Telling Him or Her about Divorce

How you tell your spouse that you want a divorce can significantly impact how the rest of your divorce proceedings go.  You may be unhappy, sad, disappointed or angry; however, don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

Examples of how you can tell him / her:

  1. Verbally tell them privately at home.
  2. Tell them in front of a marriage counselor.
  3. Leave the already filed divorced papers in an envelope for them to find on the kitchen table.
  4. Have a process server show up at work or home and hand them the divorce papers (like on television when someone says “you’ve been served”).
  5. Hire a moving van when they are out of town and move out half of the furniture.

Later on in this chapter we will more fully discuss the pros/cons and impact of the five choices above.

Here is a list of tips for telling your spouse you want a divorce, courtesy of Family Law Software, Inc.

  • There is a clear delineation in most divorces of “the leaver” and “the left.” The leaver is usually in the stronger position psychologically and in his or her social circle. It seems silly and adolescent, but that’s the way it works out. On the other hand, the left person feels wounded. The harder the “leave-taking” statement, the worse the wound. The worse the wound, the more likely to trigger “wounded-animal” type behaviors. Think carefully about how you want to do this.
  • Prepare for all sorts of guilt to be laid on you (bad wife or husband, bad mother or father, bad person, cruel, selfish, etc.), and for verbal abuse. Be prepared to respond calmly. Know what you will say.

A few examples of what you can say:

  • “I can see how you might feel that way.”
  • “I can hear your frustration. Maybe it is best if we talk again later.”
  • “I am ending this conversation for now. Things are too heated.  Let’s talk again in a half hour / in a couple of hours / later today / tomorrow.”
  • Avoid triggering your spouse’s hot buttons.
  • Prepare for promises to change. Be aware that people who are frightened, but unable to express that emotion, may channel it into anger directed at you, or into promises to change.
  • It may make sense to prepare your spouse over time. Discuss divorce as a growing likelihood.
  • Do not expect alcoholism or drug abuse to change, despite promises. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that once you say you are going to leave, your spouse’s problems with alcohol or drug abuse will become even worse. Sometimes, they become temporarily better, but, without therapy or other interventions, they usually become worse fairly soon.
  • Use “I” messages, not “you” messages. “I feel that I need to start a new life.” “I feel that this marriage is not working for me.” Do not say, “You never did your share. You were a lousy spouse.” etc.
  • Consider breaking this message in a public place with some privacy — an uncrowded beach, street or restaurant. The public setting will encourage your spouse to respond in a restrained and rational fashion.
  • Break the news during the daytime. Morning is best.
  • Break the news when you are both sober and drug-free, if possible.
  • Be confident. Walk firmly. Be physically as much at eye-level as possible. Speak calmly. Be prepared to drain yourself of anger before you begin, and during the conversation if you feel it welling up. You can feel sorrow, yes. Anger, no.
  • During the conversation, take deep breaths to relax.
  • If you have children, assure your spouse that he or she is still father or mother to the children and that this is important to you. Bolster his or her esteem in any reasonable, honest way you can.
  • Don’t listen to abuse if you can avoid it. Say “I understand how you feel, but I do not think it helps either of us to have you go on this way” and leave or hang up.
  • Don’t get angry. Don’t take the bait when he or she presses your hot buttons.
  • Tell your spouse that you want to tell the children together, calmly, when you are both ready. This is important for the children.
  • Often it is best, after the “I want a divorce” conversation, for immediate physical separation. You should have a place to go selected, even if you hope to remain in the home. You can go there if your spouse refuses to leave.
  • If you fear a physical response, you may have to just leave, and perhaps not let your spouse know where you are.

Family Law Software Inc. http://www.familylawsoftware.com/splitgen/sp/gn/tellingspouseyouwantadivorce.htm

The way you choose to tell your spouse will depend on your circumstances and will affect the tone of the case.  If you are married to a decent nonviolent person, you can most likely tell them privately at home or in front of a marriage counselor.  If you are not afraid of your spouse and you do not fear he or she will try to harm you (or throw your clothes in the yard and burn them), then telling these at home or with a counselor will help to set a tone of respect and allow the other person to receive the information without feeling defensive.

