How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

Your marriage isn’t working. You’re unhappy. You want a divorce. The only thing left to do is to inform your spouse, but how do you break this difficult news? Asking for a divorce 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 the event, 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 to let your spouse know that you want to end your marriage, 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:

1. Make Sure That You’re Sure

Getting divorced is a decision 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. 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 repercussions of a divorce. If any part of you hopes to save your marriage, it might be worth pursuing couples 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, think strategically and put yourself 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? 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.

Take a look at our Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing for Divorce as well as our Divorce Document Checklist.

3. Practice Your Conversation

When it finally comes time to sit down with your spouse and have “The Conversation,” emotions will run high. 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 about why your marriage didn’t work.

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. 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 let your spouse know that you want a divorce, think carefully about the setting. 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 conversation 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 spouses stay in miserable marriages for months or even years because they don’t have the courage to speak up. Don’t let that happen to you.

When it comes time for the conversation, be gentle yet firm. 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 in a big way. If you lash out with accusations and criticism, you’ll put your spouse on the defensive, which could lead to a contentious, stressful, and expensive divorce.

6. Be Ready for Pushback

Accept the fact that your spouse will probably not react well to your divorce announcement. 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. Stay Safe

At all times, your first priority is to your safety and the safety of your children. Ideally, you’ll want to inform your spouse of your divorce decision in person, but that’s not always possible. If emotional or physical abuse is a feature of your relationship, then your spouse doesn’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.

If you’re still considering a divorce, we strongly encourage you to attend a Second Saturday Workshop in your area. Dropping the divorce bomb on 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.

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