How To Tell An Unsuspecting Spouse That You Want A Divorce
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By Chris Armstrong, Certified Relationship Coach, Featured DM Blogger - February 20, 2015


You don't want to be married to your spouse anymore. Whatever the reasons are, the conversation can suck. This is especially true if they have no indication of your desires to divorce. How do you have that conversation? Well, presumptively of course! Let me explain.

Presumptive communication is having a desired end-state that requires a discussion with someone else and reaching that end-state by:

  • Laying out a rationale that supports the end-state.
  • Predicting and getting ahead of their responses in our discussion.
  • Concluding with the actual end-state that, after all of the other information, seems like the only good option.

Now, I know what you're thinking. This sounds like manipulation. It's not. Manipulation implies a selfish or devious intent and here, your intentions are good. You're simply aware that, if put out there straightforward ("I want a divorce"), there will be a negative and/or emotional reaction from your partner.

Let's lay out some rationale to getting to that end-state:

  • Our partner wants to be married to someone that wants to be married to them.
  • Our partner wants to be married to someone that's attracted to them.
  • Our partner wants to be married to someone that won't have one mental foot out the door all the time.
  • There have been signs, even little ones, of unhappiness in the marriage.

Now, let's predict what some of their reactions could be:

  • I had no idea or I didn't see this coming.
  • What's wrong, everything seemed okay.
  • What about the children? What will we tell them?
  • I hate you right now, I don't even know what to say.
  • Are you cheating on me?

Now, let's tie some of this together with a script:

"We need to talk and there's no easy way to say this. You deserve to be married to someone that is head over heels for you and I'm just not that person. I haven't been for awhile. I know you've seen some of my angst with (insert example) and I find myself blowing up for things like (insert example). It's not something you should live with, as I'm sure you'd agree."

"I understand you may not have seen this coming but it's been lingering in me for awhile. I hold myself accountable for not addressing it earlier. If I were you, I may wonder if I were cheating, which I'm not. I've also thought long and hard about the impact on the children and I think we'd both agree that what's best for the children is for them to be in a situation that models what a fully connected family should be. And while we're both great parents, the kids are getting older and they'll start to notice the cracks, if they haven't already."

"It's for all of these reasons that we need to separate. Again, the timing and surprise isn't fair to you but it is what's in my heart and you don't need someone that doesn't have their full heart in this marriage. You've done so much."

Clearly, there's more to say and there would be injections from the partner BUT the purpose of presumptive communication is to get ahead of the responses and layout the rationale to the extent that the person on the other side has no choice but to agree, even if they don't like it.

Using the script above, what is the partner going to say when their spouse just told them their heart wasn't in it? Or that they've thought about the children angle and put forth the reality that if they stay together, the kids will see a marriage that's like two ships in the night? The other positive of using presumptive communication is the factual layout of rationale that eases the partner along in the discussion. This is especially important given the state of shock or dismay the partner would be in based on the end-state.

I've used this technique with dozens of clients and if used with good intent, is a strong tool to get through a difficult conversation. See you on the other side!

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photo credit: Looking out at Tysons Corner in the distance via photopin (license)

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