Ok, that’s it – you can't do it anymore. You’re done.
You’ve tried your hardest, but you just can’t seem to make your marriage work.
You want a divorce.
But how do you start a divorce conversation with your spouse without devastating them or triggering an all-out war?
One of the most common questions we're asked about is how to tell your spouse you want a divorce.
Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are a few tips for how to ask for a divorce nicely and help make an uncomfortable conversation go as smoothly as possible:
How to Ask for Divorce - 7 Things to Keep in Mind:
1. The very first thing you need to do before you decide how to tell your husband you want a divorce (or wife) is to be brutally honest with yourself and be absolutely sure you want a divorce.
All marriages have ups and downs.
So are you thinking of telling your spouse you want divorce because nothing else you’ve said or done over the years has successfully gotten their attention about the state of your relationship?
Are you threatening divorce because you're angry or frustrated, are trying to get your husband or wife's attention or you feel like it's the only way to gain power or control over them?
Or have you thought this decision all the way through and know with certainty that you truly want to leave the marriage and end things?
If you are still in love and are really not sure you actually want to divorce your husband or wife, don’t tell them you want divorce.
Instead, consider enlisting a therapist or discernment counselor to help you explore your feelings about your marriage and whether or not there’s still work that can be done to improve the relationship with your husband or wife.
Once words are spoken, they can’t be “unsaid,” not to mention if you tell your wife you want a divorce (or husband), but then back step, you will not only hurt and anger them, but you’ll also run the risk of losing credibility and not being taken seriously about this difficult conversation in the future, should you actually be ready to follow-through and file for divorce.
On the other hand, if you can honestly say that you’ve made every effort to save your marriage, but you still believe there’s no hope of reconciling, and you’re certain of your decision to proceed with divorce, it makes sense to share this with your spouse.
2. What to do when you want a divorce? Be prepared.
Understanding ahead of time where your spouse is emotionally can make a big difference in how you approach the topic of divorce.
Is your husband blissfully ignorant? Is your wife just as unhappy as you? Has the “D” word been used in the past or will it be coming out of left field?
Knowing how aware your spouse is to the state of your marriage and relationship can help you be prepared for how to talk about divorce with your spouse and how they'll likely react to the news.
You may even want to consider working with an individual or a couples counselor to help you sort through your feelings and prepare for the conversation you’re about to have.
They can help you with the best way to ask for a divorce and even role play or practice what to say.
3. Choose a good time and place to tell your spouse you want a divorce.
One of the more important ways you can prepare for the unexpected when approaching how to tell your husband you want a divorce (or wife) is picking the appropriate moment.
Really think about where and when this should be, and make arrangements for your children to spend time with a relative or friend, so that the conversation can occur without interruptions.
Of course, there’s no great time or situation for how to bring up divorce, but there are certain scenarios that are better than others.
This conversation should never coincide with another major event in your lives if at all possible, for instance, if your spouse is sick or has recently been fired or laid off.
Determining when to ask for a divorce is just as important as how to discuss divorce and what to actually say. Timing really is everything. You want to find the right time to break the news without adding more stress to an already stressful and burdened life.
Choose a place where you can have a calm discussion and make sure there is plenty of time for you both to talk.
Don’t just drop a bomb and walk away.
And don't forget to turn off your cell phone and ask your spouse to do the same thing.
4. One approach for how to tell your spouse you want a divorce is by being gentle but firm.
How you ask for a divorce from your husband (or wife) will likely shape the way the entire divorce process unfolds.
If you come at your spouse with anger, frustration or blame, don’t expect him to respond calmly.
Instead, be as gentle and compassionate as you can be, yet firm in your decision. You'll want to be direct, but also respectful and kind. Think about how you would want to be told if the shoe were on the other foot.
Chances are your spouse has not, so be understanding of their situation and allow some time for the news to sink in after you have the conversation.
"I encourage individuals to approach their spouse with the greatest compassion and to recognize the likelihood that they might be faced with a period of resistance, anger, and emotional escalation.
It's important that the spouse who is announcing the decision to divorce present this in a way that conveys the process of thought and consideration that went into making the decision.
The spouse who wants the divorce may also want to recognize and validate the hurt and pain that this poses for their spouse and offer to listen to what kinds of things may be helpful to their spouse during the initial adjustment period."
5. Be ready for your spouse's reaction after you ask for a divorce.
If asking for a divorce is going to come as a shock to your spouse, be prepared for anger or retaliation as a response.
