifetime of residual bitterness and hurt for you and your children.
If your spouse doesn’t see it coming they may be angry. In shock they may become accusatory and start blaming you. They will likely be hurt and emotional. And just like you anticipated the worst from your tooth pain, visions of what can happen when divorce goes bad may come flooding in. When the media only seems to report on the latest nasty divorce, it creates perceptions and fear in many party’s minds about how divorce is supposed to play out, sometimes causing spouses to take a defensive stance.
Be ready. Prepare yourself for the possible responses and determine in your mind that you will not fuel the conflict. Understand that how you respond is critical. Divorce doesn’t have to be a war. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out battle that pits lawyer against lawyer and sometimes even uses children as leverage. How you respond after breaking the news can play a part in what direction it goes from there. Granted, you may not have any control over what your spouse does but escalating the conflict with a series of emotional responses can’t lead anywhere good.
Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in accusations or assigning blame. Affirm how your spouse is feeling and be supportive without waffling on your decision or making promises. Communicate that you want to make the children a priority and end your marriage with dignity and respect as much as possible. When asked why you want to divorce it’s OK to explain why but try to do so without using hurtful accusatory language. Focus on the future and avoid unnecessary discussions of the past.
How you handle the discussions after you’ve told your spouse that you want to divorce can establish the overall direction the divorce process will take from there. It can create the beginning of a long drawn out battle or it can foster open, honest and respectful communication. The end result can be a constructive and acceptable agreement for both you and your family.