Very few conversations end well that start with, “We need to talk.”
A heavy discussion about money, a major health problem, or another big life issue is probably going to come next.
Unfortunately, some “we need to talk” conversations entail telling your spouse that you want a divorce.
Sooner or later, if there is too much unhappiness, mistrust, infidelity, dysfunction or simply falling out of love in a relationship, the prospect of asking your spouse for a divorce is a very real possibility.
It’s a conversation that nobody looks forward to, even though oftentimes it’s a conversation that needs to take place.
And in case you’re wondering, asking for a divorce might seem like it’s more difficult for a woman to initiate, but studies show that as many as 70% of of all divorces are actually started by women.
Regardless of if you’re the husband or the wife, you can take an emotionally gut-wrenching event and make it worse if you don’t approach things the right way.
You may be so angry or frustrated that all you want to do is punish the other party. But the reality is, some of that emotional slop is going to splatter right back on you.
There are ways to avoid that, but you’ve got to be willing to do the right things to avoid the both of you eating an emotional hand grenade right out of the box.
From a practical point of view, if you’re vindictive and honk off your spouse early on, they’re going to dig their heels in even more. And an angry spouse could cost you a lot more money in legal fees, child support, alimony and division of your marital assets.
If you’re smart, you’ll understand that compromise starts from the moment you make your intentions known.
So exactly how do you ask your spouse for a divorce?
There isn’t one right way. But there are several pitfalls to avoid. Here are some ideas and strategies to help you put your best foot forward.
Preparing to have “the talk” with your spouse
Once you’ve decided that you want a divorce, you need to start thinking about how to break the news in the most painless way possible.
As the initiator, you have the emotional upper hand. This means you also have time to be better prepared on the what, when and how you’re going to have the talk.
Part of this involves understanding and anticipating where your spouse is emotionally. Are they just as unhappy as you? Are they going to be blindsided by the news? Have either one of you hinted around the subject of divorce in the recent past?
Figuring this out ahead of time can drive when and where you decide to break the news about the divorce.
If you have children, make arrangements to have them spend time with a friend or a relative so that the conversation can take place without interruptions or amped-up emotions.
The ideal place is going to depend on your unique circumstances and the emotional stability of your spouse.
Ideally, a quiet and private place would be best, but if you’re concerned your spouse may react violently, then it may be best to have the discussion in a public place where you can still enjoy a certain degree of privacy. A crowded restaurant is not one of those places, but a park may do the trick.
It’s also best to pick a time of relative calm. That means don’t ambush your spouse while they are sick or having problems at work. You are going to be adding gas to an open flame if you do.
Plan what you want to say. You may want to take the tact that you’ve both contributed to the erosion of the marriage. State your reasons for getting a divorce but be careful about going too far and pointing too much blame at your spouse, even if they’ve been the bad actor in your relationship.
Be firm but not angry. You might be surprised or relieved to learn that you aren’t the only unhappy person in the marriage. Unless your spouse is clueless, they’ll know there have been problems.
(That doesn’t mean it won’t catch them off guard…)
And unless you are concerned about domestic violence flaring up as a result of announcing your decision, have the decency to have a face-to-face conversation.
Don’t take the easy way out by asking for a divorce by sending a text or email. That’s not the right thing to do.
Also, you owe it to your spouse to ask them for a divorce before packing your bags and leaving. Some people skip this step and just pack their bags and leave one day without notice. If you want to anger your husband or wife into acts of revenge, this is a good way to do it.
As you prepare to tell your spouse, you may need to lean on a friend or family member to ask for advice. And that’s okay. But don’t make your intentions widely known to several friends and family beforehand.
Divorce is complicated enough when it involves just two people. Bringing others into your confidence first only complicates matters and makes it easier to paint you as the bad person.
You need to discuss divorce with your spouse, and they should be the first to know of your intentions to divorce—don’t tell your family and friends before the talk.
Would you want to find out from your friends and family if the situation was reversed? Or find out after the fact that they already knew what was going to happen?
That said, you should form a story ahead of time about how you will characterize your answers to a number of questions that are sure to come once you make your intentions public.
How you tell your children and your family members will have a ripple effect and you need to avoid pointing the finger of blame too hard.
People will take sides and every little thing that you say will either be used to blindly support you or actively hate on you.
How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce: The “Talk”
You’ve got your day, time, location and talking points lined up and you’re ready to tell your spouse that you want a divorce. You still need to be careful how you actually choreograph the discussion.
