How to inform your spouse you want a divorce!

As a divorce coach, I work with men in every phase of the divorce process. Whether it’s at the beginning, middle, or towards the end, each phase has its set of challenges. Yet, the one phase I see as the most paralyzing seems to be informing their spouse they want to divorce even when they have been unhappy in their marriages for years. Most clients have been unhappy for an average of 3-5 years, sleep in separate bedrooms from their spouse, and have more of a “roommate” existence than a romantic marriage. They have had marriage counseling in the past, and no matter how hard they try, they are still unhappy and want to move forward with a divorce. However, taking the very first step in informing their wife, seems to cause a great deal of anxiety, so much so that they delay the conversation for months and sometimes even years!

Let’s look at a few ways to become unstuck and rip the band-aid off so you can tell your wife you want a divorce.

Make sure this is really what you want. There are many things in life, you cannot come back from. Telling your spouse you want a divorce, may be one of them! This is why it is crucial to make sure this is truly the path you wish to take. Have you exhausted all other options such as marriage counseling or a temporary separation?  Also remember, that how you break the news, may impact how the divorce unfolds.

Don’t ambush your spouse & plan your conversation. Now that you’ve made the decision, think about when and where you want to have the conversation. Even if your spouse knows you’re unhappy, don’t assume they are not in denial of a divorce and this may completely blindside them. I recommend informing your spouse ahead of time, that you wish to discuss an important matter and set a date. Also, think about how you see it playing out. Plan your dialogue to be kind, direct, and calm. Choose a moment when you will have some uninterrupted time, if you have children, make sure they are not at home or go somewhere you can have a private discussion, and turn off your phones. This will be incredibly stressful, therefore, prepare for anger, sadness, crying, denial, and possibly an argument. 

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 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 do not give them false hope.

The more surprised she is, the longer it will take her to accept the divorce, which may result in her trying to talk you out of it. Use “I” or “we” language, and nothing accusatory. This is not the time to blame, shame, or criticize your spouse. Being clear about what has been bothering you, will validate your feelings while explaining to your spouse why it has come to this. For example:

  • “I have some difficult news to share with you. I have decided that our marriage cannot continue and that I will be filing for a divorce. I have been struggling with this for a long time, and I cannot go on any longer. I know this will be a painful process for all of us, however, I do believe with can do this the best way possible with kindness and decency.”
  •  “I have been unhappy for a very long time, and nothing seems to help us improve our marriage. I suspect you are at least aware that we have been having a difficult time together. I have reached the limits of my pain threshold and cannot continue in this relationship. I’m sorry to say this, but I have decided I want a divorce. It is my hope and belief, that we can do this by being fair and amicable to one another, and I hope you will come to believe that as well.”       

 Be firm and show compassion. Expect to be dragged into a possible debate of whose fault this is. When being firm with your decision, keep in mind this is a conversation to inform, not blame or show anger. You do not have to defend yourself or your decision, which is often our reaction when drawn into a debate (which this is not). If you can, be as clear, specific, and rational as possible, but also show compassion and acknowledge her feelings and reaction to this news. Remember, if your spouse was not expecting this you’re both not on the same page which will mean the conversation may circle back to accusations, blame, etc. Stating you have made this decision, and that you are not looking to “try again” in saving the marriage. It may be tempting to offer comfort, but this may inadvertently give your spouse a mixed message which may seem cold-hearted, however, it’s better than giving her false hope.   

Allow the dust to settle. Acknowledge that your spouse’s feelings may not be aligned with yours. Let her express her point of view without judgment from you. Your spouse is going to need time to accept the situation, therefore, reiterate that you are aware of this, and moving forward you will have to negotiate many issues, however, this is not the time for those discussions. When your spouse is ready to discuss this further, I suggest you make it clear you will not discuss who may or may not be at fault, you’ve given this a great deal of time and thought, therefore, your decision is irrevocable, and you wish to go forward in the process with only fair and amicable intentions.

This should be the end of the first conversation, as there will be many more to come. Once the dust has settled, you will need to talk about how to tell your family and children. Before you do,  allow some time for this to resonate for both of you.

Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach for Men