As far as nerve-wracking conversations go, asking your spouse for a divorce is about as hard as it gets.
The goal is to broach the subject in a way that honors the marriage while setting the stage for a peaceful divorce process. But let's face it: that's easier said than done. Below, divorce experts share their best advice for handling the conversation as peacefully and compassionately as possible.
1. Arrange a time when you and your spouse can be alone and undistracted -- and make sure the kids are out of the house.
"Carve out some time, disconnect from your phones and if you have kids, make a playdate for them," said Nancy Payne Lewis, a San Francisco-based marriage and family therapist. "Protect them from uncertainty until you know more yourself."
2. Choose your words wisely.
"Empathy should be your goal," said Joy A. Dryer, a psychologist and collaborative divorce coach based in New York. "After you’ve figured out a good time for you both to talk, consider your partner’s feelings and lead with a soft start. Use 'I' statements, like, 'I’m at the end of my rope' or 'We’ve had lots of issues and I don’t think I can go on. Is that where you're at too?'"
3. Better yet, bring up the subject in the middle of couples therapy so you have backup.
"Perhaps the most common way, and certainly one of the most therapeutically beneficial ways to do it, is in counseling," said Randall Kessler, a family law attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. "While that might seem offensive (you're in the middle of marriage counseling, asking for a divorce), at least there is a neutral third party to help immediately address the hurt feelings and anger and hopefully immediately help the two of you begin to focus on the new future instead of the difficult past."
4. Avoid mentioning the "D" word in the middle of an argument.
"Your emotions may be running high and you may be acting from impulse rather than from the thinking side of your brain," Payne Lewis said.
5. Save the conversation for the daytime, not late at night when you're both exhausted.
"When you’re tired, you may be less likely to talk calmly and openly," Payne Lewis contined. "Your ability to listen to your partner may be diminished and your patience worn thin."
6. Avoid blaming your spouse for the mistakes he or she made in the marriage.
"Take responsibility for your actions," said Dryer. "There are no victims, no devils and no angels in this kind of situation. Own your own stuff and know that you can only change yourself, not the other person."
7. Remember: The goal is to set the stage for a peaceful, cooperative divorce process.
"When considering how to say 'I want a divorce,' just remember to think long term," Kessler said. "Try hard not to say it in reaction to something he or she did. Try not to just blurt it out. It's a big statement and rather than it being the end of something, it can and should be the start of a new beginning for each of you. Try your best to do it with your best foot forward. Give you and your partner the best chance to make the process amicable. And if it can't be, at least you will know you tried your best."
8. If for some reason you can't have the discussion in person, ask your lawyer to send a carefully crafted letter to your spouse.
"If you fear confrontation or even the thought of having to directly tell your spouse (especially if there's been emotional or physical abuse), there are many other options," Kessler said. "The harshest may be to simply have a process server present (or 'serve') your spouse with divorce papers. But short of that, you can write, or have your lawyer write, a letter. This often makes sense because you have plenty of time to think about what to say and how to say it. And the lawyer in me likes that because you have a recorded document that ensures you can't be accused of being mean-spirited or thoughtless, as long as the letter is written in a thoughtful way."
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