How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

Disclosing that you want to end a marriage can be an unquestionably tumultuous experience. Regardless of the specific reasons why you want to divorce, it’s essential to approach this conversation with your spouse sensitively and compassionately. There is no universal right way to have the talk, but in this article, we will convey the most significant takeaways to consider.

Initial Preparation for Having the Divorce Talk

Before you sit down with your spouse, you need to dedicate time to truly reflect on your decision. This means determining how confident you feel about wanting to get divorced. It also means coming to terms with the variables driving this choice. 

This reflection time may span several days, weeks, or months. Try not to put a deadline on it- you want to make sure you have fully arrived at your decision as best as possible. 

While it may be tempting to talk to friends or family about your struggles, pause before doing so. When you talk about your intentions, you inherently absorb the risk of someone telling your spouse your feelings before you do. If you want to share your thoughts aloud, consider telling someone who does not have any relationship with your husband or wife. 

Spend time familiarizing yourself with the divorce process: Divorce inherently comes with emotional, financial, and legal implications. You should consider any potential consequences and review your rights. It may also be helpful to consider meeting with a lawyer to clarify any legal concerns in advance. 

Write down your main highlights: Spend some time writing down what feels most important to express to your spouse. Consider reading them aloud and prioritizing the highlights in order of importance. This rehearsal can help you plan the conversation you ultimately have with your spouse. Some people choose to give their spouse this letter to read to ensure that they cover everything. This may be helpful if you’re concerned that you won’t appropriately or concisely get your points across.

Consider your spouse’s potential questions or reactions: While you can’t account for every type of nuanced response, your spouse will likely pose questions and intense emotions to your disclosure. Consider which counterpoints they might raise and tactfully think about how you might respond to them.

Some of the most common counterpoints include:

  • Asking if you’d be willing to let them change or work on the marriage together
  • Seeing if you’re open to couples counseling
  • Concerns about the welfare of your children
  • Financial worries regarding shared assets
  • Blaming you for withholding a secret

Keep in mind that your spouse is entitled to these concerns (and you certainly may share many of them yourself!). While it’s important to consider their weight and think about the potential outcomes, you are also not obligated to fully answer all of them in one conversation. 

Mentally prepare for the aftermath: Having the initial talk is just one preliminary step within the divorce process. Prepare for the next few months to be particularly tender. If possible, consider building your emotional support system and self-care strategies now. These will help 

Choose the right timing:  There is simply no perfect time to announce that you want a divorce. And while there’s no universal answer for when you should have this discussion, some times are certainly worse than other times.

In most cases, it’s best to mentally arrange for this time in advance. Try to keep the following guidelines in mind when pinning down when you will have this discussion.

  • You are fully confident about wanting a divorce 
  • You’re both alone and in a private place
  • Children will not be around for at least several hours
  • There are no imminent or urgent tasks to attend to in the immediate days
  • You are sober and able to maintain a sense of calmness 
  • You are prepared to cope with their emotional reaction
  • It is not a significant holiday or milestone 

Anticipate the roller coaster of emotions: Divorce is among one of the most stressful life events a couple can ever endure. In fact, according to the Life Change Index Scale (Stress Test), divorce is rated as the second most stressful event only after the death of a spouse.1 

Even if you feel adamant about your decision, it’s typical to still experience any combination of regret, shame, fear, sadness, anger, or disgust in the aftermath. Likewise, you may be particularly reactive to your spouse’s emotions. 

It’s important to remember that these emotions are common, and they do not indicate that anything is wrong with you. They speak to the complexity of marriage, change, and, ultimately, loss. Divorce represents its own grief process, and honoring that grief is paramount for your healing process.

Logistically account for separation: You may need to arrange for immediate physical separation after telling your spouse that you want a divorce. This arrangement may be temporary (i.e. staying with a friend or family member), but consider keeping it in your back pocket. 

Guidelines for Having the Divorce Talk With Your Spouse 

After emotionally preparing yourself, choosing the right timing, and considering the subsequent emotions that arise, it’s time to actually have the conversation. Here are some vital considerations to keep in mind:

Aim to get to the point quickly: Don’t spend a long time building up to what you want to say. Instead, try to cut to the chase right away. 

Some neutral scripts you might use include:

  • “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve come to the choice that I want to pursue a divorce.”
  • “As painful as this is for me to admit, I no longer want to be in this marriage.”
  • “I’ve realized my needs aren’t getting met in this marriage, and I want to move forward with going our separate ways.”
  • “I feel like we’re no longer on the same page, and I want to discuss getting divorced.”
  • “I want you to know how much I care about you, but I no longer want to stay married.”
  • “I just want to be honest- I believe it’s time to talk about getting divorced.” 

