People don’t usually enter into a marriage while thinking about how it will end. So when the time comes to decide to end a marriage, the partners involved usually find themselves at a place so very different from where they were when they first started. And the time between is often marked by a great deal of emotional upheaval, pain, disappointment and heartache. (If you are currently struggling in your relationship, thinking about couples therapy and what to do next, you can find more information and resources here for support)
Even when the end of a marriage is necessary and ultimately better for all involved, it’s seldom without its fair share of loss and life adjustment. Divorce is not only hard for those ending the marriage but it can be hard on a number of people adjacent to the marriage including children, friends and relatives.
Preparing to Tell Others About Your Decision to Divorce
Once the decision to divorce has been made, letting the others in your life know can bear its own weight of burden, challenge and dread. As if arriving at this decision wasn’t hard enough, the mere thought of having to discuss the decision with certain important others in your life can be incredibly anxiety provoking and physically sickening.
In fact, anticipating the shock, hurt and loss others will feel as well as the possible shame and judgment can prevent individuals from deciding to forward with a divorce especially when it would be a healthier choice for all partners.
When it’s time to take this huge step, it is ultimately better that those closest to you learn about this decision directly from you. Consider the following points and suggestions as you brace yourself for this next wave to ride in this sea of change that divorce encompasses.
- Clarify for Yourself First. Be clear about your decision to divorce and the reasons behind it. This will help you articulate your thoughts and answers to potential questions about why you are divorcing more competently and more confidently. Clarify what the facts and circumstances are and what you are comfortable sharing about in advance of discussing the matter with anyone.
- Consider the Time and Place. Make sure that you have a private setting, where you can have an open and honest conversation without interruptions. Choose a time when everyone involved can focus on the discussion without feeling pressured or rushed. Also, remember that while there might not be an ideal time to have this discussion, there are time frames better than others.
- Take Ownership & Avoid Blaming Language. Relationships are complex and co-created. When things end, bitterness and blame are common feelings yet don’t deny the fact that both and all persons part of the marriage are responsible for the entity of the relationship that was created. When sharing with others about the decision to divorce, practice using I-statements and/or We-statements such as “We decided to divorce now as we feel we would be healthier and happier apart at this point in our lives.” Try to resist the urge to rely on a blaming statement such as “They gave me no choice to divorce because I wanted to try but they didn’t want to do the work.” An alternative statement might be, “I decided to divorce now as I would like to have a life partner who I can grow and evolve with.”
- Allow Space for Difficult Feelings to Be. It’s not uncommon for the people you tell to feel a range of feelings such as shock, denial, anger or sadness. While their expression of their feelings may trigger many of your own difficult feelings, remember that what they feel is part of their journey and you are not “doing anything to them” but can allow and hold space for them to acknowledge, feel and express their feelings as they need to. Compassionate space holding can be expressed by simple statements such as “I understand how hard this is for you to hear this from me…Yes you have every right to feel angry about this…I understand your shock and that you didn’t see this coming.”
- Less is More & Allow Room for Questions. Start the conversation with stating the facts, and without over explaining or going into too many details. Share the decision and observe and listen to their reactions and allow the person(s) you are sharing the news with to have their own reactions. Allow room for them to ask questions, and also know that while some questions may be reasonable and hard to answer, if a question feels too invasive or you are not ready to answer that you can say so and go back to the place of “this is what we decided, this is where we are and it has not been an easy decision to make and there are many difficult feelings on all sides of this that we all need to be considerate and compassionate towards.”
- Be Mindful of Managing Doubt, Blame, Shame and Judgment. It’s not uncommon for people to feel shocked and surprised and question your decision to divorce. If a certain individual continues to doubt and challenge your decision or blame you for “not trying hard enough”, which can be incredibly hard to hear and hold, remember you can assert your boundary of your decision in a kinder way without succumbing to the felt need to “defend” your decision or become argumentative. Restate how you recognize their shock and acknowledge what a very difficult decision this was and one that required a great deal of thought and how you feel confident that this is the right step. People’s expression of blame and shame and judgment can be a mask for their sense of anger and powerlessness over the situation. You do not have to take on their blame, shame and judgment and know you can end the conversation if it starts to go down a road that is more destructive than constructive. “While i see and understand your struggle in hearing this, please know this has been very painful for me/us and continuing this conversation with you now in this manner is not productive or helpful in any way and its just causing more hurt. We will end this conversation here now.”
A divorce can stir up many challenging feelings for all involved, both directly and indirectly. Like any challenge in life, permitting time and space to allow all of the feelings to emerge and be acknowledged is paramount. Also finding a judgment-free space to process through the feelings that have emerged in however long of a timeframe is needed to process is essential. Finding the support of a mental health professional and seeking out group support in which you can connect with, share with and learn from others who have also experienced a divorce can be incredibly helpful and powerful.
We will be starting an online Divorce Support Group this February that will be available nationally. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. And our team of therapists are able to provide compassionate and skilled couples therapy to those who seek more individualized and personal care. Email email@example.com to learn more.