Practical advice for telling your friends and family that you’re headed for divorce
Updated: May 12, 2021
Coming to the decision that it’s time to separate or divorce is hard enough. Add the stress of telling your friends and family, and it can feel almost impossible.
You might be feeling angry. Humiliated. Disillusioned or experiencing sharp moments of denial.
You may feel guilty if you’re the one who asked for the divorce, or have intense feelings of doubt or regret.
You may be worried that the ones you love most will judge your decision, or see your marriage ending as a failure, or worse.
You may be worried about disappointing your friends and family — even if you’re 100% certain it’s the best decision for you.
The truth is, those who are nearest and dearest to you probably already have an idea of what’s going on — whether you’ve confided in them or not.
It’s very easy for the people closest to you to detect changes in your behaviour. Therefore, it’s highly likely that the rift between you and your spouse has been apparent longer than you know.
However, breaking the news to everyone likely still feels like an incredibly daunting — if not impossible — task.
In this post, we share some of our own experiences and provide our expert advice on what to say — and what to leave out — during this time of high emotional sensitivity and change.
In this article, we offer our top 7 tips for breaking the news of your impending separation or divorce to your friends and family.
Realising that your relationship has officially broken down beyond the point of repair is tough. It’s one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make — so firstly, congratulations on getting through that first step in the process. It wasn’t easy, we know.
The reason that many avoid telling friends and family is simple:
It makes your impending divorce official.
It means that you are taking an action that some may not agree with or support, but you are doing what’s best for yourself and your family. It means that you are putting your wellbeing ahead of others judgements — and in this interconnected, hyper-public world, putting your needs ahead of others’ judgements can be a hard thing to do.
When you are ready to take this step, it’s important that you prepare yourself properly for the reactions, concerns, questions and sentiments that are likely to follow.
In the case that your divorce has the potential to become contentious, it’s important to remember that what you say out of court — even in private conversations — can often encroach on what happens in court. As you read through the following advice, keep the legalities of your own personal situation in mind and make sure to consider your divorce announcement approach with care.
First, we’d like to say a few words on divorce-related feelings of failure.
Regardless of what caused the marital breakdown and who’s “to blame” for your relationship’s resolution, the act of having to announce your divorce may come with a deep feelings of failure or inadequacy.
This is normal. Many of the women and men we talk to who are going through divorce describe these same feelings. Acknowledging and working through these emotions is an important part of the healing process.
Regardless of whether you begin your journey toward healing through one of our specialised online divorce courses or through some other means of emotional exploration and self-care, the first true step of your divorce journey should always be finding the help your need.
There is no “right” or “wrong” way of telling your friends and family about your divorce. Unfortunately, there’s no “easy” way either — but following these steps can reduce the pain and complications associated with this next phase of your journey.
1. Plan your divorce strategy carefully before making any announcements at all.
If you’re heading into divorce, you’re about to take on a huge, life-altering project — and as with any huge project, you need a strategic plan.
Divorce is nuanced, divorce often messy, and almost never a walk in the park. The good news is that some of that mess can be avoided with thoughtful and detailed planning on your part.
A detailed, focused divorce plan that outlines exactly what you need to do to initiate, follow through, and complete your divorce. Considering and writing your plan down with an associated timeline is an absolutely critical step in your divorce journey.
Well, because once you start telling others about your impending separation, the divorce ball is likely get rolling rather quickly. And when it does, it has the potential to roll right out of your hands and onto your soon-to-be ex’s side of the court if you aren’t careful. However, taking the time to think ahead and carefully plan your divorce can drastically reduce the likelihood of this happening — especially if you have no experience with divorce, ie. no parents, close friends, or relatives who are divorced, when you begin the process.
In fact, the very act of writing your divorce plan will help you focus.
Adding an announcement strategy to this plan — ie. whom to tell and how to tell them — will greatly reduce the anxiety associated with your big news. If you want to take it even further, jot down a couple of quick notes on the phrasing you’d like to use or potential answers to the questions they might ask in response to normalise the conversation. Write as little, or as much as you want — this plan is for you.
When creating your divorce plan, itemise your tasks and make space to satisfyingly check steps off as you progress through the list. If you need extra help, reach out to a divorce coach (shameless plug — we have some fantastic ones) or enlist in a therapist or online specialist to create one. If you want an easy starting point, you can always download our divorce plan worksheet and start there.
2. Keep your children out of divorce-related conversations.
As a mother myself who has helped many other mothers through this process, this is one of the most important tips that I can offer —When you’re breaking the news of your impending separation or divorce with your loved ones, always make sure that you do this outside of hearing range of your children.
The first option would be telling your friends and family while your children are in another location, such as school or a friend’s house. Alternatively, you could arrange for a babysitter, so that you do not run any risk of little ears overhearing your adult conversation.
If this is impossible, do your best. If they are asleep upstairs when you break the news, speak quietly. If they are outside playing, be mindful that they may walk in at any point.
Your heart and mind may be out of sorts, and you are no doubt going through emotional time at the moment — but it’s important that you handle your children’s information flow with care, for the sake of their emotional wellbeing.
Although the impact of divorce or separation on the children can be immense, you have the power to mitigate the potential negative side effects, such as anxiety or behavioural issues, with smart planning and graceful decisions on your part. Making sure that your children don’t overhear your divorce announcement is an important first step in protecting them from harm.
Additionally, if the potential for a contested custody situation exists, be particularly cautious about what your children overhear. Their future home lives are at stake, and it can be hard for little minds to process what is happening when life as they know it is about to change.
If you need more advice on helping your children through divorce, we offer additional information here.
