The decision to separate or divorce is usually one of the most difficult decisions of one’s life and is most likely something you’ve been thinking about for some time. But, once you have decided to move forward, it is so important to decide the best way to tell your spouse. The manner in which you handle the initial conversation can set the tone for how you hope the process to separate or divorce can happen.

How Will Your Spouse React?

It is often difficult to predict how your spouse will react to this conversation. Even if you believe that your spouse has recognized that the marriage has been in trouble, your spouse may still be shocked, angry or devastated at hearing the news. If your spouse does not realize that there are problems in the marriage that have brought you to this point, it is especially necessary to handle this with care and compassion.

Tips on How to Tell Your Spouse:

  1. If at all possible, try to choose a time to talk to your spouse that is not particularly stressful in his or her life.  If other life events, such as an illness of a family member or particular issues at work, have impacted your spouse greatly try to choose a less stressful time period.
  2. Choose a suitable location where you can have privacy and avoid distractions so long as you feel safe to do so if you have been seeing a therapist together that could be a safe location to share this news so that there is professional support for this conversation. The therapist can help facilitate the discussion while helping to deal with strong emotions that will likely emerge. Also, be prepared to suggest for your spouse to speak with his or her own counselor or other support systems after this discussion to process difficult emotions.
  3. Have the conversation when the kids are not around to possibly hear you-this is not the way for the children to learn about this.
  4. Stay calm and explain why you want to take this next step with a short summary of your unhappiness.
  5. Listen to your spouse, so that your spouse can explain and express their feelings.  This is an important time to be an active listener and to reflect back and be compassionate about the feelings and thoughts of your spouse at this difficult time.
  6. Recognize that this will be the first of many conversations.
  7. Avoid blaming your spouse for your decision and avoid getting into an argument if your spouse blames you—this is about moving forward and engaging in either blaming or defensiveness will likely not be helpful.
  8. Stay focused and calm and assure your spouse that you will work together to make sure this transition goes as smoothly as possible for each of you and your children.
  9. Try to talk about a team approach even at the beginning regarding how you want to work together to make this process as comfortable as possible for both of you and the children.
  10. Be prepared to possibly answer questions about how you will go about getting a divorce but try to avoid details during this first conversation as it may simply be too overwhelming at this point. Will you try the mediation or collaborative divorce process instead of a court process to minimize emotional and financial costs? Be reassuring that you want to work together to get to a fair and reasonable resolution.

Research Your Options to Get Separated or Divorced Before You Speak with Your Spouse

It will be helpful if you can offer suggestions once your spouse has had time to process your decision as to how to make this process as comfortable and supportive as possible. There are three options to consider: litigation, collaborative divorce or mediation. To avoid the expense and emotional drain that litigating your divorce will entail, consider either the mediation or collaborative process. Either process has the advantage of spending less money, taking less time and avoiding going to court.


In mediation, you and your spouse negotiate with each other with the guidance of a neutral mediator. Divorce Mediation is almost always the least expensive option and is an excellent forum for communicating needs and concerns to achieve a separation or divorce. If the mediators are also lawyers, they will write the agreement and prepare and file your divorce papers. Mediation does not require you to go to court. 

At the New York Divorce Mediation Group, you will have two mediators who will be working with you and your spouse. Both mediators are attorneys and one mediator is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Collaborative Divorce Process

The collaborative divorce process has each spouse represented by an attorney; however, the key difference is that the attorneys are committed to obtaining a fair settlement for both of you to avoid a trial. Underpinning this commitment, the attorneys sign an agreement that they will not represent you in court if a settlement is not achieved. To assist you and the attorneys, and if your particular situation so requires, neutral unbiased financial experts and/or family support specialists trained in the collaborative process will be retained by both of you to help navigate financial and family issues. The collaborative process will generally be less expensive, quicker and will result in an agreement tailored to your needs through the assistance of your collaborative team. The collaborative model, with a team approach, is very comprehensive and supportive in terms of emotional and financial issues. 

Getting Your Spouse to Agree

To help convince your spouse, it’s important to stress how either the mediation or collaborative process would benefit each of you. Provide your spouse with websites or articles explaining the process and benefits. If you have spoken with a mediator or collaborative attorney, you can provide your spouse with their contact information. Don’t force the issue. Give your spouse the time to consider these options.

To obtain more information about mediation or collaborative divorce, please contact us or visit our website at We will be happy to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have.

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