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When and How Should I Tell My Spouse I Want a Divorce?

  • The timing isn’t about month, day or time. It’s about starting the conversation when you feel you’re emotionally strong enough to manage your feelings, as well as your spouse’s reaction and your response to it. There are also some practical issues you need to consider.

    When to Have the Conversation

    Your spouse should be the first person you tell that you want a divorce. If your plans are shared with others, you risk your spouse hearing this from others before hearing it from you. This adds public humiliation to the resentment and anger that your spouse might feel when he or she hears the marriage is ending. This could make your conversation that much more emotional and the chances of a smooth transition to divorce that much tougher.

    A private place is normally the best setting. Get your kids out of the house and turn off your phones. Avoid having the discussion near a special occasion like a birthday or holiday, especially if you have children. You don’t want a birthday to be remembered as the day Dad moved out of the house.

    If you fear your spouse may react violently and may respond with harm to himself or herself or you, a public place like a park might be a better choice for the discussion. If you worry your spouse may engage in self-harm, talk to a mental health professional to get advice before having this discussion.

    How to Have the Conversation

    If you are involved in marriage counseling or joint therapy, telling your spouse of your plans during a counseling session may be a good idea. In a private session with your counselor you can talk about what you should say and how it will be said. When the three of you meet, the counselor could guide the conversation and help the two of you have as positive a conversation as possible. The counselor could also help the two of you cope with the strong emotions you will probably experience.

    Another thing you should consider is to create a designated end time. You want to deliver the message with as little drama as possible. Having an exit strategy to rely on may help. Tell your spouse there will have to be a series of discussions to fully work out how the relationship will end.

    How you tell your spouse and what you say will shape how the divorce unfolds. How surprised will your spouse be?

    • If you’re like most divorcing couples this won’t be a surprise because chances are both of you are dissatisfied. Your spouse may have wished for a long time that your relationship would improve, but it hasn’t.
    • Your spouse should be aware that you are unhappy, but may not understand you’re so unhappy you want a divorce.
    • The more surprised or shocked your spouse is, the longer it will take to accept the divorce, and the more likely your spouse might try to talk you out of your decision.

    Divorce Is an End and a Beginning

    He or she may be angry, say this will harm your children and blame you for your problems. You may want to strike back. Resist the urge and understand your spouse is also suffering a lot of pain. Hear your spouse out; don’t try to shut him or her up. Let your spouse vent while trying not to return fire. Try to make it clear that a divorce is the best option for everyone and direct the conversation to the future, not about the past and who did what to whom.

    The both of you may be anxious about many things, including finances, relationships with children, other family members and friends. Discuss the fact that the two of you can work out a fair and reasonable resolution. Make it clear you understand his or her feelings and fears (maybe you feel them, too) and bring the conversation to a close. This one discussion is just the beginning of the end of your marriage, but it’s also the start of a new life for the two of you.