If you’re considering a separation or divorce, but have no idea how to bring it up with your spouse, you have a lot of company. As a divorce coach, I’m constantly asked: How should I tackle this subject? What’s the key?
I don’t have the perfect answer. The right way to handle the issue is different in every situation, just as every couple’s story is unique. What I do know is:
• Feelings are going to be hurt. There’s no way to avoid it, only to minimize it.
• Insecurities will come to the surface.
• A certain amount of chaos will disrupt your lives.
• Figuring it all out takes time. Impulsive decisions and actions only create more chaos.
• If you don’t address the problem, it won’t go away by itself.
• Partially addressing the subject leads to the spouse being in a state of limbo.
As I said, every marriage is different, but here are some basic guidelines that have been effective for many of my clients.
I always suggest starting by communicating with your spouse. So often we’re afraid to bring our concerns to the table. This fear creates anxiety, which itself can be paralyzing.
Change is not going to magically happen. While hope and optimism are always good, they won’t act as catalysts in your relationship. You need to find some way to address your problems calmly and directly, so you can break away from the situation you’re in – which isn’t great, let’s face it – and move in a more a positive direction.
2. Be willing to listen
Communication (as you’ve heard many times before) is a two-way street. It’s not enough to share your grievances. You must also ask questions and really listen to the responses. Listening doesn’t have to mean agreeing. It means you care enough to hear what your spouse has to say. It means not being threatened by their words, not judging them, and not bringing your own insecurities into the picture. If you’re having negative reactions while listening, you can say, “Wait – I want to be sure I’m hearing what you’re intending. Can I tell you what I heard?” This gives them a chance to clarify their meaning.
That’s all you need to do right now. Just listen and understand. Then say, “Okay, I heard you, and I’m going to think about all this.” And ask, “What do you need from me?”
3. Know what you want.
Before you introduce the subject of separation or divorce, you must confront your own expectations. Do you know what you want the outcome of this discussion to be? Your spouse is going to want to know. Be prepared to honestly share your thoughts on where you see this marriage going. Starting out with honesty helps you avoid creating false hope, which may seem to be protecting your spouse but actually causes more pain. It keeps them in limbo – frustrated and scared – and in the end, it delays the inevitable.
These steps are your starting point. You have to start somewhere. Raising the subject of separation or divorce is never easy, but if you start out with a foundation of communication, listening, and honesty, it will help ease the impact of whatever follows.
Think of it as creating a solid foundation, as opposed to testing your luck with a house of cards.