Our entire lives are a process of changing and developing. Although we promise to remain married forever, it is not always possible to keep the promise. Usually, the decision to divorce is made after months and even years of silent deliberation. It is not made lightly, but even so, our spouses are rarely prepared to hear the words. As Shakespeare put it, “Though it be honest, it is never good / To bring bad news.”
It takes courage to end a marriage. No one wants to hurt a partner intentionally, and there is no way to do it without causing pain. However, when you are certain that the marriage is over and the words must be said, it is better to get it over with quickly. Few people are lucky enough to end their marriages without some emotional trauma or conflict, but it is better to move through it quickly rather than endure the long, drawn-out anguish of a dying marriage.
Inflicting pain on your spouse is often difficult to do. After all, you once loved this person deeply, and if you’ve shared a number of years with your spouse, chances are that you will not want to cause him or her pain, no matter how things have changed between you two. It may be that your reluctance to speak about problems has led to things being left until they are insurmountable, but don’t let guilt hold you back now.
Speak about it before something sparks a crisis or an affair. These are devastating ways to learn about the end of your marriage. If therapy is not possible and you know it’s too late, say so. Don’t hold out false hope if you know there is none. Don’t wait until you say the words in anger. They will be less credible and easily ignored in an argument, and when emotions are high, your guilt will be easy to manipulate.
Be honest. If you are not happy in the marriage, you can spare your partner a lot of pain if you let him or her get used to the idea gradually. Take responsibility for your share, be clear and direct, and give your spouse time to hear you and understand that you are firm.
If you are afraid that your spouse will not accept what you have to say, or will threaten you with emotional blackmail (using the children, threats of suicide) or financial blackmail, you need to be prepared. Always take the threat seriously, but don’t give in to it. This means that you don’t have to stay with a partner who is making threats, but you should always be watchful and act with tact and sensitivity. The first few days after telling your spouse, or of your leaving, are often the most anxious, so make sure your spouse has support available. Friends and family should be called upon to provide support. You can’t provide effective support at this time. Don’t give in to blackmail. It makes you a prisoner and only postpones the inevitable.
Barbara Anderson, MSW, has 13 years’ experience offering separation counseling for adults and children for separated and divorced families. She also practices mediation of parenting plans and single-issue disputes related to children at her Toronto and Mississauga offices.