It sounds like such a simple question. But the way you tell your friends, family and colleagues that you are getting divorced will frame how they view this life change you are about to embark upon, and what kind of support they will provide. It will also frame how you view yourself.
At The Divorce Surgery, we enable separating couples to share a lawyer on divorce, and often we see couples at the start of their divorce journey, when they may not have told many of their social network about their decision to separate. It can make them anxious, particularly if they don’t agree how to share the news.
So what are our top tips for what to say?
1. Take time before you say anything
Don’t feel in a rush to tell the world. This is your private news. Let it settle with you first. Decide how you want to talk about it. What do you want your divorce story to be? If you were the one leading it, respect the fact that your time-line for an announcement will not be the same as your spouse’s. Respect their need to process what is happening. If divorce was not your choice, and you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, know that this is normal.
Do get some professional help to work through your emotions. Someone unconnected to your family and your life, such as a counsellor, therapist or divorce coach, can help you work through your feelings so you aren’t defined by them. This blog is for couples whose relationship has ended but have not been the victims of abuse. Sadly, some marriages end because of abuse. If you have been in an abusive relationship, and have not felt safe, you must immediately get the support and protection you need, away from your partner.
2. Agree a narrative
This is vital. Just as when you are helping children to understand and deal with your divorce, many couples understand the need to agree a script when it comes to telling their children. But actually the same logic applies to your friends. Your objective should be to diffuse any drama. This is not going to be the soap opera divorce. Yes you want your friends to support you, distract you and bolster you. But ex-bashing will ultimately bring you down and will not help you recover and move on. If you and your spouse agree the story behind your divorce it can really take the heat out at the earliest stage.
3. A joint decision
Go back to the basics. Why do any of us get married? Because we believe we will make each other happier together than apart. Once that formula stops working, your relationship is no longer meeting your needs. It is time to take your pursuit of happiness in another direction, with respect for the shared memories and experiences that came before. Saying that you have reached a shared decision that your marriage has come to an end says nothing about the why. You don’t owe the world an explanation.
4. Pride in what you have achieved
If you can, frame it as a joint decision. There is a reason, when many high-profile celebrities announce their divorces, they issue a joint statement. It’s because it sends a clear message that they want their divorce to be viewed as an amicable one. Obviously, human interactions almost never fit that perfect mould. High-profile or not, when it comes to divorce you will be faced with the same emotional journey. You cannot buy your way out of it, and in fact sometimes more money makes it worse. What has led to this decision will be long and complex, and draw on years of tiny shifts in your relationship and the way you relate to each other. At the time these can seem completely inconsequential, but they build over time. Sometimes there is a trigger event, which can be quite dramatic. It is extremely easy (and oftentimes quite tempting) to attribute the divorce to that one event. If you can, please resist. It will lead you down a path of guilt, shame and conflict. You don’t need to agree why your relationship no longer works for you both, you just need to agree the fact that it is not working. By taking out the need to agree on the results of the post-mortem, you relieve yourselves of significant pressure.
Acknowledge your achievements. Get out a pen and paper and list them. Some are obvious: children, exciting holidays, friendships, career goals met, house moves, renovations, garden projects, pets. Some won’t spring immediately to mind, but can be even more defining: in relationships, couples can give each other the strength to be brave and try new things, to feel loved and nurtured, to laugh, to be silly and irresponsible, to dream. Think back to the early years and the times when things were good. Those are the memories to bank and hold onto. Well done you on those joyful times, now it’s time for more.
5. Time to grow in different directions for this next life phase
You’ve said it was a joint decision to end the relationship, you’re proud of everything you’ve achieved together and now it is time for you both to move on to different adventures. By doing so you remove a great deal of stress from the situation, both for yourselves and for those around you who will come to terms with the news in different ways. Shifting onto this future narrative will give your friends the lead they need to help you look forwards, not back. What is coming next? What new life experiences await? You are not abandoning your old relationship, it will have defined you in many ways, and if you have children you will be co-parents for life, but you are acknowledging that the relationship is no longer meeting both your needs, and it’s time to move on.