Separation can be a scary word. Most people don’t marry with the intention to separate or get a divorce, but it happens because marriage is many things, and hard can be one of them. If you find that the difficulties outweigh the benefits and feel things aren’t working out, separating for a time is an option. But when you’re both already stressed and on edge, how do you tell your husband you want to separate?
People choose to separate from their partner for many reasons, and no matter what yours are, someone else has been down this road before.
Most couples choose to separate when there's been a significant break in the relationship, according to Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and marriage counselor. She adds that it can happen suddenly or sometimes more gradually. This can result from infidelity, misuse of funds like gambling, or poor communication that leads to loneliness and not feeling seen or heard. “Poor communication leads to 65% of divorces,” says Alexia McLeod, psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker.
Whatever has happened that got you here, it helps to know how to tell your husband you want to separate. These experts help so you don’t have to go into this conversation blindly.
What is the reason for a separation?
Although divorce is a possibility, it’s not the only purpose of separating. Sometimes you just need a minute to regroup. “Separation gives each party an opportunity to process if divorce is the right choice,” says McLeod.
Separation allows you to:
- Take time apart to explore how you truly feel
- Reduce the pressure to keep the relationship going at home
- Test the waters of how it feels to live apart
How to tell your partner you want to separate
This isn’t a conversation you want to have when you’re in the middle of an argument if you can help it. When emotions are running high, it’s easier to say things you could later regret. Nickerson says, “This is likely to be a difficult conversation,” but she advises you start by choosing “a calm and peaceful time for the conversation.”
Here’s how the experts recommend you take on this topic:
- Start with some genuine praise and compliments — This approach helps your spouse not feel so guarded and defensive.
- Be kind, but honest and direct about your feelings — They must understand how you’ve been affected emotionally and what drove you to this decision.
- Focus on neutral language using "I statements" — Keeping your partner from feeling accused will help your decision land better.
- Lead into what you want — the separation — Clarity about this eliminates ambiguity and confusion.
- Be prepared for an angry response — Your spouse's feelings may be those of hurt and rejection. Don’t let it surprise you.
- Validate their feelings even if you see it differently — You both have your own perspective of the relationship, and that’s OK. It doesn’t have to change your decision.
- Give your partner time to process the conversation and give them a break if they need it — You’ve had time to weigh this decision. Give them some time as well.
- Be specific about how you want to carry out your separation — Once you are both at a calm place, present a plan of how you want to manage the family, finances, and household separately.
- If any kids are involved, make their comfort and safety a priority over everything else — your children will be affected by this decision, but try and keep them from the tension of this moment. Do it when they are away, like at school, with a family member, or a sitter.
“If you are concerned about your safety at any point, leave and/or call 9-1-1 or the newly created 9-8-8 line for emergency mental health help,” Nickerson advises.
Whether you decide to reconcile or not, McLeod recommends attending therapy together.
“It can be used as a tool to promote closure with the ultimate goal of not carrying the emotional baggage of this relationship onto the next one. It is also important to evaluate and prepare for how divorce will affect you financially, the change in parenting responsibilities, as well as preparing emotionally for divorce,” McLeod says.
Kathy Nickerson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and marriage counselor
Alexia McLeod, psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker