You’re unhappy. The marriage counseling didn’t help. You want a divorce. The only thing left to do is to bring up the topic of divorce with your spouse. But how do you ask for a divorce? This is likely to be one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have in your life. You may feel nervous, anxious, and unprepared for this stressful situation, especially if you aren’t sure how your spouse will react. Don’t let this fear trap you in an unhappy and unhealthy marriage for longer than necessary.
There’s no perfect way or perfect time to ask for a divorce, but there are general steps you can take to make the process smoother and lower the chances of a hostile reaction. Here are some helpful steps to follow when broaching the topic of divorce with your spouse:
1. Make Sure That You’re Sure
Getting divorced is a major event that will forever alter the lives of you and your family, so make sure this is absolutely the right decision for you. If you decide you want a divorce in the heat of a fight, give yourself time and space to calm down so that you can fully consider all the consequences of divorce. Before you make your decision, we strongly recommend that you attend a local Second Saturday Divorce Workshop in your area so you can understand the legal, financial, and psychological consequences of a divorce. If any part of you thinks you’re just experiencing a rough patch and hopes to save your marriage, it might be worth pursuing marriage counseling before you make your decision.
Divorce can’t be undone, so make sure you’re sure!
2. Prepare for Divorce
If you’re sure that there’s no saving your marriage, then it’s time to start preparing for your post-divorce life. Even though you may be tempted to have “the conversation” with your spouse as soon as your mind is made up, hold off if possible. Instead, give yourself plenty of time to create a plan of action that will put you in the best position possible to thrive after the divorce.
For example, you’ll want to make sure you have access to funds, which may mean opening your own savings and checking accounts just in case your spouse decides to close your shared accounts when you announce the divorce. (Yes, it happens.) You’ll also want to start gathering important documents that will help you and your spouse fairly divide your assets during divorce negotiations. Finally, think carefully about your living situation. Are you prepared to move out or do you want to stay put and ask your spouse to leave? What do you want to do about child custody during the divorce process? If you think your spouse may not respond well to the conversation, it’s probably smart to have a place you can stay, even if that’s just your friend’s couch.
Another great way to prepare for divorce is to consult with a divorce attorney. A family law attorney can help you understand what to expect during the divorce process. They can give you advice on divorce costs, how to seek the right custody arrangements, and how to get the divorce settlement you want.
3. Practice Your Conversation
When it finally comes time to sit down with your spouse and have “The Conversation,” you’ll likely face intense emotions. You may find yourself struggling to articulate your feelings. To help make this difficult conversation go a little better, practice beforehand. That doesn’t mean you have to memorize a long speech outlining the reasoning behind your desire to divorce.
Instead, jot down notes or bullet points that you want to cover that explain your feelings and reasons for asking for the divorce. Practicing saying the words out loud. Next, try and anticipate how your spouse might react so you’ll be ready. What is their temperament and communication style like? Will they be shocked or are they aware that your marriage has been struggling for some time? Do they tend to get defensive or will they beg you to reconsider? Being ready for your spouse’s reaction will help you maintain control of the conversation.
4. Pick the Right Time and Place
When you’re ready to ask your spouse for a divorce, think carefully about the setting. There really is no perfect time to ask for a divorce, but there are times that could create a worse situation. Try to avoid major holidays or large life events. For example, if your spouse just lost his or her job, now is probably not the best time to add to their stress with a divorce request.
Try to arrange for a time when the two of you can have a long calm discussion without distractions or interruptions. That may mean asking a friend or family member to watch the kids for the night.
5. Just Do It
Many individuals stay in miserable marriages for months or even years because they don’t have the courage to speak up about their desire to divorce. Don’t let that happen to you.
When it comes time to ask your spouse for a divorce, be gentle yet firm. Do not approach your spouse with anger. Also, be very clear that you are asking for a divorce. Don’t allow for any wiggle room. If you need to use notes, go ahead. Rely on your practice to explain your feelings and what led you to your decision. Try to use “I” statements rather than “You” statements so it doesn’t seem like you are blaming your spouse.
Although you may feel hurt, betrayed, angry, or spiteful depending on what led to your decision for a divorce, try to control your emotions as much as possible. The outcome of this conversation will set the stage for your divorce process in a big way. If you lash out with accusations and criticism, you’ll put your spouse on the defensive, which could lead to contentious, stressful, and expensive divorce proceedings.
6. Be Ready for Pushback
Accept the fact that your spouse will probably not react well when you ask for a divorce. Your spouse may feel betrayed, angry, frustrated, or heartbroken. Acknowledge and accept their reaction, whatever it is. If their reaction is anger, don’t fight fire with fire. If they get too nasty, leave the conversation.
If your spouse is not ready to accept your decision, don’t lose hope. They likely need time. You can end the conversation if it seems like you can’t make additional progress. You may want to leave the house for a time or even move out if that was your plan and then request a follow-up meeting in a few days when your spouse has had time to digest the information.
7. Listen and Be Understanding
During this difficult discussion, one of the most important things to do is listen to your partner’s perspective. Once you have explained your position, give your spouse the space and freedom to share their feelings as long as the discussion is respectful and doesn’t devolve into shouting, accusations, or recriminations.
Try to be silent and attentive when your spouse is talking. It’s okay if you don’t agree with everything your spouse says. In fact, it’s likely that you won’t be on the same page. Don’t try to argue. Instead, just listen. Allowing your spouse to express their feelings can help them feel heard and validated. This can go a long way toward setting the groundwork for a collaborative or at least non-combative divorce process.
If, at any time, your spouse becomes angry or accusatory, you have the right to stop the conversation. You do not have to listen to your spouse criticize or blame you.
