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Ending A Marriage

Dec 04, 2020

There are five steps to ending a marriage with minimal trauma and without big expenses. Given that I used to be a divorce lawyer, you may be expecting a legal answer. If you are, look elsewhere. These are practical tips that will help reduce conflict and trauma as you navigate separation and divorce.

To summarize, the five steps to ending a marriage are:

  1. Pick a reason for ending the marriage.

  2. Gather information about your finances.

  3. Have an idea of where everyone will live after you share your decision with your spouse.

  4. Plan what you will say to your spouse.

  5. Plan how and when you are going to tell your spouse your marriage is over.

Now for a few details about each step.

Step One: pick a reason for ending the marriage.  You may think there are many reasons, but not all are recognized as a cause for divorce. To avoid wasting energy and going in a direction that could increase trauma, stick to what the Divorce Act allows.

In Canada, for example, the Divorce Act recognizes three possible reasons. These are:

  • One of the spouses has had sex with someone else, 
  • One of the spouses has been so cruel to the other spouse that it is no longer possible for these two people to live together as spouses, or
  • The spouses stop living together and start leading separate lives.

If you want to minimize trauma and big expenses, use reason #3.

Your spouse is going to ask you why you don’t want to live together anymore. Here is a suggestion to minimize expenses and end your marriage with as little trauma as possible. Keep the reason simple. It can be as simple as we are not bringing out the best in each other and this is harming our children. No other reason is required.

Step Two: gather information about your finances.

You need to know what you and your spouse have – assets and debts. You need to know what your family income is, and what your expenses are. This information helps you make good decisions because you will know what you can afford. Then you can plan how your life will be as you separate and divorce.

Step Three: have an idea of where everyone will live after you share your decision with your spouse.

There are more options than one spouse moving out and one spouse staying in the family home. What you do depends upon what you can afford and how well the two of you can get along after the decision has been made to end your marriage. In covid times, your options may be limited.

Here are some approaches I have helped families implement:

  • Traditional approach: one spouse moves out; one spouse remains in the family home; the children go back and forth.
  • Nesting: the spouses live in the family home at different times, so the children have a consistent home. One spouse may work out of town or rent an apartment. One spouse may stay at an AirBnB or with relatives when the other spouse is in the family home.
  • Sharing the family home: the spouses sleep in separate bedrooms and remain in the family home with the children after they separate.

Regarding options #2 or #3, know that you and your spouse will need to discuss how the living arrangement will work, and decide upon rules of engagement. If you think this is a good idea, be prepared to hire someone with the necessary skills to help you have the discussion. I have seen some spouses spending more than one year living in the same home with their children after they have separated. I have seen nesting arrangements last for almost a year and know of one that continued until the last child graduated from high school.

My suggestion: contact me at [email protected] or a mediator you trust if you want to try #2 or #3. Success is much more likely with proper support.

Step Four: plan what you will say to your spouse.

It is a good idea to decide what to say before you break the news to your spouse that your marriage is over. This way, it is easier to use words that will keep the trauma to a minimum. You may write it out, and you  may practice in front of the bathroom mirror. Also know you have the option to give your spouse what you have written. Whatever works for you is best. There is no one “right way”.

Also consider how your spouse will react. If your spouse gets angry and starts throwing furniture, what will you do (call the police immediately). If your spouse starts swearing at you, how will you react? If your normal reaction is to respond with anger, what will happen? If you face this, you can plan a different response, one that will minimize conflict.

My suggestion: Be kind and respectful. This helps to minimize trauma. Also, use a variation of these words: we aren’t bringing out the best in each other, and we are harming our children. They need better from us. The only way this can happen is if we separate.

Step Five: plan how and when you are going to tell your spouse your marriage is over.

Think about it. If you tell your spouse you want out because your spouse is a loser or a narcissist, what do you think will happen?

Or if your spouse finds out when they receive a divorce petition at work without any advance notice? Or if they come home and find your home empty?

If you use any of these approaches, conflict and trauma will increase dramatically. Ending your marriage will be painful. Most likely your family will end up stuck in bitterness and trauma. Expenses will increase.

You also need to plan when and where you will tell your spouse your marriage is over. Choose a time when the children are not around, and when your spouse is not incredibly stressed. You might consider asking your spouse to go for a walk with you (still permissible with covid). The emotional reaction is likely to be less intense if you break the news while on a walk. I told my spouse the evening before he was leaving for a conference. It wasn’t pretty, but it created the space necessary for him to process what he had heard. When he returned a few days later, we were able to have a decent discussion.

My suggestion: you know your spouse and what will work best to reduce trauma during this difficult transition. Follow your instincts.


If you follow these five steps, you will greatly reduce the trauma that can occur when one spouse decides to end a marriage. If you want to learn more, please ask to join my private Facebook group, “The Family Peace Project” as I post information there about upcoming webinars and trainings. If you would like to connect with me, please email me at [email protected].

Choose Peace.

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