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The First Conversation About Divorce

The first conversation with your spouse about divorce is one of the most important conversations anyone can have, yet most people handle it badly, impelled by powerful, unexamined negative emotions. You cannot dictate how your spouse will behave, but you can choose to behave in ways that are more likely to elicit a calm, considered response from your spouse.

Before talking with your spouse, prepare yourself by reflecting on how he or she will likely to react. Things to consider:

  1. How prepared is the spouse for the news?
                - Have you ever talked about or threatened divorce?
                - Has he/she ever suggested to you that he/she was thinking of divorce?
  2. What is his/her style of handling difficult conversations? 
                - Does your spouse tend to be highly emotional?
                - Does your spouse fly into a rage?
                - Does your spouse respond with silence?
                - Does your spouse appear to handle things and than fall apart later?

Once you know how you might expect your spouse to react, you can plan accordingly so that you can avoid causing needless distress to others. If you have children, be sure they are not around and that they will not come home unexpectedly. Decide if you need to have this conversation in a public or private place.

When it is time for the conversation, take some time to prepare. First, you must pay attention to relax yourself because you must think clearly. Second, once your body and mind are relaxed, you’ll need to focus on the positive, reflect on your options, anticipate likely problems, decide how to express yourself in the best possible way, and practice doing so before the conversation.

Reflect on the values that you want to invoke during this important conversation, and write them down. Preparing yourself in orderly steps like these gives you a strong foundation to rely upon even if your spouse becomes upset or argues about what you have to say. Think about the following questions:

  1. What values are most important to you? Think about the ethical, philosophical, spiritual, and/or religious values that you consider most important as touchstones for resolving differences with others.
  2. Rely on your past expriences. Recall a distressing incient that has occurred in your marriage in which you had a choice about how to behave. Relfect on how well your behavior during or after that incident matches those deeply held personal values you noted.
  3. Consider the “ripple effects” of your behavior during that incident. How did your behavior affect the other person/people involved? If you have children, how have they been affected by what happened during or after the incident?
  4. Doing things differently. If you could “rewind” the incident, would you choose to behave diffirently? If so, how would you choose to act?
  5. Work out several ideas. Think of several possible ways you could express important ideas, paying attention to word choices and tone.