Divorce is often a unilateral decision with one spouse deciding to move ahead with ending the marriage. While that decision can sometimes comes as a surprise, it can also come after months of endless discussions that seemingly lead nowhere.
When it gets to the point where you and your spouse can barely talk to each other without it ending in an argument, that you’ve withdrawn from social activities as a couple, and physical intimacy is rare or non-existence, something has to change.
Making a unilateral decision can be hard if you’re normally a consensus-builder but if your spouse has said no to marriage-counselling, and says they don’t think there’s anything that will help your relationship, your spouse may already have checked out and is just going through the motions. They may be paralyzed with fear and that means it’s you who’s going to have to say, “I’m done. I can’t do this any longer.”
So how do you move forward?
Seek Legal Advice
Meet with an attorney to discuss your rights and obligations. At this stage you’re not looking to hire an attorney and you’re not looking to file for divorce; you’re simply looking to find out more information about the consequences of ending your marriage.
Use the meeting to understand what you might expect in terms of spousal support, division of assets, child support and parenting time. It’s helpful to also get an understanding of your spouse’s position because this will put you in a better position to help them accept your decision.
Going from being married to going through a divorce can seem like jumping off a cliff. It’s often a drastic move and that alone can put someone in denial. A separation is much less drastic and it can give both you and your spouse some much needed time and space.
Instead of, “I’m done,” it’s “I think we would both benefit from some time apart” and it offers both you and your spouse a chance to experience life apart and the potential realities of divorce. Not only that, the dramatic change can sometimes shift the relationship dynamic enough to open the path to reconciliation and that’s just one reason why a separation calls for upfront, honest discussions about your expectations around key issues, such as finances and dating, during the separation.
Develop Your Parenting Plan
Concern for the impact of a divorce on children is one reason couples get locked into the never-ending what-shall-we-do discussions. Again, much of this is driven by fear. Most of us have read or heard reports about The Harm Divorce Does To Children but your children are not destined to suffer every ill-effect of divorce. You and your spouse are the key determinants of that.
You can take the lead by starting to read about parenting after divorce, the common pitfalls, what works, what doesn’t. One of the questions to ask during your legal consultation is what a typical parenting arrangement looks like in your state for children the age of yours.
Start imagining how the logistics of their daily care might work if you were living apart. While what would work for you and your spouse is obviously important, the key and sometimes harder perspective is what would work for your children. What would life be like for them and what can you do to minimize the impacts on them?
Make Your Preparations
Before you share your decision with your spouse you need to protect yourself. Unfortunately divorce can bring out the worst behavior in the best of us and there are many stories of bank accounts being cleaned out, credit cards closed and spouses being left without access to funds. Changing your passwords, copying financial records, opening your own bank account and credit card are a few of the standard recommendations. Do your research on preparations and then you can assess the risk with your spouse and whether it’s something you need to act on now or if can wait. Don’t be lazy – be planful. You may be protecting yourself from a world of hurt.
(Mandy is the author of the ebook Untangling From Your Spouse: How To Prepare For Divorce )
Plan Your Discussion With Your Spouse
Now it’s time to plan how you will communicate your decision to your spouse. Planning this will help you avoid blurting it out at an inopportune moment when you’re emotionally exasperated and the kids are within earshot.
This means thinking through what you will say even down to the actual words and rehearsing it. If something doesn’t sound right then it isn’t: choose different words. Similarly, think how your spouse might respond and how you will handle that. Keep in mind that it’s probably not advisable to get drawn into detailed discussions until the emotional shock has worn off. For example, if your spouse responds with, “But what about the children. We can’t do this to our children!” instead of sharing all the details of how you see shared parenting working, respond
- acknowledging that you’ve heard your spouse’s concerns
- state your belief
- share your commitment.
With the example about your children this might look like, “I do understand your concern about the children and I’m concerned about them too. I know this is very upsetting right now. I believe that we are both good parents and there’s a lot we can do to protect our children from the negative impacts of ending our marriage. I am committed to parenting with you to do what is in the best interests of our children.”
Think about the timing of your discussion. Try to be considerate of the other stressors in your spouse’s life. Sharing your decision as they are on their way to a key business presentation or at the end of a long and trying day will only increase the stress of the situation probably for both of you.
Managing the timing may be challenging for you. Once you’ve made your mind up you may feel an increasing sense of urgency to tell your spouse. One tactic is to put the delay into perspective against the length of your marriage. If you’ve been married for 15 years, waiting another three days to say something shouldn’t be impossible. If you keep putting it off, it could be signs of lingering doubts on your part. Know that there will likely never be a perfect time; it’s more about the least bad time.
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Brenda Smith says
Excellent article, Mandy. Yup…that is how it plays out.
Karen Bellinfante says
I wish this article was available when I was ready for a divorce. This was just the order in which it should be done. See a lawyer and she will tell you exactly what to do. Don’t tell your spouse until you have your ducks in a row. As soon as I told my husband that I was divorcing him, he locked up everything and took the key with him. I’m glad that I had copied everything that I needed before hand.
Mandy Walker says
Unfortunately Karen yours is not an uncommon situation. I always tell my clients, “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” You never truly know how someone is going to react to your decision.