If you are in individual therapy, practice or role-play with your therapist about how you will say the words to your spouse.  Treat it like any other important, difficult family discussion.  In fact, we suggest that you have this conversation before you file for divorce.  This decreases the negative surprise reaction.  The more you can keep them informed of each step, the more respected your spouse will feel.

We have seen this translate into a more reasonable person when it comes to negotiating or determining the terms of the divorce.  Having knowledge of what is going to happen at every step can provide a sense of security in a very uncertain time for both of you.  It might be a good idea, regardless of how you choose to let your spouse know about the divorce, to let one close friend or relative know you are going to deliver the news to your spouse so that you will have someone to talk to afterward.

What if you have a spouse who you think may react in a violent, extreme, unsafe, or “clothes burning in the yard” type way?  If you have NOT sought help before, now may be the time to do so.

In this type of situation, telling them with a marriage counselor present might be an option if you can get them to go to the counselor.  It may be better to choose to leave the already filed divorce papers in an envelope on the kitchen table for your spouse to find at a time when you will be safe and out of reach.

There is also a good argument for having a process server serve them.  The reason this might be the best choice is because when the person is formally served by a process server (versus leaving in an envelope or handing it to him yourself), two things happen.  First, the person is officially notified from the court’s perspective and must answer within twenty days or things in the lawsuit could happen without him or her (these are Texas rules, other states may be different).  The value to this is that it usually inspires your spouse to hire a lawyer quickly and the lawyer will usually help to keep the conflict down and advise the person against stupid behavior.  (We are using the term “usually” because some lawyers behave in a way that increases the conflict).  Secondly, having a process server deliver the paperwork to your spouse may be the preferred method because in many counties there is a standing order which applies to a person once they are formally served.  It would not officially apply if they received it from you by hand or left in an envelope on the table.

As of the writing of this book, the following counties in Texas have standing orders: Dallas and Collin.  That may not keep your spouse from burning your clothes in the yard, but at least now he or she is violating a court order, which the judges take very seriously. Divorce Attorney Plano, TX advises to follow the standing orders.

For those who have abusive spouses, deciding to divorce your spouse is not easy and can be very frightening.  There are many resources available to help you determine the best way to notify your spouse of the divorce and also help you (and your children) find temporary housing while you are going through the divorce.

Why It Matters How You Tell Them from Divorce Attorney Plano, TX

Why does it matter which method you choose for telling your spouse you want a divorce?  Why should you be concerned about the tone you are setting for the case?

Here an example of why the tone matters:

Linda and Doug have been married 30 years.  Doug wants a divorce.  He does not view Linda as reasonable or rational.  Linda goes out of town to move her mother into an assisted living facility four hours away by plane ride.  While Linda is gone, and without telling her, Doug pulls up two moving vans and removes one-third of the furnishings from their home, including Linda’s beloved pet, a Cockatoo.  Linda comes home from her trip to discover what Doug has done and that he wants a divorce.

Fast forward to six months later.  Doug, Linda and their lawyers are trying to negotiate a divorce settlement.  Doug and Linda have spent a large amount of money on attorney’s fees.  They have spent three times more than they normally would have.  The reason that they have spent three times more is because they had to have a temporary hearing in order for Linda to get the Cockatoo back.

Linda was furious during the entire divorce process about how the case started.  She felt betrayed, tricked, and like Doug got the upper hand.  This made it very difficult for her to see reasonable settlement offers as reasonable offers.  She wanted financial recompense for what she viewed as Doug’s bad behavior at the beginning of the case.  Had Doug told her in advance that he wanted a divorce and talked to her about which items would make sense for him remove from the house, they would have saved a lot of money, anxiety and heartache.