Keep in mind that while you’ve had plenty of time to mentally prepare, your request may (read: will) blindside your partner, even if they’re already aware that the marriage was in trouble.
You need to make sure you dial down your emotions as you break the news. Be calm and maintain civility, even though your spouse will undoubtedly lash out to some degree. Try to speak in such a way that gives them the chance to maintain their dignity, especially if you are in a public place.
If you come at your spouse with anger and frustration, don’t expect them to respond calmly. You need to convey that you have made up your mind and that nothing can be done to change it.
Be empathetic but firm. If you cave in, you will be playing defense for the rest of the life of the relationship.
The more surprised your spouse is by the news, the longer it will take for them to accept it. And with a lower degree of acceptance, you can expect a more serious series of attempts to talk you out of your decision. Don’t waffle. Make your intentions clearly known so there is no glimmer of hope at the end of your discussion.
If your spouse is angry and accusatory, you’ll be tempted to try and defend yourself. This is a mistake because it will only lead to an escalation that you should have anticipated beforehand.
Instead, let them vent. It’s normal. Don’t get into a tit for tat or you will make a big fat mess of something that needs to be approached in a more surgical way.
The other thing you shouldn’t do is talk in too much detail about what comes next. Take it a step at a time.
Now is not the time to figure out who gets the car, the dog or the house. Don’t discuss alimony, child support or other big issues in any level of detail.
And above all else, don’t agree to anything other than you have decided to get a divorce.
It’s not possible to think straight when you’re flooded with emotions.
Promises made now could be regrets you end up living with later on.
Unless the talk becomes adversarial, stress that you are determined to divorce in a civilized and respected way. You want to make sure everyone’s needs are taken care of, including your spouse, to help allay an initial rush of fear.
For right now, your only goal should be to give your spouse as much time as they need to digest the news.
There’s no telling how long that could be. Just don’t push. It’s not fair when you already have the upper advantage of the first move. Overall, for today just guide the conversation toward brevity and simplicity.
After you’ve had “the talk” with your spouse
If your spouse reacted poorly during the talk, and you have any fear what so ever for your safety or your children’s safety, make plans to stay somewhere else. If you anticipate this is going to happen, you may already want to have a bag packed and stashed at your new destination in case you can’t even come back home to grab a few things.
If you and your spouse get home and he lashes out, don’t hesitate to call 911. Police are extremely responsive to the threat of domestic violence and will take every means necessary to protect you. There are also several community resources you may be able to tap who will offer you the haven you need on a short-term basis.
Another possible step you can take is to seek a temporary restraining order that will prohibit your spouse from coming anywhere near you or your children. These can be issued almost immediately and can last for several months until you have had the chance to collect your thoughts and start the actual divorce process.
Depending on the level of the toxicity in the reaction, you may be able to work through your issues on your with your spouse.
Sometimes, after the initial shock wears off, there is a sense of relief and almost a type of camaraderie that develops in working toward a common goal. It doesn’t always happen, but if the two of you both keep a cool head, you can save an awful lot of time and money by going through an uncontested divorce.
If that’s not going to work for you, start the process of vetting legal representation. You want to make sure you do your homework to find the attorney that best suits your situation and your budget.
If you’re having trouble coping, consider seeing a therapist or a professional divorce coach who can give you a strong shoulder to lean on as you move forward with the emotional and financial components of your divorce.
They will be able to bring clarity by removing anger, fear and distrust to help you see the facts and make better decisions.
Understand that a divorce is a process that can take several months (even years) to unwind. If you expend a ton of emotional energy upfront, you could make poor decisions later on just to get things over with.
Take your time and don’t be pressured into anything that doesn’t feel right.
(There can be times when it’s advisable to file the petition quickly. Discuss this with your attorney.)
If you decide to retain an attorney, or perhaps you spoke to one in advance of breaking the news to your spouse, consider waiting to serve them with divorce papers until they are in a decent place to accept moving forward.
If you are pushy and not amicable at this point, you’ll be stirring up unnecessary drama in future negotiations.
You’ve already worked your way through feelings of loss and depression and have already mentally detached from your spouse and the marriage. You need to give your spouse a window of time to play emotional catch-up too.
Ultimately, how you choose to frame your intentions is up to you. Just know that your actions will have consequences that will reverberate all the way through to a judge signing a final divorce decree, so make your decisions wisely for your own good, and for the good of your spouse and family.