How to Tell Your Partner You Want a Divorce

Couple arguing in the morning at home

Getty Images

Telling your spouse you want a divorce is tricky. It's not a conversation to look forward to; it likely means facing conflict and hurting your spouse, and most of us shy away from either of those situations. Regardless of what you feel about your partner and your marriage, respect for that person's place in your life is the only fair option you have. There are a few things to know when telling your spouse you want a divorce—and, yes, there's a wrong way to do it. Expert divorce mediator Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D., offers some expert insight into how to traverse the complexities of the situation with empathy.

Meet the Expert

Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D. is a divorce coach and mediator with over 40 years of experience in the industry. He is the author of A Man's Guide to a Civilized Divorce, Working With Divorcing Spouses, and Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life.

Whatever has been going on in the marriage, you should always consider how the news is going to affect your partner emotionally. Don't let your fear of telling your spouse you want a divorce tempt you to do something that will only make the situation worse.

How to Tell Your Spouse You Want a Divorce

While you may feel your marriage has fallen apart, you should still treat your spouse with respect when telling them your desire to divorce, and sometimes respect is hard. Don't skip the divorce conversation and go straight to serving your partner with divorce papers. This tactic is an easy way out, but the ease is temporary. By failing to discuss your desire to divorce and moving forward with the paperwork, you will likely miss out on an amicable split and begin a war. "Choose a moment when the two of you will have some uninterrupted time. Turn off the phones and make sure the children are elsewhere and fully attended," says Margulies.

Another thing to avoid is simply packing your bags and leaving one day. This tactic is not a mature way of dealing with a subject as serious as divorce and dismantling a family. You need to discuss divorce with your spouse, and your spouse should be the first to know of your intentions to divorce.

Don't tell your family and friends before the talk. Divorce is hard enough when it is between two people. By bringing others into it, you make the situation more complicated.

Dealing With Your Spouse's Reaction

If your spouse is surprised by your desire for a divorce, there will likely be a lot to address once you share your feelings. When you explain you want a divorce with your unknowing partner, they are going to begin the process of working through the feelings of loss, hopelessness, depression, and a myriad of other negative emotions you have already worked through—only they didn't want the divorce. You are ahead of your spouse in the grieving process.

There can be a huge contrast between what you are feeling and what your spouse will feel with your announcement of your intentions to divorce. You are ready to move on with your life. Your partner will question how you are ready to move on so quickly and be hurt by the fact you are. "Their tone may become angry, and they may accuse you of all sorts of terrible things. All of these responses are normal and predictable," Margulies says. Be sure, however, not to defend yourself. Listen and do not interrupt.

It is helpful to the spouse being left behind if the spouse leaving is able to show compassion and empathy for their pain. It may not be easy to be around the person you've hurt, but taking the time to give your spouse closure is something you won't regret down the road.

Be Mindful of Emotional Harm

When a partner is left and handed an unwanted divorce, they feel like they've lost control over the path of their marriage and plans for their future. You are now in control, and if you behave badly toward the spouse you are leaving, this will only promote more conflict and do more emotional harm. Be graceful in allowing them to have some time to process the circumstances and the future before involving other parties. Don't involve anyone else, including immediate family members or children, until you are both ready to discuss the future.

You don't have to like your spouse's reaction. Most likely, there will be a difficult response to your desire to divorce, but showing compassion for their experience and the transition they are going through will make the process of divorce easier for all involved.

Related Stories