How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

The conversation where you tell your spouse you want a divorce will never be easy. This is especially true if you are the only one who wants a divorce. There is not one “best way” to tell your spouse the marriage is over.  There is no “best time” or “best place” to have this conversation.   Even so, there are steps you can take to make sure this conversation goes as well as it can.

1.Make sure divorce is what you really want.

Consider why you want a divorce and what life will be like when you are divorced. Contemplate the decision when you are able to think calmly about your marriage. What seems like a good decision when you are angry or hurt may not be the right decision. Talk with a therapist about your mental and emotional states as they relate to your marriage so you better understand the reasons you want a divorce.

2. Prepare explanations for why you want a divorce. 

Get really clear on why you want a divorce so you can explain it plainly to your spouse. If the idea of divorce will blindside your husband or wife, they will likely have lots of questions as they try to understand why you are asking for a divorce. Speaking with your therapist will help you better understand your emotions so you can more easily explain yourself. Practice what you are going to say. Be firm in your decision. Understand that what seems logical and simple to you, may not seem so clear to your spouse.

It is possible your marriage did not have the best track history of communication and that may continue with this conversation. You may also want to speak to a divorce attorney to get an overview of the process and what to expect as you start and work through the divorce procedure. For example, you will want to understand that North Carolina law requires you to be physically separated from your spouse for at least a year and a day before you can file for divorce.

3. Anticipate your spouse’s reaction to talking about divorce.

If your spouse is unaware that you are unhappy in your marriage, his or her reaction may be one of shock and hurt. If, on the other hand, your spouse is as unhappy as you are, he or she may be disappointed or angry. Try to anticipate how your spouse will react and prepare yourself emotionally to handle the response. Remember to remain calm and not to lash out even if your spouse starts blaming you for your marital problems. There will be plenty of time to hash out the issues between you during the divorce process, so you don’t need to respond to everything in this first conversation. If your spouse needs time to process the information, you can end the conversation and pick it up again at a later time.

4. Find a suitable time and place to talk to your spouse about divorce. 

There is no need to wait for the “perfect” time because often there is no “right” time for a really hard conversation that may leave both parties sad, angry, or hurt. Rather, focus on finding a “good” or “suitable” time and place, which should be when you and your spouse are likely to be calm and where you will be able to have a conversation without worrying about the people around you. For example, you should avoid discussing divorce when your children are present or even within hearing distance. Sometimes people say hurtful things they later regret, or even truthful comments that children shouldn’t hear, when faced with a conversation about divorce. Find a safe place where you can have an uninterrupted conversation. We often suggest talking to your therapist about the possibility of starting the conversation with your spouse in the therapist’s office.

If you’re concerned your spouse may react violently, it is best to have the discussion in a public place where you have some privacy but are not alone. While a face-to-face conversation is usually best, this is not true if there are domestic violence issues in your marriage. (If your spouse is or has been physically or mentally abusive, asking for a divorce could be dangerous. If you are concerned about your safety or feel you need support, contact the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Interact, or the toll-free National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233. )

5. Listen to your spouse with compassion.

You may have been contemplating divorce for some time prior to the conversation, but the idea may be completely new to your spouse. Listen to their perspective. You may want to consider whether their thoughts change your ideas about divorce, or you may know without a doubt that you want a divorce no matter how the discussion goes. Whether you agree with your spouse’s perspective or not, listening will ensure he or she feels heard and respected, which will go a long way in starting the divorce process from a place of mutual respect.

6. Use nonconfrontational language when talking about divorce. 

Divorce can easily devolve into a blame game. Try to avoid it, especially in this initial conversation. Even if you feel that your marriage cannot work because of the faults of your spouse, avoid using language to that effect. Stick with “I” statements rather than “you” statements. For example, telling your spouse that “I am unhappy” is likely to lead to a more productive and calmer conversation than starting with “You make me unhappy.” Keeping the conversation as amicable as possible may help avoid extra legal fees or a tense child custody battle brought on by an angry spouse.

7. Remember your goal.

While you may be angry because you were wronged by your spouse, or hurt because you were disrespected, this initial conversation is not about resolving those issues. Rather, your goal is to inform your spouse that you want a divorce. Period. You can save resolution of the other issues and a discussion of the divorce process for a later conversation, perhaps when your divorce attorney is present to ensure your interests are protected and to guide you properly.

The manner in which you handle this first discussion may affect how your North Carolina divorce procedure goes. Keep this end in mind to ensure the words you use now lead to a better outcome later.

It is wise to talk to a divorce lawyer before having this conversation with your spouse. Understanding the legal steps that must be taken makes the conversation easier a lot of the time, as well as prevents you from saying or doing anything that could hurt your case down the road. Triangle Smart Divorce is here to help you and get you answers, no matter where you are in the process.