How to Tell Them from Divorce Attorney Plano Texas

Again, how you tell your spouse sets the tone for the entire case.  First of all, it is important that the children not be around when this conversation takes place.  Whether they are at daycare, school, a relative’s house or with the babysitter, be sure that both of you will have uninterrupted time to discuss and process the information, away from the children.  Ensure that you have time before and after the news has been shared to think through the conversation and the reactions.

It is important to remember that you have already gone through some, if not all, of the grief process.  It is likely that your spouse has not even begun the grief process.  The moment you tell them, they start the grief process.  It is impossible to know for sure how they will react.  There may be no emotion, a lot of emotion, a delayed emotional reaction or anywhere in between.  What happens after you say you want a divorce is unchartered territory for both of you.  Communicate with your spouse about the divorce with facts, try to stay away from extreme emotions, and do what you can to stay calm.

One way to start the conversation is to discuss what has not been working for you.  What changes you had hoped to see in yourself that have not happened.  What changes you had hoped to see in the relationship that have not happened.  This is not the time to dredge up the past, bring up prior arguments, or remind them of prior hurts and/or disappointments.  Keep it brief because he or she will not be able to hear a lengthy explanation or lots of details in that moment.

It is possible that your spouse will want to argue with you about this decision.  If are certain about moving forward with divorce, it is best to set a boundary by saying “I have made my decision” rather than engaging in an argument.  If future conversations are needed, try to stick by the same guidelines as the initial conversation.  These guidelines include setting aside time for the conversation, keeping the discussion brief, sticking to facts, and stopping the conversation if emotions run too high with a commitment to return to it when you have both calmed down.

Affairs

There are many people who will choose to have an affair instead of having a conversation with their spouse about their unhappiness in the marriage and their desire to divorce.  Many people may even begin having an affair before they come to terms with the fact that they are unhappy in their marriage and want a divorce.  There is a quote by Dr. Phil that says “You don’t ever solve a relationship problem by turning away from your partner.”  Having an affair does not do anything for your marriage and it keeps you from having the difficult conversations necessary to see if it can work.

Many people still have an affair though and do eventually get caught… sometimes intentionally.  They forget the stories that they have used for cover-up or simply become careless about their actions, leaving their cell phones on the counter for their spouse to go through or leaving email accounts signed in on the computer.  Many affairs happen with co-workers, neighbors or other parents they come across at school or extracurricular activities.  In the cases of neighbors, school and/or extracurricular activities, it is more than likely that their children and your children know each other, participate in some of the same activities or sit in the same classrooms.  Regardless of their affiliation, both families are impacted by the choice to have an affair and nobody’s marriages are saved.

If it is not too late upon reading this book, we recommend waiting to have the “affair” until after you are divorced.  Even though an affair is usually a symptom of a failed marriage, rather than the cause, it is still a very identifiable betrayal.  The old saying “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned” also applies to men scorned.

Affairs have a profound effect upon your divorce.  An affair can greatly affect how the betrayed spouse portrays you to the children.  It can cause irreparable damage to the relationship between you and your children.  It usually also causes the betrayed spouse to demand more in the financial settlement.  If you are currently married and having an affair, our advice is to stop the affair immediately.  You can resume that relationship after the divorce is finalized.

What You Should Never Do During a Divorce

There are a few things that you should never do during the divorce process.

First, do not ask others to pick sides.  Whether it is family, friends, neighbors or co-workers, it is important for you to clarify their role in the lives of you, your spouse and your children during the divorce process.  Be clear to them that you need them to support the family during this loss, to be listeners rather than expert advisers, and to not speak negatively in front of or within hearing distance of the children.

Second, do not tell everyone you know about your spouse’s affair. While an affair causes extreme feelings of hurt and betrayal, your best course of action is to work through your emotions with an individual counselor.  Discussing it publically will only make it more difficult to settle the case and will do irreparable harm your children emotionally and mentally.

Finally, do not discuss the divorce process with your children.  This applies regardless of their age.  Find friends, other adult family members or a counselor to talk to during the process.  It is important to have a sounding board and an opportunity to work through feelings, but discussing the divorce process with your children is in appropriate.