How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

A common and troubling question is, “How do I tell my spouse I want a divorce?” It’s a common question because in most cases the decision to divorce or separate is made by one spouse alone. At some point the other has to be told that the marriage is at an end.

thoughtful husand and wifeBut what exactly is the best way of telling your spouse, “I want a divorce?”, and what should you expect?

Their reaction

First of all, don’t expect your spouse to be anything less than shocked when you tell them you want a divorce. Even if they have had their suspicions, hearing the actual words – “I want a divorce” – will make divorce very real, very suddenly.

How exactly will they react? Accept that there’s really no way to know. This is a new emotional situation, for both of you. What’s more important – and within your control – is how you react to their reaction, whatever it is.

Whether you face fireworks, tears or numb disbelief, remain calm and in control. Sympathize with their reaction but do not react to it. Do not become angry, defensive or apologetic.


  • Their reaction is spontaneous, not the result of thought or reflection. Tomorrow, they will feel something different. The day after that, something different again as the reality of divorce sinks in.
  • Reaching your decision to divorce has been a long and difficult process. There are solid reasons why it is the right decision.
  • It is unrealistic to expect immediate understanding and acceptance at this stage.

In short, don’t be intimidated or confused by how your spouse reacts. Stick to your guns – to telling your spouse you want a divorce.

Explain why you want a divorce

Before telling your spouse you want a divorce, sum up the key reasons you want a divorce. You need to keep your reasons simple, straightforward and to the point. Too much detail – particular incidents, arguments, and so on – increases the likelihood that you will end up having the same arguments all over again. This is not the purpose of your talk.

A good rule of thumb for a “good explanation” of why you want a divorce is that it is one your spouse will feel comfortable repeating to friends and family.

In fact, being able to explain your decision to others without embarrassment will help them accept your decision to divorce.

Make it clear that your decision to divorce is final

Remember, whether or not your spouse agrees with your decision to divorce is not an issue. What is important is that they understand your decision is final.

To help your spouse understand this, emphasize how your decision to divorce is not a sudden one.

Talk about efforts you’ve made to save your marriage, and alternatives you’ve considered. Perhaps you’ve read books, explored options for mediation, or tried to stay together for the sake of the children.

Avoid conflict

When you tell your spouse you want a divorce they will see you, for the first time in a long time, as a separate and independent individual.

Make it clear that the “new you” is not their enemy – that you are not interested in conflict and confrontation.

This is important because:

  • Divorces that begin with conflict tend to continue that way, costing dearly emotionally as well as financially.
  • For children, the damage caused by a difficult, hostile divorce can last a lifetime.

Start as you mean to go on by remaining calm as well as respectful throughout your talk.

Talk about your children

If you have children, address an immediate and major concern. Assure your spouse that you will not interfere with their relationship with them.

For now, this is all that needs to be said. You can make specific visitation arrangements later.

A final word

Be prepared to feel some surprising emotions when you tell your spouse you want a divorce. After all, telling your spouse you want a divorce makes the situation suddenly very real for you too.

You may feel a complicated and confusing mix of anger, resentment, regret and even unexpected pity and concern for a spouse you felt you despised… These emotions can catch you very much off guard. Keep them under wraps and under control.

Again, remind yourself that these feelings are a product of the moment. Stay on track and tell your spouse, I want a divorce.

Copyright © 2007 Molly Laws

Posted in: Deciding to Divorce

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