3. Stay as neutral and positive as possible; fake it if you have too.
On the off chance that you’ve been married to a man as self-involved as my ex, you’re likely no stranger to faking it. Yes, that pun was completely intended, darling.
We know, you’re likely feeling some extremely negative emotions.
Maybe you’re angry.
Perhaps you’re so angry that you’d love nothing more than to take a baseball bat to the hood of his shiny new roadster after finding it parked outside the apartment of a twenty-two year old trollop.
I know you may be raging with indignation — but do yourself (and your future divorce lawyer) a favour, and put the baseball bat back in the closet. And when you are telling your friends and family about the separation, tell them gracefully, with as much neutrality as possible in your circumstance.
I know this might seem a bit counterintuitive, especially if you’ve been deceived, lied to, cheated on, or a combination of the above — but please allow us to explain:
Word travels fast, and even your closest friends or relatives may slip up and accidentally discuss your situation with another. This is why taking a neutral stance in all phases of divorce and keeping a positive tone to your conversations can make a vital difference.
When it comes to divorce, the team at DSC and I have quite literally seen and heard it all.
However, just as we’ve mentioned before, what you say out of court can indeed greatly impact what goes on in court — and a few moments of venting, however good it may feel, is not worth putting your eventual settlement and divorce agreement at risk.
Scream into your pillow at home if you have to; cry your eyes out to your therapist if it helps. But when it comes to telling your friends and family, avoid uncontrollable rants and emotional outbursts. Keeping a positive, neutral tone will help you retain an element of control over the information flow throughout your support network.
Steering clear of a negative experience isn’t only self-serving; it can help those around you process the information, too. Remember, these people care about you. If you cave into your suffering and lose complete control of your life, they are likely to be scared and alarmed.
When you need to really let go, trust your closest confidant. You likely already know who they are — and if you don’t hire one. Let just your nearest and dearest be your sounding board for your thoughts and digressions throughout the process, and do your best to take a strategic, controlled approach with all the rest.
Give yourself the space to move forward with dignity and grace, just as you deserve.
4. Practice a direct, untethered icebreaker or leading statement
The hardest part of the journey is always taking the first step — which is why our best advice for break the news of your divorce to your loved ones is to plan your opening statement, and then, quite simply, just say it.
Your leading statement should be short and to the point. Prepare it in advance. Practice it in the mirror. Repeat it in the car. For Christ sakes, say it to the goddamn dog if you have to.
The reason it’s so important to prepare your opening statement in advance is to avoid slip-ups and emotional outbursts as much as possible. If you need to remember why, just re-read our previous tip.
Yes, there will be questions. And yes, these questions may feel like an invasion of your private life during a very precarious time. Remember, the people who love you are not trying to harass you — their inquiries come from a place of concern.
The two follow-up questions your loved ones will most likely want to understand are: first, your plans for the future, and secondly, the main reason behind the separation.
If you want to score high distinction points for a smooth divorce, prepare a set of neutral responses for these inquiries as well.
We know that while you’re in the thick of it, it may seem easier to withdraw from friends and family rather than face them with the news. However, the truth is, you need the people that you love now more than ever, so face the situation head-on like the badass, in-control woman you know you are.
5. Stay classy on social media.
Okay, here’s some tough love for those of you out there with itchy typing fingers:
Even my eighteen year-old daughter knows better than to post the details of her last break-up on the internet.
Whether we like it or not, social media is a public relations tool. Your personal accounts create your online persona and manage your interpersonal relationships in the digital realm.
While a passive-aggressive status update or snapshot featuring you and some random hunk in the Cayman Islands may seem like a fine and dandy revenge idea, these types of behaviours are easily screenshot and can be seriously detrimental to your eventual divorce settlement — not to mention your reputation.
Remember, the content you post is instantly available, easily copied, and can be sent to your ex-partner and used against you at the drop of a hat. So protect yourself, and protect your assets, be kinder than your ex deserves and refrain from behaving like an ass on your social media accounts.
6. Avoid the temptation of telling your friends and family through text or email.
Divorce is a scary, anxiety-producing subject for most people — which is why your friends and family deserve to hear it directly from you. Speak about your divorce with friends and family in person, regardless of how hard it may be.
Additionally, regardless of how close you are, refrain from sending the sharing private details of your divorce with anyone — especially mutual friends. You never know how things will come out in the wash, and in the instance that your ex asks the mutual friend for help during your settlement, you don’t want to provide any divorce-related fuel to the fire.
Remember, all written communications can easily be screenshot and shared without your permission.
7. Prepare yourself emotionally for a backlash.
Yes, this is your news.
Yes, this is going to be hard to handle.
Yes, you may (rightly) feel that it’s not anyone else’s place to comment upon or freely share or even form opinions on your personal life — but, yes, they certainly will.
There people on this planet who have a true passion for gossip. Others still may feel insecure about their own marriages. Whatever the reason, some of your friends and family will likely try to grill you for more information, or — even worse — repeat it to others without your permission. This is almost certainly going to happen, and it will hurt.
Some people will disappoint you, and you’ll get through it.
On the flip side, there will also be people in your life who surprise you with their unwavering support.
Difficult experiences like divorce show us who our tried-and-true friends really are, and make those relationships stronger on the other side of them. Remember that for every relationship that ends, another one will get stronger. That’s how the cycle of human connection works.
So there you have it — our top seven tips on telling your friends and family about your impending divorce with strength, dignity and your best interests in mind.
We wish you the very best blessings as you head forward like the warrior woman you are into the next phase of your journey. If you need a helping hand, you know where to find us.