Alternatively, if your spouse is not yet ready to talk, that’s okay, too. Many people need time to process big news, especially if it comes as a surprise. There’s no need to try and force your spouse to discuss their feelings. If they aren’t ready to talk, offer to hear them out later once they’ve collected their thoughts.
8. Stay Safe
At all times, your first priority is to your safety and the safety of your children. Ideally, you’ll want to ask your spouse for a divorce in person, but that’s not always possible. If you have an emotionally and/or physically abusive spouse, then they don’t deserve the courtesy of an in-person conversation. Do what you have to do to stay safe. That may mean asking someone to be present for your divorce conversation (or even on the phone) or asking to meet your spouse in a public place. Or, it may mean leaving your spouse a letter or email explaining your decision after you’ve left the house. You can even consider leaving divorce papers with your letter so they get the picture that you’re serious. Again, you don’t owe an abusive spouse any courtesies.
9. Schedule a Follow-Up to Discuss Divorce Next Steps
Once your spouse has had time to digest your divorce request, it may be a good idea to schedule a follow-up conversation about divorce. Make it clear that this conversation is not about rehashing your relationship or an opportunity for your spouse to get all their feelings off their chest. Instead, this conversation should focus on the next steps in the divorce process.
This is a good time to discuss the possibility of seeking an uncontested divorce, which will save you both time, stress, and divorce costs. You may also discuss whether you would like to try divorce mediation or even a collaborative divorce in order to achieve an amicable divorce.
Be prepared for this conversation to get off track. Emotions will still be high during this difficult time and your spouse might use this conversation as a chance to blame you for the rough patches in your marriage or even to try to win you back. If you feel your spouse isn’t ready to discuss the next steps of the divorce in person, you may have better luck emailing or texting about topics like divorce mediation, collaborative divorce, or your financial assets.
If your spouse isn’t communicating productively, then it may be best to speak with a divorce attorney and send all communications through them.
10. Follow Through
Now that you’ve done the heavy lifting of asking for a divorce, it’s time to follow through. Hopefully, you were able to have a productive discussion on divorce next steps. If you and your spouse are on board with the process, there’s no time like the present to get started. You can visit your state’s court website and download your divorce documents. Alternatively, you may want to reach out to a divorce attorney to assist you with the process.
If your spouse wants to try and save the marriage, it will be up to you to decide whether you want to keep trying. Remember the reasons you wanted the divorce in the first place and consider whether you believe those challenges can be overcome. If the answer is no, then stand firm and continue moving forward. Do not give your spouse false hope if you’ve made your decision.
You do not need your spouse’s permission or agreement to file for divorce. Nor do you need a specific reason to justify your divorce. Every state accepts some version of a “no-fault” divorce (sometimes also known as “irreconcilable differences”.)
You may be contemplating divorce but not be quite ready to pull the trigger. That’s okay. There are other ways to have “The Conversation.” For example, you may wish to sit down with your spouse and share the fact that you are thinking of divorce. If your spouse is willing, the two of you may be able to make that decision together.
Another option is to request a trial separation rather than a divorce. This can be a way for you to see what life might be like on your own and to give both you and your spouse the space you need to consider how much you’re willing to work to save the relationship. (Note: a trial separation is different than a legal separation.)
During your trial separation, you may want to seek the help of mental health professionals. Couples therapy may help bring you back from the brink of divorce, but only if both spouses are fully committed to the process.
Prepare Yourself for Divorce
If you’re considering a divorce, we strongly encourage you to attend a Second Saturday Workshop in your area. At a Second Saturday Workshop, you’ll hear from divorce experts, like a divorce lawyer and financial planner, and learn about how to best prepare for divorce. These workshops touch on nearly every aspect of divorce and can walk you through the entire divorce process.
Asking for a divorce from your spouse won’t be easy, but we know you can do it. Think of that conversation as the first step toward the rest of your life.
Asking for a Divorce FAQs
What type of divorce should I ask for?
When asking your spouse for a divorce, the most important thing to do is to simply state that you want a divorce. Emotions will be high during this conversation, so it might not be the best time to discuss the type of divorce you want. It may be better to schedule a follow-up meeting where you can discuss the possibility of an uncontested divorce and look at divorce options, like divorce through mediation. The way you first ask for a divorce can help lay the foundation for an amicable divorce process.
Should I hire a professional divorce coach?
If you have the financial means and would like support as your approach the divorce process, you might want to consider a divorce coach. You can work with a divorce coach alone or with your spouse.
A divorce coach is a professional who works with individuals or married couples who are going through the divorce process. The coach provides emotional support, guidance, and practical advice to help clients navigate the complex and often overwhelming experience of divorce.
Divorce coaches can work with clients at any stage of the divorce process, from the decision to separate to post-divorce adjustment. They can help clients with a wide range of issues, including coping with the emotional stress of divorce, communicating effectively with their spouse, managing co-parenting arrangements, and setting goals for the future. A divorce coach may increase the chance that you and your spouse can experience a peaceful divorce.
In lieu of a divorce coach, a family therapist could be a good alternative option for helping you work through your emotions and prepare yourself for divorce.
How can I avoid strong emotions when asking for a divorce?
It may be impossible to avoid strong emotions when ending a marriage. The best way to lower the chance of explosive or negative emotions is to carefully plan the conversation. First, work to manage your own emotions. Choose a time and place where you and your spouse have privacy and are relaxed. (For example, try not to ambush your spouse as soon as they arrive home from work.) Speak gently yet firmly. Try not to accuse or criticize your spouse. If your spouse gets angry or overly emotional, stop the conversation and offer to speak again later when your spouse has had time to process.
Staying calm and keeping the divorce conversation productive can pave the way toward a peaceful resolution in the end.