Life According To Lenson
How to Successfully Exit A Marriage
By Eileen Lenson
May 2, 2012 - 8:18:18 AM

BEVERLY HILLSYou’re unhappy in your marriage and ready to call it quits.  Hopefully, by the time you reach this juncture you have already discussed your discontent openly and honestly with your spouse, and attempted marital counseling.


Despite this approach, many come to the realization that the passage of time has incurred too much hurt, damage and disappointment, and their marriage is not salvageable. 


Because no two marriages are alike, a hard and fast recipe for how to tell your spouse you want a divorce does not exist.  Sometimes it is not about her being a bad mother or him being a poor provider.  Yet, lack of cause does not reduce the emotional pain because divorce is much more than dissolution of a legal contract.  It is the death of all the lifelong hopes, dreams, and plans a couple once shared together.


When informing a spouse that the marriage is over, respect and sensitivity to the partner can establish the direction in which the divorce process takes place.  If children are involved, it can establish the foundation for a workable communication between the two parents.


Consideration of one’s spouse includes the time and setting in which the intent to divorce is presented.  Select a time void of interruptions and when children are not around to witness the discussion.  Have the conversation near the beginning of the day, rather than at night time.  The more surprised the spouse is by the news, the longer it will take to adjust.  Judgment and emotions become frayed when combined with exhaustion and stress.  Having the initial discussion in the daylight, when both spouses are refreshed allows for ample time to come to terms with the new reality. 


Children are often afraid of the dark because of the ”˜boogey man’.   As adults, we still have some of that little boy or girl deep inside of us. When faced with an emotional trauma, former feelings of insecurity and fear from childhood can creep back, further validating the importance of purposefully selecting a proper time and setting for discussing the dissolution of one’s marriage.


Being honest with yourself as well as your spouse is imperative.  Discussion of the spouses’ deficits in the marriage should be done in a non-hurtful manner.   Rarely is the spouse responsible for the entire failure of the marriage.  Own accountability for your contribution.  Avoid drama, as it will only result in revenge and greater emotional and financial losses.  If you have made the decision that there is no hope for the marriage, then rehashing past disappointments will serve no purpose other than cause more feelings of upset.


It is not uncommon for a spouse to initially experience denial that the marriage is over.  Threats of divorce may have been tossed around in the past, but as nothing came of it, the spouse may believe that this is but one more expression of discontent.  This spouse may believe there is time to make requested changes; that the marriage is salvageable if the unhappy partner will stay and work on the marriage.  Such reactions are common, as the one wanting to exit the marriage has been thinking about this decision for a long time, and the possibility of divorce may have never crossed the mind of the person just now being informed.


The emotional pain experienced by the breakup of a marriage can be influenced by previous unresolved experiences.  Prior losses that were ”˜stuffed’ rather than properly grieved can come back unresolved, magnifying the current loss.  Additionally, if divorce is perceived to be a personal failure, one’s self esteem will be negatively impacted. 


Common emotional reactions include anger at the partner for breaking up the marriage.  Anger may be expressed through retaliation ”“ using the children as pawns, tarnishing the spouses’ reputation in the community, or striking out in a financially punitive manner.  If the spouse presents a physical danger, having the discussion in a public setting and making preparations to move to a safe setting should be considered.  If the spouse threatens personal harm, get professional help.


The rejection, expenses and social upheaval associated with divorce create animosity.  It is the rare couple that can remain friends post divorce, especially if one partner wants to work on the marriage.  Hopefully with time, the other spouse will come to accept the unhappiness that existed in the marriage.  Acceptance of this reality, along with shared ownership of responsibility for the marital problems, is important for reducing the anger and blame. This step will be valuable for divorced parents of young children.


Compounding the decision to dissolve a marriage is the extended family and community attempts to persuade a couple to not divorce.  Friends and family may like the spouse, and do not want to lose that relationship.  Friends may feel threatened.  Divorce serves as a looking glass into other couple’s own lives, resulting in uncertain feelings of vulnerability and durability in their own marriages.  Friends may feel threatened by continuing a relationship with the divorced couple as sexually available individuals.  Friends may take sides, resulting in the loss of much needed emotional support.  The religious community may oppose the divorce.  Parents of the divorcing couple may feel guilty that they did not raise their child properly.   Or they may feel their child’s partner’s rejection of their child is a rejection of them.  This guilt and rejection can be expressed as anger.


The challenges for a couple going through a divorce are monumental, because the losses are multiple and deeply felt.  Being fair in how possessions are divided, and being cautious to not triangle others into the marital discord is difficult.  But the one quality no one should lose in a divorce is character.  Character is the one thing you have full control over when leaving a marriage, and will serve you well as you rebuild your life post divorce.


Part 2 coming up next:  Impact of Divorce on the Children



Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW is a Board Certified Coach in private practice.  For inquiries about telephone sessions, email her at or visit her website at

© Copyright 2007 by