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Preparing to have the discussion: how to tell your spouse you want to separate

For some, the decision to separate comes quickly. For others, deciding that a relationship is over can take years. But no one takes it lightly. Telling your partner that you want to separate is never easy. We understand this is a tough conversation, and people usually don’t know where to begin. Our Separation Support Consultant, Arabella Feltham, speaks to people every day who are making this decision. Here is her advice.

If you’ve decided that you’re ready, you can do some things to prepare for a conversation that focuses on safe, calm communication. Here are some key considerations and practical steps you can take to have this conversation.

How do I stay safe when I tell my partner I want to separate?

If you or your children are experiencing family violence, we recommend that you do not discuss separation with your partner without seeking professional support first. Please read our blog, Separation when there is family violence.

Your safety during this discussion is essential. If things could become dangerous, have a support person with you when discussing separation. Even if you think your partner won’t become physically violent, verbal or emotional abuse is not okay. A support person can help to de-escalate the situation just by being there.

How do I tell my partner I want to separate?

It’s important to express yourself clearly and simply. Think it through and practice what you are going to say.

Frame up your reasons around ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’. Use direct but kind language, and keep your sentences short. If you are writing a script to support yourself, use dot points to help keep your messaging clear. Avoid starting sentences with ‘I think’, for example, ‘I think maybe I would like to separate.’ Instead, use ‘I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I want to separate’.

Remember that during this first discussion, you are not trying to litigate the past; you are trying to help your partner understand that you want to separate and your relationship is over.

How will my partner react to separation?

Different people may react to this news in different ways. Finding out your relationship is over can be very stressful and may cause a fight-or-flight response, manifesting in several ways. Anticipating a few possible reactions from your partner can help you prepare.

  • Some people respond with anger, especially if they feel cornered or attacked. As mentioned earlier, having a support person present can help if you are worried about this reaction. Your partner may use inflammatory language and say nasty things because they are hurt. Although it is not very nice to hear, try not to take what they say to heart and understand that this may not be how they approach the entire process. It may just be today’s reaction.
  • Your partner may want to leave home immediately, and you should prepare for this possible outcome.
  • Another reaction is denial. When you eventually break the news, you may have already moved through many of the emotions of separation. But if separation comes as a surprise, your partner may simply refuse to engage with your decision. Be prepared for your partner to be at a different emotional stage from you, and have patience.
  • Another possibility is that your partner may agree with your decision. Many instigators of separation say that they prepare for a bad reaction. Instead, their partner agrees it’s the right thing to do. While it’s positive to both be on the same page, it can be surprisingly hurtful if your partner also wants to separate. Be prepared for your emotional response if this is the case.

Would you like to speak with Arabella?

In a Separation Support session, you can talk through your unique situation with an impartial separation expert who can help you navigate the immediate practical next steps of your separation.

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What if my spouse wants to try again?

What are your longer-term intentions? Do you think a break can help repair your relationship, or have you decided to move on permanently?

You may only know the answer after you have the discussion. But if your decision to separate is final, ensure you don’t give your partner false hope. If they suggest trying marriage counselling or a trial separation, be clear that it’s not an option.

Do I need to know what will happen next?

If safety is a consideration, you may need to plan your separation carefully before you talk to your spouse and have a clear plan about your next steps. Organisations like 1800Respect are there to assist you with safety planning.

If you don’t have any safety concerns, you don’t need to decide anything right now

Have you been thinking about separation for a while? Maybe you’ve already considered the practical aspects of how your separation could work. You may have completed our Q&A to investigate which separation pathway would suit you or you may have already sought professional support.

Bombarding your partner with plans for life after separation might be too much the first time you discuss separation.

Separating is a process that takes months to finalise and shouldn’t be rushed. You may find that you go through four or five negotiation phases before finalising an agreement on living arrangements, parenting plans and financial separation. There will be time to decide the specifics.

If you’re both ready, the discussion might be a chance to chat about short-term options. If your partner isn’t expecting the discussion, give them time to digest the news.

What should I do immediately after the discussion?

It is a good idea to get some space after you’ve told your partner you want to separate. It is a good idea to plan for some time apart afterwards, This can be an emotional conversation, especially if your partner is not expecting it.

If you are the initiator, you may have had a long time to think about this before you decided to take action. Your partner may need some time before coming to the same realisation. Have a night apart to let the conversation sink in.

What do I need to consider if we have children? 

Separation is an issue between adults and should be handled by adults.

Having the discussion can take some time. You want to let the conversation progress naturally and avoid rushing. To remove your children from the situation, organise for them to attend a sleepover with a trusted family member or friend. This way, the two of you can decide together when and how you will tell them and control the narrative to the children, ensuring they feel loved and supported.

Discuss your separation with your children when you are both ready. Listen to our podcast for some more information on helping your children through separation.

How can I prepare myself for the discussion?

When you’re getting ready, you might feel trepidation about the discussion and your partner’s response. You’re probably also worried about the reaction of your children, extended family and friends.

But what about your own reaction?

You may have accepted that your relationship is beyond repair and are ready to move forward. But as the reality of breaking up and living apart sets in, it’s natural to take an emotional dive.

It’s important to have people you can trust for support. It may be a friend or someone more neutral, like a therapist or psychologist. Many people hire a Divorce Coach to help them through the discussion and what follows.

It may be very difficult. But having this discussion with your partner is the necessary first step to a happier life, and you have more courage to face the future than you know!


Meet our Divorce and Breakup Coach

Leanne Kanzler

Leanne Kanzler is a registered Psychologist and Divorce and Break-up Coach. Leanne’s DARE to Decide: Should I Stay or Should I Go? is a concise program designed to assist you in exploring your relationship — the good, the bad, and the ugly. This program offers invaluable insights and poses tough questions to help you gain clarity. It has been carefully crafted to help if you’re at a crossroads in your relationship and considering this difficult decision.

BOOK A FREE CALL WITH LEANNE


The Separation Guide aims to make separation and divorce simpler and less stressful. Take our free three-minute Q&A to learn how one of our Network Members could support your separation.

Disclaimer
The information in our resources is general only. Consider getting in touch with a professional adviser if you need support with your legal, financial or wellbeing needs.