The Collaborative Divorce Center

Delicate Conversation: Communicating Your Desire for Divorce

How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

If you are unhappy and considering divorce, but don’t know how to tell your spouse, this is written especially for you. Make certain you really want a divorce. Don’t make the mistake of threatening divorce because you’re angry.

This is a conversation to have with your spouse only if you are serious about ending your marriage. Once you decide you want a divorce, telling your spouse is going to be hard because you will provoke sadness or anger.

Be prepared, know what you want to say, and give your spouse some warning about what’s coming.

Here are 9 specific tips:

  1. Don’t Ambush Your Spouse.
    Even if your spouse knows how unhappy you are, there is no assurance he/she isn’t in denial about a divorce. If your spouse has no idea you are about to break up the marriage, it’ll be a shock when you tell them. Let your spouse know you need to talk about something serious and make an appointment.
  2. Pick a Private Place.
    Choose a quiet time when you won’t be distracted, because this is an important conversation. Find a private place unless you are concerned about safety. Stay calm and be reasonable.
  3. Be Prepared for Anger.
    There is no easy way to tell someone you loved, married, and lived with for years that you want to divorce them. It’s going to be a stressful discussion, so be prepared for crying, anger, denial, blame, and arguments.
    Once you have decided you want a divorce, don’t delay, it will get harder to do later. If you need support, bring in a counselor, a good friend, or talk in a public place.
  4. Plan What to Say.
    Think carefully about how you want to share your feelings and be clear about your message. Begin with a short summary of your unhappiness, make certain he/she understands the seriousness of the situation, and then clearly state that you don’t want to be married to him/her anymore. At this point, stop and let your spouse respond, but give them false hope.
  5. Don’t Blame.
    Don’t criticize your spouse or argue about the past, because you won’t be able to agree on what happened. Use “I” statements, focus on neutral language, report how you feel, and be sympathetic about his/her feelings. Say “I know this is difficult to hear, but our marriage is finished and I want a divorce. I don’t believe marital counseling will fix our relationship, but we might benefit from seeing individual therapists.”
  6. Stay Calm.
    Most likely your spouse will become upset when you tell him/her you want a divorce and he/she may become angry, want to argue or may even threaten you. Don’t let yourself get angry in
    return and don’t argue.Listen to their arguments and respond in a calm manner that you understand how difficult this is to hear and how hurtful it must be, but it’s how you honestly feel and you can’t change it. Tell him/her there’s no way we can make the marriage work.
  7. Avoid a Trial Separation.
    If your spouse tries to negotiate a trial separation rather than a divorce, tell him/her you want a divorce not a separation, and that your mind’s made up. Otherwise, you will just be postponing the problem.
  8. Maintain Boundaries.
    After delivering the bad news, you may feel guilty and want to comfort your spouse by being affectionate. That’s a mistake. Maintain your personal boundaries and keep your distance, because you don’t want to send mixed signals to your estranged spouse. Make certain he/she knows you are serious.
  9. Engage a Collaborative Attorney.
    Interview two or three collaborative divorce attorneys, engage the one who makes you feel most comfortable, and file for divorce right away. Collect financial information, draft a summary of your marital history, and prepare a post-divorce budget to know what resources you need before you visit an attorney.

If you have any questions about whether you need a divorce or want to talk with a collaborative attorney, contact me at or 386-271-8044 for a personal chat.

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