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How to tell your spouse it’s over.

Saying, “I want a divorce,” is a tricky, painful business. No one wants to be the bad guy and no one wants to make the first move. However, if you’ve been unhappy in your marriage for a considerable time, the “D” word has probably been on your mind for months, if not years. There are right ways and wrong ways– considerate and hurtful ways– to end a marriage. The conversation won’t be easy, but there are some helpful tactics that will ease both you and your spouse through the initial talk.

The approach.

How you tell your spouse you want a divorce is paramount, as it will determine how your divorce develops. Will he or she be surprised? If the two of you have disagreed for years, sleep in separate bedrooms or have brought up divorce before, then breaking the news should result in less conflict and hurt feelings. However, in some cases, he or she might have no clue that you’re unhappy. No matter the circumstances, don’t let your fear undermine your spouse’s right to a considerate, two-way conversation.

Choose a time when you’ll both be alone without distractions. Turn off your cellphones, take the kids to a babysitter. You might say that this is difficult, but you’ve decided that the marriage cannot continue and you need to seek a divorce. Acknowledge that this will be a painful process for everyone involved, but you believe that the two of you can get through it with decency and sensibility.

Remember that you are ahead of your spouse in the grieving process. You’ve already worked through your feelings of loss, hopelessness and depression and are ready to move on. Be prepared to be empathetic and listen. He or she might be angry or try to talk you out of it.

Listen.

It’s time to decide what kind of divorce you’re going to have–nasty or cooperative? Your spouse may begin accusing or criticizing you, but remember: He or she is in terrible pain. Your initial reaction may be to lash out and defend yourself, but now is the time to remain silent. Any snide remarks you throw will only add fuel to the fire and create more difficulty down the road. Listen well, then summarize your understanding so he or she feels heard.

As tempting as it is, refuse to place blame. You should both acknowledge that the marriage hasn’t worked for some time and now is when you must decide that you will do whatever is best for your family. If your spouse tries to draw you into the blame game, emphasize that you will not change your mind and you are determined to have courteous and fair divorce.

This will be the first of many discussions. Remain firm in your decision while reassuring your spouse that you are on board to find a civil end to your marriage.