Don’t dwell on trying to control their emotions: Unless your spouse equally wants a divorce as much as you do, you can’t eliminate the risk of hurting their feelings. The more you try to control their reaction, the more you may actually cause tension. Instead, focus on being compassionate, empathic, and transparent. 

Maintain a sense of calmness: No matter how upset or angry you might feel, aim to approach this conversation calmly. This conveys a sense of respect and compassion (regardless of how your spouse responds).

Hold yourself accountable to your feelings: Focus on your feelings and needs rather than blaming your spouse. Use I-statements like, “I feel ___,” or “I want ___,” or “I have decided ___.” This maintains personal responsibility over your decisions. Even if you hold animosity toward your spouse, now is not the time to address that. 

Aim to avoid perpetuating conflict: The initial divorce conversation is not the time to bring up old resentments or perpetuate ongoing tension. At this point, you’re no longer trying to reconcile a loving relationship- you are simply trying to move forward amicably and separately. Escalating this conversation into a fight may only magnify negative emotions for both of you. 

Take breaks as needed: Sometimes the divorce talk isn’t a single conversation. This is especially true if the news is coming as a shock to your spouse. It isn’t fair for you to expect them to fully accept your choice right away. Aim to respect their emotional capacity and respect that you may need to revisit this discussion a few times over the next few days. 

Don’t bring up logistical arrangements yet: The first conversation is not the time to hash out custody arrangements or estate issues. Nobody is emotionally ready for such negotiations at this tender time. Plan on tabling those needs for a later date and potentially with your lawyers.

How to Prepare for Telling Your Children

Telling children about divorce can feel stressful and difficult, but it’s a necessary step in moving the process forward.

Try to plan this process together: If it’s possible, try to get on the same page about telling the children together. Collaborate on what you want to convey and how you want to convey it. Spend some time together reflecting on their potential reactions and how you can respond to them tenderly. 

Strive to be honest with your children: Articulate what is happening using age-appropriate language. Emphasize that your divorce is not their fault or responsibility and reiterate your love to them. Let them know what will happen next and reassure them that you will do all you can to ensure a smooth transition.

Answer their questions: Depending on their age and understanding, your children will likely approach you with many questions. It’s crucial to actively listen to their concerns, validate their emotions, and answer their questions as honestly as you can. If you don’t know an answer, let them know you don’t know but that you will get back to them.

Don’t badmouth your spouse: As much as possible, avoid placing your children in the middle of your divorce process. Do not use them as messengers or as a dumping ground to complain about your spouse. Use respectful language and do your very best to avoid arguing in front of the children. 

Guidelines When Your Spouse Isn’t On Board With Getting Divorced

Your spouse may react to you initiating divorce with reluctance, defensiveness, or hostility. Sometimes these emotions wane within a few weeks, but they can also persist and result in a contentious divorce process. Here are some guidelines to consider:

Seek mediation: Enlist the help of a professional mediator who specializes in divorcing couples. Having a neutral third person can help facilitate healthier communication or discuss viable alternative options to divorce2.

Consult with your lawyer: A qualified divorce attorney will guide you in navigating your legal rights. Even if your spouse isn’t on the same page as you, you can still remain informed throughout this process. In most cases, as long as you have legal consent, you can still pursue a divorce even without your spouse’s consent. 

Serve divorce papers: If your spouse refuses to cooperate with moving forward, you might need to formally serve them papers. This initiates the divorce process, as your spouse will need to respond to the papers within a designated timeframe or show up to contest the divorce in court.

Stay connected to your support system: Now is the time to truly lean into the people who care about you. This may include your close friends, family members, therapist, support group members, and more. Your support system can ideally provide you with the validation and safety you need as you move through this next phase of your life.

Sources

  1. https://www.dartmouth.edu/eap/library/lifechangestresstest.pdf

2. https://www.courts.ca.gov/1226.htm?rdeLocaleAttr=en

MedCircle Is Trusted By Millions Of Happy Members & Doctors Alike

1.5M+

Subscribers

153M+

Video Views

4.8

Apple App Store

4.7

Google Play Store

Disclaimer: This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.

You May Also Like…

How to Co-Parent With Your Ex

How to Co-Parent With Your Ex

Co-parenting refers to sharing the responsibilities and expectations of taking care of a family. Successful co-parenting entails separated or divorced parents coming together to raise their child....

Does Couples Counseling Work?

Does Couples Counseling Work?

Yes. But here's what you need to know. Are you considering seeking couples counseling for relationship problems? You’re in good company. Now, more than ever, couples of all different backgrounds are...

Join Our Newsletter!

Stay up to date on latest article, free
resources, workshop invites, and more!