Breaking the News to Your Family that Your Marriage is in Trouble

By Marsha A. Temlock

Divorce is a family affair.

“Mom, dad, I’m getting divorced.” Not only are you sitting with the unhappy news and struggling with a ton of emotions, eventually you will have to go public. For many about-to-be-single men and women, dealing with the reaction of others is the toughest part of the divorce journey.

Going Public
Many couples keep the news under wraps as long as possible because going public is not only validating the decision to end the marriage, it’s having to admit failure and face family and friends.  Going public is not easy, but you can reduce your discomfort if you anticipate the various reactions and are willing to set boundaries.

People often have difficulty accepting the fact the marriage is over. For example, if your parents were close with your spouse they will be grieving the loss of the other child and the in-laws.  Understand their pain. Give them time to get used to the idea, but be firm about your decision.

Looking for Reasons
You may find people have a need to recount chapter and verse what went wrong in your marriage despite the fact they have no idea of the underlying problems. To those who would muckrake, say you are not sure when the marriage took a wrong turn and that you prefer to focus on the future.

The Savior Response

Another reaction is the knee jerk response to fix the perceived “damage.” For example, your parents may suggest sending you and your spouse for marriage counseling, shipping you off for a second honeymoon, even pay off your credit card debt. (Now wouldn’t that be nice?) Unless you are willing to rehash the problems for the umpteenth time, tell your well-intentioned folks you would be better off going for individual counseling to prepare for the future. Instead of a second honeymoon you would prefer a few days away with the kids, and turn the offer of money into a bridge “loan” that you hope to repay once the divorce settlement is hammered out.

Monday-Morning Quarterbacking
People often equate consolation and emotional support with in-law bashing. The last thing you need to hear after investing so much time, money and energy into your marriage are comments like: “You are right to get rid of the lazy bum” or “She was never top drawer.” In response you might say you tried your very best to make the marriage work and, even if you have to dig deep, list some of the soon to-be-ex’s good points.

Laying on the Guilt

If your parents feel you were responsible for the break-up you may have to field their recriminations. Try not to fuel their anger; eventually their anger will pass. In my book “Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect … What You Can Do” I tell parents that while they may not agree with their child’s decision, they still need their love and support.

If you are asked to stick it out for the sake of the children, try this: “There is lots of supporting research that more and more children of divorce make a good adjustment growing up in single parent homes.”  Chances are your parents are naturally worried about losing access to their grandchildren. The best way to allay their fears is to assure them you will do everything in your power to make sure they maintain a relationship with your kids because kids need all the love they can get at this difficult time, and you might demonstrate your willingness by planning a visit with the kids.

Practical Tips for Breaking the News

1.    Script what you want said about the split and stick to the script.
2.    Choose a good time when you will not be disturbed and the children are not around.
3.    Speak calmly, slowly and with conviction. You may have to repeat your decision to allow the news to sink in.
4.    If you find it too difficult to tackle the job yourself, assign a loyal family member or friend to make the announcement.
5.    Don’t get into the nitty-gritty. A broad statement that you have given this a lot of thought is sufficient.
6.    Be open and honest if you have met someone else.
7.    Do not demand complete allegiance. Sadly, there are those who will immediately choose sides. The best way to keep friends is to keep the lines of communication open.
8.    Assure your parents (and in-laws if you are on good terms) they will have access to the grandkids.
9.    Refrain from bashing your ex-laws or you will jeopardize any future relationship when the flames die down.
10.     Don’t indulge in self-blame.  Be positive and you will set the tone how the announcement is received.

Divorce does not exist in a vacuum. It affects all those who care about you. Anticipate reactions; practice the responses. When family members and friends express concern and doubts about your decision to end your marriage, say with confidence – “Divorce is not an ending; it is a new beginning.”

Marsha A. Temlock, M.A. is the author of “Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect … What You Can Do’ (Impact Publishers, Inc. Rebuilding Books) that has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, She had been a guest on the Today Show and other national television and radio programs helping parents understand their role in a child’s divorce. You can visit her at