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You want a divorce; now how do you tell your spouse?


Figuring out how to start a divorce discussion with your spouse and ask for a divorce is often daunting. Once you determine that you want or need to divorce, you may be wondering how you can be prepared to have this discussion with your spouse. Here are some important considerations for telling your spouse you want a divorce.

  1. Make sure you are ready

Divorce is not a decision you want to make lightly. This is a conversation you want to have only if you are serious about ending your marriage. Make certain you really want a divorce and try not to make the mistake of threatening divorce because you are angry in the moment. Threatening divorce when you are not ready could have irreversible consequences.

But sometimes, even after considering all the factors, you know that the marriage is over. Knowing you are ready will help you establish the framework you need when starting this conversation with your spouse.

  1. Prepare for emotions

Try and gauge your spouse’s potential reaction. Even with the best preparation, this is going to be a stressful discussion. Expect that there will be anger, sadness, denial, and blame. Anticipating how the conversation will go can help you feel more confident when it is happening. It might be helpful to write out the potential reactions or to talk through the scenario with a trusted support person, or even a therapist if needed.

The reaction of your spouse may depend on how much your spouse is already aware of the signs you want to leave. At this point, you likely know how your spouse deals with difficult situations. Use your past experiences to help create a safe environment that is right for you to have this conversation. Even though you know how your spouse is likely to react, expect the unexpected- it is possible they will surprise you with their reaction.

Also, consider the emotions that you might have during this conversation. Understanding how you might react will prepare you for when these feelings arise. 

  1. Think about what you will say

It’s possible that this is the first time you are having this conversation and it could feel shocking to your spouse. He or she may not anticipate such a conversation even though you may feel that the warning signs have been there for a long time. Lead into the conversation slowly and brace them by expressing your current feelings. It’s important to try not to make accusations- this will likely cause an argument that is not worthwhile at this point. Instead, focus on stating how you feel using “I” statements. For example, “I have been unhappy lately and I feel I need to start a new chapter of my life.” 

After you tell your spouse how you have been feeling, calmly let them know that, because of your feelings, you will be filing for divorce. Be prepared to tell them why this is your ultimate decision. Again, stay focused on using “I” statements and avoid accusations. Expect to answer questions about your decision and acknowledge your spouse's feelings during this time. Of course, it may be important if there are safety concerns, worries about a spouse moving or hiding money, or child custody concerns that you speak with a family law attorney and decide the time frame of filing to ensure that there is physical, financial, and child safety before having such a discussion. 

Not everything will be solved during this one conversation. Be ready to end the conversation when you feel it is over or if things get heated. To end the conversation, calmly tell your spouse that you will speak again when they have had time to digest the news.

  1. Set aside time to talk

This conversation will take time. The last thing you want is to be interrupted by another obligation. Set aside a time when you know you will not have to leave the conversation to deal with something else. This means, finding a time and place where there are no kids, no pets, and no cell phones.

While you do need to have uninterrupted time to talk, it is okay to set a time limit for the discussion. As stated above, not everything will be solved during this one conversation. It is okay to end the conversation. It may help to have the plan to have a phone call or meet up with a trusted support person after the conversation. Don’t initiate the conversation at a time or just prior to a planned family activity or an appointment that the children or one of the spouses will need to attend. 

  1. Plan for the aftermath

It is okay to ask for help during this time. But including too many people in your decision may lead to you having unnecessary opinions which will pile on to your stress. Try to identify a small and select support system before engaging in this conversation. This way you have trusted people to go to when you need help. 

You should think through your typical daily schedule and determine what adjustments, if any, may be needed for now. Even if you plan to stay at home, have a backup plan in case your spouse refuses to leave. If you have children, ensure that there is a plan for their schedule during this time. 

  1. Maintain Boundaries

This is a highly emotional process and going in circles will create turmoil. It is important to be clear about what you want and maintain your boundaries with your spouse. This will likely feel very difficult at first. But being firm and clear will help you communicate better and will set the tone for your communication with your spouse during the divorce process. 

There might not be a perfect time and place to talk about divorce, but there are things you can do to prepare for this difficult discussion. Remember, you are not alone in this process and there are people out there to help if you need it. 

If you anticipate potential physical safety, financial concerns and/or child custody concerns, prior to having a conversation with your spouse, it is crucial that you obtain legal advice. If you are considering the need to have a discussion such as this one, please reach out to Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 to schedule your consultation. Our compassionate attorneys will listen to your situation, assist you in developing a plan and help you execute the plan. Getting experienced, knowledgeable legal counsel on your side is often crucial to your success.