I Want a Divorce But My Husband Doesn't

By Cheryl Dillon, Divorce Coach

Equitable Mediation Verified

Original Publish Date: May 14, 2014

Last updated: June 12, 2024


Chances are, when you got married, you and your husband were both equally excited to start your new life together. Unfortunately, when it comes to ending a marriage, the situation isn’t always so balanced.

Many women call us and say, "I want a divorce but my husband doesn’t. What can I do? Can you tell me how do I leave my husband?"

If your husband doesn't want a divorce, it can be incredibly frustrating for a wife.

But let's get one thing straight right off the top...

If one spouse wants a divorce, both spouses are getting a divorce.

You don't need your husband's permission to divorce them. But how you proceed – and how difficult you make it on yourself and your children, is up to both of you.

You see, the way your divorce kicks-off will set the tone for the rest of how the divorce process unfolds as well as the future of your relationship as co-parents.

I Want a Divorce But My Husband Doesn't. Now What?

You are well within your rights to file for divorce with the courts and serve your husband with divorce papers. That's certainly one way to get things moving along.

But I'm guessing you're smart enough to recognize that going in that direction may not be your best bet if you don't want things to turn ugly. Backing your reluctant spouse into a corner can set off a firestorm from which neither of you nor your children or family will ever recover.

So what can you do if you don't want to burn things to the ground, but simply feel you can't stay stuck in limbo any longer?

Before you resort to paying a divorce attorney to light a proverbial fire under your husband (which will undoubtedly set a confrontational tone for the rest of the divorce proceedings), consider the following 5 tips on how to divorce your husband.

Hopefully, they will help save you time, money and your sanity during the divorce process.


I want to divorce my husband. What should I do?

Tip #1: Enlist the help of a professional.

I-want-a-divorce-but-my-husband-doesnt-emsFirst thing’s first. Divorce is stressful and can trigger a whirlwind of intense emotions – for both spouses.

An individual therapist or couples counselor can help you sort through and process your emotions.

They can also help you prepare for and gain the confidence you need to have a (hopefully) calm and rational conversation with your husband about the reality of the situation and your desire to end your marriage peacefully.

And if you still have doubts about actually wanting a divorce, especially if you are still in love with your husband, you might consider going to discernment counseling or marriage counseling together.

If your husband doesn't want to split up but is willing to join you in counseling, it can create a safe space for both of you to share how you feel and for you to communicate you want a divorce.


Take your first step towards a peaceful divorce.

Choose the divorce method that’s better for you and your children.

And choose the expert divorce mediation team at Equitable Mediation.

Choose Equitable Mediation.

Book a Mediation Strategy Session



My husband doesn't want divorce but I do.

Tip #2 is to be compassionate and open the lines of communication with your husband.

Dr. Pamela Brand, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Chicago for more than 30 years, offers this advice to individuals who want a divorce but whose spouse does not:

"I typically 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 is 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 reluctant spouse and offer to listen to what kinds of things may be helpful to their spouse during the initial adjustment period."

The goal is to start a dialogue and discuss the situation as openly and honestly as possible. Often just talking it over candidly can help a husband who doesn't want to get a divorce begin to accept the reality of the situation.

If you’re not sure just how to approach the topic, here are a few more tips on how to tell your spouse you want a divorce.

Whatever you do, don’t wall off your soon-to-be ex. It will only make him feel isolated and defensive.



I Want to Divorce My Husband But He's Not Ready

Tip #3 is to give your husband some time to mentally process your desire to divorce.

I-want-a-divorce-from-my-husband-emsWhen it comes to approaching a husband who doesn't want to divorce, it’s important to remember that you’ve already had plenty of time to deal with the idea of your marriage ending.

And you’re light years ahead of your husband.

You’ve already thought about divorce on your way to work, talked about divorce with friends or your therapist and lost sleep over it for months or even years.

You’ve decided you want a divorce and made peace with your decision.

But even if your husband knows (and agrees) the marriage has broken down, he may be resisting due to the fact that your news came as a shock he wasn't quite expecting. And he hasn't had the same benefit of time to cope with divorce and mentally prepare.

