I am Pam Masters and I am a collaborative family lawyer, which is to say that I am a settlement specialist and I guide couples and families on the difficult journey of divorce without court involvement. I do this is ways that protects children, preserves financial assets and creates healthy co-parenting relationships.
Knowing how to tell your spouse you want a divorce is important, but knowing when to give the news is also important and can make the difference between an adversarial divorce or a respectful one. Timing is (almost) everything.
How to know when you are ready to tell your spouse of your decision?
Be certain of your decision. Divorce should never be used as a threat or ultimatum. Divorce threats are words that your spouse can never “un-hear.” Have you found clarity or do you still have doubts?
It’s unfair to blindside your spouse with the news. Often the anger I see in an early divorce situation is when one side never saw it coming. This happens when conflict-avoidant people hide their emotions so that when they announce their desire to divorce, the spouse is flabbergasted. Communicate your unhappiness early, when it starts, and convey your conviction that your marriage needs help. Ask your partner to work on the marriage with you. Be open to marital counseling before the problems become a crisis. Problems in marriage don’t go away on their own and you can sweep them under the rug for only so long. This is when you feel like you’re living with a roommate. You’re both ignoring the elephant in the room.
Don’t tell your spouse until you know you’ve left no stone unturned. You’ve read books, talked to friends, begged your spouse to go to counseling, or perhaps your spouse has refused because “I don’t believe in therapy.” You’ve tried everything you can think of. When you know you have no other options, it may be time to tell your spouse.
Ask yourself, “Is there anything my spouse could do to keep me in the marriage?” If “yes,” then perhaps you could invite them to make the change/adjustments. If “no,” then you at least know you have few options other than leaving.
Don’t sit on it for months or years. If you’re determined to stay married, do what you can to repair your marriage. If an argument 6 years ago was the “final straw” do something before your anger poisons the relationship.
Clients have often asked me whether to “stay together for the sake of the kids.” There are different ways to think about this. If there is a lot of conflict and arguing in the house, your kids may be relieved to see that end. If there is abuse, protecting your children is primary. Ask yourself, what message you are sending your children when you stay together. If you and your spouse can co-parent well under the same roof, then a “parenting marriage” might be a reasonable solution. In a parenting marriage, you and your spouse agree to stay together despite the absence of romance in your relationship. Perhaps you see yourselves as good friends, raising children together. If you agree and can live together without stress and arguments, it is a viable alternative for some.
This should go without saying, but don’t ask your child “Do you think we should divorce?” Parents worry about how divorce might affect their children; this is normal. Sometimes they’ll test the idea out on a child, usually a teenager, and often an adult child. But divorce is your decision. Asking your kids’ advice puts a burden on them that they should never have to carry. There are some topics where kids get a voice, but not a vote. Where to go on vacation, or what movie to watch, might be one of those topics. Divorce is not.