There are a ton of emotions that go along with divorce.
Support your partner in dealing with these initial feelings and try to remain as calm as possible.
Frame the conversation with “I” statements instead of "You" statements to avoid placing blame and starting a fight.
Be aware that even if your spouse agrees that the marriage has broken down over the years, they may not be on the same page or share in your desire to end the marriage.
"Divorce with a reluctant spouse is a tough one. The only way to approach divorce when one is ready and one is not is to demonstrate compassion, empathy, and understanding that the two of you are not on the same page.
There's really no other way because if the one person wanting to get a divorce is encountering resistance from their spouse, not surrendering to the resistance is only going to create more hurt and resistance."
6. If you need help talking about divorce with your spouse, get help.
Once you’ve approached the topic of divorce, chances are you’ll both be dealing with a lot of intense emotions.
Some of those emotions – like anger and resentment – can be toxic to your ability to communicate with one another and move forward in a peaceful way.
A counselor, therapist or a professional divorce coach can help the two of you deal with the emotional aspects and gain the clarity required to work together to divorce peacefully. He or she can also help you discuss and plan for how to tell the kids about divorce.
"This might be a good time to do some marriage counseling.
A lot of times it can be really hard for one spouse to hear it, that the other one is done and couples therapy can be a chance to just say in a direct way, 'This is over. I can’t do this anymore. I need to move on.'
And it gives the partner who feels blindsided or doesn’t see that coming, a chance to hear that in a space where they might feel some sense of support.
One of the things I’ve done in the past is to start with a couple in that position and then keep working with the partner who is being left and develop a way of looking at what happened and the narrative about how this happened so that they can make some sense out of it and understand their role in it and come to some acceptance of what is happening and then be able to move on in their life."
7. When you tell your spouse that you want a divorce, avoid discussing the details of the issues.
If your spouse is on the same page as you, and the topic of divorce doesn’t really come as much of a surprise, you may find yourself already beginning to talk about what to do with the marital home, dividing property or discussing child support, alimony (spousal support) and/or your parenting plan and time sharing arrangements.
A word of caution – negotiating a settlement without the appropriate guidance from the right professional could end up coming back to bite you.
Reassure your spouse that you are not out to get him/her and that you want to work together to achieve an outcome that is fair and equitable to both of you and is best for your family.
But don’t discuss too many issues or details on your own.
It's better to wait until you’ve hired a qualified divorce mediator to guide you through the process and issues in your no-fault divorce case.
"Hopefully, you’ve taken the time up front to learn about divorce mediation, the most peaceful divorce method, so you can share more about it with your spouse.
Divorce with a reluctant spouse is hard, but once your husband or wife knows that the divorce is going to proceed whether they cooperate or not, they’ll hopefully realize that it's the best way to divorce because it's going to enable them to have a say in the terms of the settlement agreement while at the same time, putting their children and family first."
What if after you tell your husband you want a divorce (or wife), he/she doesn't take you seriously or refuses to cooperate?
How can you persuade your spouse to cooperate with divorce and agree to use mediation?
It can be very frustrating to approach divorce with a reluctant spouse, especially if your goal is to keep the divorce process as peaceful as possible and avoid involving divorce attorneys and winding up in family court.
But before you resort to hiring a divorce lawyer and/or filing and serving your spouse divorce papers - which will undoubtedly set a confrontational tone for the rest of the divorce proceedings and will likely result in a long, stressful and expensive family law attorney-driven battle in court, read what our panel of experts have to say about how to talk to your husband about divorce (or wife) and get them to take your decision to end the marriage seriously.
And also some ways to persuade him or her to cooperate and agree to use mediation to keep things peaceful for the sake of everyone involved, especially your children.
"This is a tricky situation. A partner who does not take the request to divorce seriously signifies that either they are not wanting to divorce (religious reasons, don’t believe in the concept of divorce, fearful of divorce, etc.) or they are in denial of the state of the marriage (telling themselves it is a healthy marriage when it is not).
When a partner does not take the request seriously, it leaves the other partner feeling frustrated, confused and powerless.
When yelling and screaming doesn’t work, there may be other alternative ways to get the partner to listen. When couples are not listening to each other or respecting each other, negative communication patterns are reinforced.
If one partner is adamant on solely talking about getting a divorce or utilizing mediation and the other is adamant on not talking about either of these topics, then both will tend to “shut down” the minute they hear the other person “presenting their side.” Both people are in “reaction mode” and neither will be heard.
