Initiating divorce is never easy. However, your spouse probably has some idea that the marriage is not going well. Perhaps you've been in marriage counseling for months and things just aren't getting better. Perhaps you're living separate lives under the same roof. Perhaps you've done nothing but hurt each other for years. Most of the time, the mention of divorce comes as no surprise.
If you and your spouse have been in marriage counseling for a while, you can expect your counselor to help you. I suggest that you see the counselor privately first to let him/her know of your decision and so you can clarify your reasons for ending the marriage. You will want to schedule a longer session than usual for both of you so your spouse can ask some of the hard questions that will undoubtedly come up. You might also seek the assistance of a divorce mediator (one who is a trained marital and mental health professional).
Is your spouse a volatile person, someone who has been abusing you verbally or physically? Might he or she harm you or your children physically when you mention divorce? In this case, it is imperative that you have a safety plan in place first. A domestic violence professional can help you with this. It is best to discuss your need for divorce in a place where the likelihood of injury is minimal (ie. in a public place, your counselor's office, with friends present).
Are you asking for a divorce because you want your spouse to change in some way? If so, you may not really mean it when you say, "Let's get divorced." You may have said it a number of times and your spouse doesn't believe you anymore. It is better to find a third party to work with you (or if possible, both of you) before bringing up the topic. Clarity is crucial and knowing you tried to save your marriage will help assuage your guilt about needing to end it.
Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, personal coach, spiritual counselor, and author with a private practice in Westchester County, NY. She can be reached at (914) 741-1044.