So once you’ve told your husband that you want to end the marriage, step back and give him some time to process his emotions and come to grips with your decision.



How can I divorce my husband?

Tip #4 is to find out why your husband is reluctant to divorce. Then, counter his objections.

how-to-leave-a-husband-who-doesnt-want-a-divorce-emsIf your husband won't cooperate with divorce, you'll need to ask questions so you can understand why he's reluctant in the first place.

Because there are always reasons.

To divorce your husband, you'll need to counter his objections so he will (hopefully) agree to move forward towards peacefully ending the marriage.

Here are 3 common objections a husband reluctant to divorce can have and some strategies for overcoming them:


Objection #1: "It's better to stay together for the kids" instead of divorcing.

Some husbands don't want to divorce because they believe it's important to stay together for the kids - at any cost.

They believe divorce causes long-term damage to children.

But in reality, it's not divorce itself that has the greatest long-term impact on a kid's life - it's the level of conflict between the parents that is the source of most damage to children emotionally and psychologically.

When asked if couples should stay together for the children, Rosalind Sedacca, Divorce & Parenting Mentor and Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network for parents, shared these insights:

“Several studies on divorce and its effect on children have shown that conflict is the source of most damage to children emotionally and psychologically.

So if a couple is having issues, having problems and there’s conflict at home, tension at home or the parents are basically avoiding each other at home, the children are living in an environment that’s not supporting healthy lifestyle and growing up with security and peace of mind.

And that is very damaging to children.

It’s better for the family to change its form following a divorce and have two households where the children are either moving from one to the other or living primarily with one parent and interacting with the other and living in more peace so that when they are with mom, they are happy with mom and when they are with dad, they are happy with dad.

And they are in a conflict-free environment.”

We've worked with many couples who were in an unhappy and/or sexless marriage and not great together as spouses but were terrific as co-parents.

But only after they both recognized the marriage was over and got a divorce.

Instead of spending their time fighting with each other, they mediated and focused their attention on raising happy and well-adjusted children.

Divorce is hard in the short run but in the long run, children have been shown to have no lasting effects from it provided their parents handled their split maturely and had a child-focused divorce.

So if there's a lot of conflict and hostility in your marriage, the argument about staying together for the kids may not make sense.

If your husband truly loves his kids, tell him the way to put the kids first is by keeping things peaceful and being great parents, not by remaining married.

Because that's what's better for the kids.


Objection #2: "It's cheaper to stay together" instead of getting a divorce.

Some husbands don't want to divorce because they're practical and their reluctance comes from believing it's cheaper to stay together.

While it's true that two households are more expensive to run than one, people living apart tend to be more aware of their finances and conscientious of their spending.

During divorce mediation, we ask our clients to prepare a budget of what their spending looks like as a married couple and what they project their monthly expenses will be after they're divorced.

After reviewing those budgets, we find that on a surprisingly high number of occasions, the post-marital expenses add up to the same or less than that of the marital expenses, while the spending on the children remains flat.

But besides the couple's household spending, there's an even more important hidden cost buried in this objection and that's the cost of an adversarial divorce. Unless your husband is willing to cooperate so you can use a more peaceful and cost-effective divorce method, your remaining option will be adversarial and expensive.


So the very problem your husband wants to avoid: spending a lot of money, will happen anyway if he won't cooperate with your decision to divorce.

A bitter irony, indeed!

Explain to your reluctant husband that having a peaceful divorce now is far less expensive than having a contentious divorce later.

And ask him not to let his resistance to divorce put him (and the kids and you) in a financial hole you will all have a hard time digging out of.


Take your first step towards a peaceful divorce.

Choose the divorce method that’s better for you and your children.

And choose the expert divorce mediation team at Equitable Mediation.

Choose Equitable Mediation.

Book a Mediation Strategy Session



Objection #3: "If we just work on things a little longer - the marriage will get better."

It's unlikely an individual wakes up one day and out of the blue, decides they want a divorce.

