If you haven’t already done so, your spouse should be the first person you speak to about wanting to separate. This can be the most challenging conversation, so it’s understandable if you want to avoid it. But just think about some of the other ways your spouse might find out if you aren’t the one to tell them:

  • Friends and family. Avoid telling others about your situation first, as it’s quite common for spouses to hear about their separation from friends and family who didn’t realise they didn’t know yet. For this reason, be careful with anyone you might tell or whom you have brought into your confidence about your relationship issues and unhappiness.

Can you trust them to keep a secret?

  • Children. Even unwitting comments, you may have made like ‘daddy gets mad with me’ or ‘mummy is always going out, she is never home’ can result in questions from children. You don’t want your children to accidentally break the news to your spouse.
  • Social media. Don’t let your spouse see photos or comments on social media.

The Telling

If your spouse learns about your plans unexpectedly from someone else, it can create distrust between you and heighten levels of conflict throughout your separation, along with damaging the potential for a successful relationship after the divorce.  Consequently, even though it can be difficult we strongly urge you to break the news to your spouse first. Avoid breaking the news during an argument when emotions are high and there is potential for the situation to go from bad to worse. That said, you also don’t want to tell your spouse over the phone, by voice mail, text, email or social media.

Instead, the ideal approach is to tell them in person. This should be a considered conversation where you both can speak and be heard without arguing and the end result is an agreed plan for the next step. The next step could be agreeing to have another conversation, agreeing to get counselling, or beginning to plan your exit from the relationship. Keep in mind that the next step will depend on your and your spouse’s stages in the uncoupling process. The first step towards having this conversation is to assess your own capacity, as well as that of your spouse, to have a successful conversation without a neutral, adult third party present (such as a counsellor).

To help with that assessment, imagine having this conversation with your spouse. Can you both speak clearly, without interrupting each other, with calm, moderate tones of voice? Can you create a ‘time-out’ signal, and do you feel that both of you will respect it? Can you agree to withdraw from the conversation if it becomes heated, with the agreement to return to it after a break? These and other tools for effective communication are essential for this difficult discussion. If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’ and you are not confident that the conversation can flow as described, you will need a third party to assist you.

Next, plan the conversation. This includes the setting, the timing and what you will say.

When it comes to the place, will you be safe? Will you be interrupted or overheard? Will both of you feel free to leave if needed? If there is a real risk of emotional escalation or abuse, or violence, consider a public setting like a café or a park. Avoiding alcohol is a good idea, though some food and drinks can provide a more relaxed atmosphere.

When it comes to timing, choose a time of day that optimises success. For instance, avoid late in the evening when you may both be tired or have had a bad day. The conversation shouldn’t be overly long, either. Thirty minutes is usually plenty of time for this first conversation.

Plan what you are going to say. The conversation itself puts you in the driver’s seat to briefly and clearly say what you need to say. If you have decided it is really over, then this needs to be the clear message. If you are still unsure and want to discuss possibilities for change and options for staying, then these need to be raised. Just start with one or two sentences from your point of view (the focus should be on you – how you feel and what you want – not the other person and what they might have done wrong in the past).

Finally, it’s important to consider what your partner’s reaction is likely to be. They may need time to reflect and digest, or they may ask whether you’re open to marriage counselling. They might also ask questions about the divorce itself, such as whether you have a lawyer and if you have thoughts on future parenting arrangements. In some cases, your spouse may become combative and abusive, making statements like, ‘Go ahead and lawyer up; I will too,’ ‘I bet you think you’ll get all the money,’ or ‘Don’t think you’ll get the house!’ Try not to respond to these barbs, as they can easily hook you into an argument. Instead, it’s better to end with a clear statement of what you have or have not done regarding a lawyer, your intent, whom you have told and so on. By considering your spouse’s likely reactions and how you will respond, you can avoid getting derailed or distracted by their response or returning to your old patterns of arguing.

This excerpt is from ‘Breaking Up Without Breaking Down’ – Dr Tina Sinclair, Tricia Peters and Marguerite Picard which can be purchased via Amazon – https://www.amazon.com.au/Breaking-Up-Without-Down-Preserving/dp/0992317665

Please contact MELCA – https://melca.com.au/ for more information and to book a free 15-minute information session.