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"We Need To Talk": How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

Divorce is a huge decision and life changing to say the least. Before you decide to tell your spouse, make sure that your mind is made up and it’s time for divorce as the solution.

Making the decision to divorce often pre-supposes that you’ve been hanging in for a bunch of reasons that no longer make sense. You’ve experienced many of the following:

  • you’ve been unhappy for years

  • you’ve tried therapy

  • you’re sleeping in separate bedrooms

  • there’s only some civil dialogue between you

  • nothing gets resolved

  • you bicker, argue or fight with no resolution

  • you’re staying together for the kids

Consider the context

Will your spouse be on a similar page or shocked?

If you’ve both been in marital therapy, how did it go? Did you both agree to cease getting help together?

Have a strategy

Have a well thought out strategy and think things through BEFORE you tell your spouse. I can’t stress this enough. Winging it usually doesn’t go well.

Think about what you want your next steps to be, who might live where, and have some idea of the financial picture.

And remind you and your spouse to turn OFF your cell phones before you talk.

Be clear about your expectations

Consider the range of ways that your spouse might react.

What would be the best case and worst case scenario? Feelings will get triggered even in the best of situations, particularly if you’ve been married for a long time. The range can be from acceptance to denial to extreme anger, particularly if your spouse feels blindsided and has no idea.

Your spouse may accuse you of all sorts of things, which is not unusual. Do not get drawn into a discussion about fault. Don’t take the bait.

It’s your role to stay calm and not defend or feel like you have to justify things.

LISTEN carefully and hear your spouse out. Let your spouse talk, and encourage him to talk more so he feels understood.

Remember this is NOT about being liked or approved of.

Telling will be the first conversation of many

Be prepared for many conversations beyond the initial one. It’s best not to talk about legal options upon telling your spouse. Let him know that you give him the time he needs to take it all in. And that it may be best to discuss next steps with a legal professional, such as a Mediator or Collaborative Divorce professional ( lawyer or divorce coach/family support specialist).

If you don’t feel safe, then tell your spouse with a third party present such as a therapist.

Be clear and calm

Here’s some verbiage for your telling...

“I feel sad that we’ve grown apart. I want a divorce.”

“I think it’s time for us to get a divorce.”

“I know this is hard to say. I’ve been struggling for a long time and I know that you’re aware of this. I believe our marriage is over and that we need to get divorced.”

Whatever you choose to say PAUSE… after you’ve made the request. Lean into the silence.

And if either of you can’t stay CALM shut the discussion down and talk at a later date.

Be present

Ground yourself in your body - make sure that all of you is present. Include your mind, your heart and your body, which will go a long way in helping you access compassion, kindness and respect. After all, you have history with each other and if you have children, you’ll likely be in each other's lives for many years to come.


Think about what location will be best for your spouse to hear you. It does need to be a calm and private place. Make sure the kids aren’t around.

Avoid blame

If you play the blame game your spouse won’t listen. No-one likes to be made to feel wrong. Use “I” statements instead of “You.” I statements make it much easier for the other person to hear you.

Most of all be gentle and strong - both are available to you, even if they feel like they’re opposites.

Written by Alyse Parise, LCSW.

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