Divorce is rarely a snap decision for the spouse who's initiating it. They have more likely been thinking about this decision for a very long time.

One couple we met with recently came to us after spending seven years trying to work on their marriage.

Seven years!

When the point is reached where one spouse is absolutely certain about wanting to leave the marriage, no amount of time is going to change their mind.

But to the reluctant spouse who is on the receiving end of this news, it can come as quite a shock, even if they know that things in the marriage have broken down or are still in love. They haven't had the same benefit of time and contemplation as the spouse driving the decision.

It's now up to you to let your husband know that you've given this a lot of thought and you're sure you want divorce.

It's important to be compassionate, but firm, because if you aren't, you'll give him false hope that things can get back on track, which won't do either of you any good.

  • Acknowledge that while he may not have had a choice in the decision to divorce, he can have a say in its outcome.
  • Tell him you need his help in keeping the process as peaceful as possible and divorcing out of court for the sake of the kids.
  • Your husband also needs to hear your reassurance that you're not out to get him - you want him just as active in the kids' lives as he’s always been and you want a financial settlement agreement that's fair to both of you and your children.

If your husband is reluctant to divorce for any of the reasons described above, consider these tips to counter his objections, help him come to terms with your decision and agree to work with you to peacefully end the marriage.

Which leads me to my final tip on this “I want a divorce but my husband doesn’t” subject…


Tip #5: Suggest using mediation for your divorce.

divorce-my-husband-emsIf you've taken the time to get educated on all of the various options for getting a divorce, you've learned that divorce mediation is the most child-focused, fair and cost-effective option available.

But because mediation requires your husband's cooperation and active participation, once he's had time to come to terms with what's happening, (hopefully) he'll be receptive to using this peaceful divorce method.


Tell your husband about the benefits of using divorce mediation

  • Stress to your husband the importance of mediating for your children’s sake.

    If your kids see that you’re respectful to each other and can put aside your hurt feelings to fairly and equitably settle your differences, they'll learn a powerful life lesson.

  • Explain to your husband that parenting plans and child support arrangements designed in mediation will be better for your kids.

    Instead of leaving those important decisions up to an unsympathetic divorce lawyer or judge in family court.

  • Let your husband know that he (and you) can either mediate privately now, while the choice is yours, or later, when it isn't.

    Because if you hire divorce lawyers and litigate, in many states, the courts will require you to mediate first.

  • Help your reluctant husband understand that agreements reached in mediation are far more likely to be fair to both of you.

    Especially since in most states, there are no formulas for determining alimony (also known as spousal support, maintenance or spousal maintenance, depending on the state).

  • Tell your husband that mediation is more cost-effective than using divorce attorneys.

    And if he doesn't believe you, suggest that he speak with some friends who used lawyers for their divorce so he can hear first-hand how expensive it was, how long it took, and the negative toll it took on them and their children.

  • Suggest that your husband learn more about mediation on his own.

    No one likes to be told what to do and you don't want your husband to feel like he has no say in how the divorce is going to proceed.

    He needs the opportunity to learn about divorce mediation for himself and how it compares to using lawyers or a do-it-yourself divorce.

  • Then, once he has come to terms with your decision to divorce and is ready to proceed, find a good divorce mediator and start the process.


Take your first step towards a peaceful divorce.

Choose the divorce method that’s better for you and your children.

And choose the expert divorce mediation team at Equitable Mediation.

Choose Equitable Mediation.

Book a Mediation Strategy Session



Other Useful Resources:

Cheryl Dillon, Divorce Coach

Written by Cheryl Dillon, Divorce Coach

Cheryl Dillon is a divorce coach, relationship expert and co-founder of Equitable Mediation. Cheryl earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Connecticut and is a Certified Life Coach. She completed formal training at The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) – an internationally recognized leader in the field of coaching education. Having gone through a painful divorce of her own in 2002, Cheryl knows first-hand the turmoil ending a marriage can have on an individual's emotional well-being. Through her divorce coaching programs, Cheryl has helped countless men and women survive and thrive before, during and after divorce.