Helping the Left Along

You already know that you cannot stop a divorce. So what do you do if you’re the leaver, and your spouse refuses to talk about divorce? After years of working with couples who felt locked in an unseemly and destructive tug-of-war over their marriage, I began encouraging the use of a simple three-step process:

Step One – It’s Time

If you haven’t already done so, find a time when things are calm, not in the middle of a fight or when your children are around, and tell your spouse quietly and calmly, “_________, it’s time. We need to get a divorce.” That’s the only message your spouse needs to hear during Step One. Nothing about what a terrible person your spouse is or about what the terms should be. Just the simple, calm, quiet message – but the unambiguously firm message – that divorce needs to happen.

Step Two – What They Cannot Control, and What They Can

If your spouse says no, absolutely not, Step Two is to lay out for your spouse what he or she CAN control. I suggest you say something like this. “________, we’re going to divorce. That’s going to happen, and you can’t do anything to keep that from happening. You have no control over that. But what you DO get to decide is HOW.

“I know what I would like for you to decide. I’d like for you to decide that we’re going to do this in a quiet, dignified way, talking through together who gets what, and finishing it up with our dignity intact. But I don’t get to decide that. If you want it to be ugly and protracted and painful and expensive, you can make it that way. You’ll talk about all the horrible things I have said and done, and I’ll talk about all the horrible things you’ve said and done, and when we’re done beating each other up, we’ll eventually be divorced.

“I know what I’d like for us to do, but I also know that I don’t get to decide. You do. Just think about it, and we can talk in a couple of days.”

Then I suggest you wait for 2-3 days and give your spouse time to think about what you’ve said.

Step Three – Let’s Talk About How We Will Divorce

After the 2-3 days, it’s time to follow up and say “We need to talk about how we’re going to divorce.” If your spouse is willing, you can now begin to talk about the terms of your divorce. I can’t tell you that if you do this your spouse will agree to be cooperative. I can tell you that this three-step process gives your spouse the best chance to come along to the point where he or she can do so.