Splitting up: how to give the bad news gently

| 4 min read


Hearing that you are no longer loved and that your partner doesn't want to live with you is always painful, no matter how it's done. But the manner in which it is said can very much affect the intensity and duration of that pain and of other feelings, such as anger. There are bound to be matters you will need to sort out after the separation - if you have children you may need to work together for many years.

It is always preferable to be able to agree things between you rather than asking the court to decide. It is less stressful, less expensive and less traumatising for the children. To be able to agree, you need to be able to communicate with each other.

I want a divorce

You have thought long and hard about separation. You may have tried counselling and your mind is now made up that you no longer want to have a relationship with your partner. How do you tell him/her? There isn't really a 'right' or a 'wrong' way of doing this, but there are some things that are more constructive than others, so before doing it, you might want to consider the following points.

  • Choose your moment. Try to think about other things going on in your partner's life. Does s/he have any particular stresses which will be over soon, such as a new job, an illness, for example? Is this a particularly important 'family time', such as an anniversary or Christmas? If this is the case, could you wait until it's over?
  • Choose your method. Being 'dumped' by text message, e-mail or on the telephone is extremely hurtful. If you are afraid that your partner may turn violent, one of those may well be the only sensible way for you to break the news. If not, a face to face conversation is much more considerate and fair to your partner.
  • Choose your setting. Try and find a time and place where you are not disturbed or interrupted, particularly by children, family or friends. If you decide to go out, consider whether your partner might think of this as a romantic dinner. Avoid places that have a special significance for you as a couple.
  • Choose your words. Your partner is likely to feel shocked and/or very upset, so it might be better to not discuss too many practical issues until a later time.
  • Be prepared for a reaction. Don't assume that your partner 'knew' the relationship was in trouble. S/he may well be very shocked by your announcement and likely to experience (and express) all sorts of emotions.
  • Try to empathise. The 'reason' you're leaving might well be that you feel your partner has made your life hell, so empathising could be a bit difficult. At this particular point s/he is hurting, though and it might not help them or you to tell them that 'they've only got themselves to blame.
  • Arrange another time to talk. This doesn't have to be a fixed time or date but could just be an agreement to talk about it some more in a few days time.
  • If your partner is likely to be violent, you should always consider your own and your children's safety first. It might be better to leave a note and go to a place of safety, or to make sure you have other people present.

Keeping talking

You may have considered all the above when breaking the news or you may have already done it (or your partner might have found out about another person in your life, for example). Whatever happened, unless you want a lot of stress and legal expenses, you will need to find a way to keep (or start) talking to each other.

All the above points apply to other discussions you might have with each other. Some people find it helpful to 'set an agenda', for example, to say beforehand that they want to sort out the contents of the house. If one or both of you are feeling very hurt or angry, it might help to acknowledge that, to say that you understand that the other person feels like that. Starting conversations about whose fault something is tends to be unproductive as it makes people feel even more angry and upset.

You could, if you feel ok about it, have a talk just about how you each feel. Or you could write a letter to your partner - you don't need to send it. Those strategies can help to keep the emotional side separate from the practical side and might make it easier to reach an agreement.

If you have already stopped talking to each other and want to start again, write a nice letter to your partner, not blaming him or her, but just saying that you feel it would be in everybody's interest if you could at least try to talk to each other again.

Net Lawman separation documents can be found here Separation Agreement.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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