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Divorce talks – Tips for respectful discussions with your ex

7 tips for respectful divorce discussions with your spouse

Divorce is a challenging journey for any couple, fraught with emotional turbulence and life-altering decisions. Amidst the turmoil, prioritising respectful divorce discussions and open communication can make the whole experience smoother and less painful.

While you may be separating, if you’re on good terms you will want to approach discussions with respect to set the tone for your divorce process, not to mention your evolving relationship.

In this article, we’ll explore ways to engage in respectful divorce discussions with your spouse, helping you navigate this chapter with consideration and pragmatism.

The first steps

First of all, if you think you want a divorce, it’s a good idea to organise your thoughts and take your time. Seek advice to understand what will happen and how the future might look.

At this early stage, it’s a good idea to speak to a family lawyer about your circumstances, to understand the legal implications of divorce for you and your family.

Telling your spouse you want a divorce

Divorce is a powerful word, and once you’ve told your partner that you want to end your relationship, it’s difficult to come back from. For more advice on telling your wife or husband you want to separate, read these tips from divorce coach Rhiannon Ford – ‘How to tell your spouse you want a divorce’.

The first conversation about divorce inevitably leads to a series of discussions. These are likely to be emotionally charged at times but will also involve many functional conversations where you iron out the practical details of what your divorce will look like.

7 Tips for respectful divorce discussions with your spouse

If you’re starting from an amicable position, the more you can maintain the good feeling between you, the better.

There are some simple principals that will help you to lay the foundations of the post-divorce phase of your relationship.

These tips will help you define your boundaries and expectations, so that communication remains civil.

1. Allow time for your ex to ‘catch up’

If you initiated the divorce, you’ve had the advantage of time to weigh up decisions and consider your options. By the time you tell your spouse, you’re more likely to be able to express your feelings clearly, articulate what you think should happen next, and why.

Without the benefit of the head start, it’s considerate to you allow your ex-partner time to catch up. Approach discussions with patience and give them time to reach the stage of acceptance that you’re at.

2. Be willing to challenge with respect

Being respectful doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover. After all, you’re equally entitled to a fair divorce outcome.

Of course, you’re likely to disagree with your ex at some point and you’re free to raise this and put forward a challenge. When you do, try to frame your argument rationally, and clearly, and prioritise solutions over conflict.

It’s also worthwhile acknowledging common ground and where you agree on the best way forward.

3. Think before you speak

The language and tone you use are vital elements of respectful divorce conversations. The words you use can have a lasting impact.

  • Choose your words carefully
  • Be polite and courteous
  • Consider whether what you’re able to say will hinder or help progress
  • Refraining from interrupting
  • Resist hurtful remarks
  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Try to see things from their perspective.

Respectful communication demonstrates your commitment to a respectful divorce process and relationship beyond.

4. Be honest but compassionate

Honesty is crucial in divorce discussions, but it’s best when combined with compassion. Sharing the truth behind your decision to separate is only fair, but there’s nothing to gain from adding salt to the wound.

While you should express your needs and concerns openly, aim to do it in a way that avoids unnecessarily hurting or blaming your ex. Try to focus on mutual progress and understanding rather than defensiveness or causing further pain.

5. Allow space for emotion

It’s an understatement to say that divorce is an emotionally charged experience. As you separate from your partner you both need time and space to process feelings.

Nonetheless, divorce grief is not a straight line, so expect emotions to be in a state of flux for a while as you both navigate the emotional fallout alongside managing the practical aspects of divorce.

With patience and understanding you can reach a point where you’re ready to move forward.

6. Prepare for respectful divorce discussions

Before sitting down to discuss divorce matters, take time to prepare. Make a list of the topics you need to cover, questions you have, and what your objectives are.

This means you can be open and transparent about your needs during conversations, as well as being prepared for eventualities.

The added bonus of being organised and informed is that it can also help reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

7. Choose the right place and time

Choosing the right place and time for divorce discussions is hugely important. If you feel distracted and uncomfortable, you’re less likely to feel positive about the conversation.

Ideally, opt for a neutral, private location where you both feel safe expressing yourselves. Try to avoid discussing sensitive details in public, or in front of others.

Be mindful of selecting a time when you’re both able to give it your full attention and energy.

What can I do if my ex isn’t willing to talk?

While we recommend choosing to engage in respectful communication wherever possible, it is a two-way street. Some ex-partners are unwilling to talk rationally, let alone show respect or consideration. As a result, discussions can quickly become challenging.

In instances like these, a divorce lawyer or divorce mediator can help to enable discussions and facilitate divorce finances and child arrangements negotiations, moving things forwards on your behalf.

Related links

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Tips for healing after divorce

How to help someone going through divorce

How to overcome loneliness after divorce or a break-up


The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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