One suggestion would be for this individual to first evaluate how they are approaching this conversation of wanting a divorce or starting mediation.
If they are constantly in attack mode they are not going to get anywhere in this conversation as their partner will shut down. If they constantly make threats that if their partner doesn’t change then they will leave the relationship then they run the risk of the partner not taking them seriously when they are no longer threatening and instead wanting to act on this.
This individual should start with being honest with themselves in their communication style. They also need to take it a step further by identifying their role in the dynamic.
For example, one partner’s withdrawing from the relationship may be caused by the other partner’s nagging. Or one partner’s derogatory comments may be influenced by the other partner’s unrealistic expectations of who they strive to be as a provider.
Both play a role in the health of the relationship and both need to understand how their role has influenced the happiness or unhappiness of their partner."
"The first step in facilitating cooperation and in being taken seriously when approaching divorce is to enter an active listener role and to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and exploration. This works so much better than trying to continually convince their partner with the same argument that they should do mediation.
Asking their spouse about what it is that’s in the way of that, what they object to about mediation and being willing to really listen to what their spouse says can lead to finding a way to move forward. Once they understand more clearly what the objections are, they can address them directly and perhaps build on points of agreement.
For example, do they both want to have a better relationship after the divorce, for their own sake and also for the sake of any children involved?
If so, and one way to move towards more harmony is use mediation, then mediation more naturally becomes an attractive alternative that actually lines up with something that they both want.
So it’s a refining process of striving for dialogue, seeking common interests, figuring out what the obstacles are, and coming up with realistic guidelines and solutions that work for both parties.
I think that if all else fails, it’s always a possibility for the one partner to go and get some help from a therapist or marriage counselor, and explore other creative and new ways to address their partner.
Seeking individual therapy conveys to their partner that they are serious about the change they want, and that they are going to begin to take some steps towards moving forward on their own. That sometimes gets their spouses attention as a last ditch effort, because they see that they can’t hold their partner back, and that a divorce can happen cooperatively - which would be ideal - or will happen without cooperation, which is certainly less than ideal."
"The divorce process can be an emotionally charged topic, especially if a couple isn’t in agreement about whether a separation is necessary. However, in order to get his/her needs met, an individual should use assertive communication tools, without using an attacking or threatening approach.
If someone can speak from an objective perspective, clearly express their needs and not get defensive, they have a better chance at being taken seriously by their partner.
This could mean discussing the benefits of divorce mediation, empathizing with their spouse’s feelings about the mediation process and divorce as a whole, and validating what he or she is experiencing.
No matter how contentious the topic is, such as the dissolution of a marriage, an educated, non-threatening conversation can still produce positive results for all parties involved."
"Therapy can be leveraged as a powerful tool to assist with the process towards divorce through mediation.
It is common to assume that marriage therapy is solely focused on supporting the marriage, but in reality, marriage therapy holds a more dynamic goal of supporting the relationship and the overall health of each person involved in the family system.
Each individual has his or her own process in terms of reaching a decision to end a marriage. By tapping into therapy, a couple can work towards options of uncontested divorce, which includes peaceful mediation."
What's the Best Way to Ask for a Divorce? There's No Simple Answer.
When it comes to how to tell your spouse you want a divorce, there’s no simple answer.
But if you prepare ahead of time, consider the tips provided here and get the divorce support you need to get through it, you’ll have a much better chance of moving forward in months instead of years and keeping the divorce process as peaceful as possible for you, your spouse and your kids.
Remember, every choice and action counts when it comes to divorcing amicably. And asking for divorce nicely is an important step in the right direction.
The choices you make before you start your divorce are critical.
Regardless of how many years you've been married, whether you're the one who wants the divorce, your spouse does or you're both on the same page, the choices you make before you start your divorce will likely set the tone for how the entire process will unfold for you and your children.
And how peaceful, fair, child-focused and cost-effective your divorce will (or won't) be.
But you can only make smart choices if you take the time to get educated and prepare for divorce first.
That's exactly why we created a downloadable kit for smart people like you - to help you do just that!
Equitable Mediation Divorce Coach Cheryl Dillon is passionate about helping couples attain a peaceful, fair and cost-effective divorce while putting their children first. When she’s not supporting her clients through the emotional aspects of this significant life transition, you can find her trying to stick to an exercise program, tending to her garden, watching Cubs baseball, and trying to persuade Joe to adopt 5 or 10 more dogs.