“I want a divorce.” These four words have the power to set free, yes. But also to maim, to ruin. They marriages, they shatter worlds. Divorce and its family-dividing messiness have been well documented. In most situations, there are courtrooms involved. And custody battles. And a lot of very real, very painful, and very conflicting, emotions. It is not a decision to take lightly. Nor is it one to ignore.
Telling someone you want a divorce comes with a great responsibility. But if you’re ready to say those words, ideally, it should mean that you’ve tried to solve the problems plaguing your marriage, you’ve sought outside help, you’ve done the work. So how do you go about it? Who really knows how to tell your spouse you want a divorce in the best way possible? Is there even a way to tell your wife you want a divorce, or your husband you want a divorce, without the words having atom-bomb-level fallout? Is there a “best” way to do it? Yes and no.
Understanding how to tell your spouse you want a divorce is, to put it lightly, extremely delicate. When divorce plays out on the screen or stage — the most common place we’ve seen different divorces play out in real-time — the desire is often blurted out, with someone yelling “I want a divorce!” during a heated argument. Points for theatricality, but not a good move in real life. When it comes to telling someone you want a divorce, calm heads prevail. Tact is required. So is perspective. If you want the ensuing time in divorce court and co-parenting relationship to be civil, it’s in everyone’s best interest to pause and really think about the best time to say it, the best place to say it, and the best sentiment to express it.
So how does one deliver such life-shattering news? There’s no one way to do it. And, no, it won’t be easy. But here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
Find the Right Location
Ideally, you want to break the news to your partner in a private, quiet space. Don’t have the conversation in a crowded restaurant or even at home when the kids are in the next room. Benjamin Valencia II, a partner, and certified family law specialist at Meyer, Olson, Lowy, and Meyers suggests that, if the couple is in therapy, the therapist’s office might be a good location. “In this way, both parties can feel safe and free to ask questions and/or gain an understanding of what the other party is thinking without erupting into an argument,” he says. “Further, the therapist can help create healthy boundaries moving forward, which can prove invaluable when the going gets tough.”
Remember: Timing Is Everything
It is an understatement to say that telling your partner you want a divorce is delicate. The four words “I want a divorce” verbally plant C4 and blow up the remainders of what was once a strong foundation. It is an enormous decision, one that, when addressed, will alter both your lives — and the lives of your children — forever. As such, you want to make sure that you choose to have the conversation at a time when your partner is emotionally capable of receiving the news. In other words, don’t tell them you want a divorce when they’re stressed or going through an emotional period. “You know your partner better than anyone, so don’t make the disastrous mistake of bringing up divorce in the middle of an important life event,” advises relationship coach Alice Wood. “Be patient and remember that the announcement can wait until a moment when its impact will be the least damaging.” Is this obvious? Yes. But it’s essential to understand.
Choose Your Words Wisely
Telling your partner you want a divorce is certainly difficult. There’s no need to make it worse by blaming your spouse for their shortcomings or using phrases like, “You should have,” “You don’t,” or “You didn’t.” You also need to be honest about what you’re feeling and why you believe this decision is the right one. So, when talking about divorce, you have to be specific in your language — this isn’t the time to be vague. “If your words are ambiguous, you may leave your spouse/partner with a glimmer of hope that the marriage can be saved, when that is not your intention,” says Craig S. Pedersen, also a partner at Meyer, Olson, Lowy and Meyers. “That can only create further problems down the line.”
When the time is right to bring up the topic of divorce, Kelly A. Frawley and Emily S. Pollock, partners at the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres and specialists in matrimonial and family law, suggest not getting into the specifics of how the divorce will work, custody arrangements, or any other such details, as they will only overwhelm your partner further. “If he or she is just hearing about the possibility of divorce for the first time don’t go into detail about how you are going to divide the brokerage account, who should have the kids for Christmas this year, or how you are already looking for a new apartment,” they say. Give the person time to digest the concept, show emotion, and ask questions.
Acknowledge Your Mutual Unhappiness
Even if a divorce is more one-sided, chances are that neither party in the marriage is particularly thrilled about the way things have been going. With this in mind, it’s wise to open the conversation by laying the cards on the tabled. “I usually will suggest that they start the conversation with a statement such as ‘As you know, I have not been happy in the marriage for a long time. I also think you have not been happy either,” says New York divorce lawyer Jacqueline Newman, author of the Soon to Be Ex series of books. “If the other person can acknowledge that he or she is also unhappy, it makes it an easier conversation to have as it is not so one-sided.”
Consider a Team Approach
Rather than focusing on the fact that you and your partner are separating, it’s essential to shift the perspective a bit and talk about how you both will work together to make this whole process as easy as possible. “Divorce does not have to be a battle,” reminds Valencia. “Especially if you have children, your common goal should be what is in their best interests. Approaching a divorce by listing the common goals will help both parties realize they are in this together and cooperating behooves both of them.”
How to Ask for a Divorce: 4 Helpful Tips
- Break the news to your partner in a private, quiet space. Avoid crowded restaurants or spaces where the kids are present.
- Try to have the conversation at a time when your partner is emotionally capable of receiving the news, not when they are stressed or emotional.
- Don’t get into specifics too early, shared custody details can wait.
- Rather than focus on your separation, talk about how you can work together to make the process easy.