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Should You Bring Up Separation or Divorce?

Don't mention divorce to shape up or shake up your partner.

First the "Don'ts."

Don't threaten to divorce or break up in the heat of anger, which isn't helpful or fair. Don't bring up divorce as an attempt to punish, shape up, or shake up the other person. And don't feel compelled to mention divorce simply because it passes through your head now and then. Many folks entertain fantasies about leaving yet are from acting on it.

That said, talking about divorce is important if you're thinking seriously about it-even ambivalently. You owe your partner honesty about a matter that so deeply affects both of you. I've seen any number of devastated men in therapy who tell me their wives left them out of the blue. The women, however, claim to have voiced their anger and discontent for a long time.

Both are right; he hasn't listed well enough; she hasn't shared her thoughts about leaving clearly enough or early enough in the process.

Often one person doesn't make a serious issue of divorce until she's finally made up her mind to leave. Any changes her partner then agrees to make are too little, too later. In the end, neither spouse has had the opportunity to test the potential for change in their marriage.

Here are four reasons why it's necessary to make yourself heard if you're seriously thinking about divorce:

It's not fair to conceal crucial facts that affect your partner. A spouse has a right to know essential facts in order to think clearly about the present and plan for the future.

1. It's not fair to conceal crucial facts that affect your partner. A spouse has a right to know essential facts in order to think clearly about the present and plan for the future.

2. The loss of a spouse or partner should never come out of the blue. Sometimes the word divorce has been thrown around so much it's become a hollow threat, or your partner just can't imagine that you'd ever leave e. That's why, if you're truly considering leaving, tell your spouse in a different way. You'd expect no less from your boss at work, right? You wouldn't want him to be criticizing you and giving you negative feedback when the real message is, "These are the specific things that need to change in order for you to keep this job."

3. A partner will have the best chance of deciding whether to make the necessary changes (stop drinking, find a job, become a partner in housework and parenting) if he or she knows that the problems are so serious that you are contemplating leaving. If you're very clear that you can't continue with the status quo, your partner will also be clear about his willingness (or unwillingness) to change and about how much the relationship means to him.

4. Talking frankly about divorce will make the possibility of divorce more real to you. Doing so will add greater clarity to your own thinking, whatever path of action you choose.

Before you rush in to clarify your bottom line or to find a divorce attorney, it's a good idea to first test out what's possible in your relationship by warming up the emotional climate, nurturing your relationship and testing out what's possible. Give your relationship the best chance of succeeding. If you do have thoughts about divorce, share them early enough in the process to give your partner a chance to step up to the plate. Finally, be fair. If you've already made up your mind to leave, don't go into couples therapy pretending that you're still willing to work on the marriage.

More from Harriet Lerner Ph.D.
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