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How to tell your husband or wife you want a divorce

By , on Monday October 10, 2022 at 10:00 am

Divorce - telling your spouse

The decision to leave a marriage is not an easy one. How to explain your position to your husband or wife is often more harrowing than coming to the realisation that your marriage is over. If you are in this position, being prepared can make telling your spouse that you want a divorce less stressful.

For the party “leaving” the marriage, here are some suggestions for preparing to tell your spouse that you want a divorce. These tips are designed to minimise the distress caused to both parties and encourage the continuation of a civil relationship through the divorce process.

How to start the conversation about divorce

Pick your words carefully

There is a clear delineation in most divorces of “the leaver” and “the left.” The leaver is usually in the stronger position psychologically as they will have had some time to come to terms with what they want to happen.

On the other hand, the left person feels wounded and is often shocked. The harder the “leave-taking” statement, the worse the wound. The worse the wound, the more likely to trigger “wounded-animal” type behaviours.

Think carefully about how, when, and where, you tell your partner that the relationship is over. Avoid triggering their buttons during the divorce conversation.

Prepare for all sorts of guilt to be laid on you

After telling your spouse that you want a divorce, you might be called a bad wife or husband, bad mother or father, bad person, cruel, selfish, etc. amongst other forms of verbal abuse. Be prepared to respond calmly. Know what you will say.

Prepare for an emotional response

Under stress, emotions may be channelled into anger as well as obvious emotional distress, withdrawal, and depression. It’s important to recognise the response and try to avoid elevating it.

If you are concerned that anger may result when telling your spouse that you want a divorce, carefully choose how and when to discuss your decision to divorce and consider whether you should have someone else close at hand should things turn violent.

Use “I” messages, not “you” messages

For example: “I feel that I need to start a new life.” “I feel that this marriage is not working for me.” Do not say, “You never did your share. You were a lousy husband/wife.” etc. This can help to make the divorce conversation feel like less of an attack on your spouse.

Be confident

Talk firmly. Be physically as much at eye-level as possible. Speak calmly. Be prepared to drain yourself of anger before you begin, and during the conversation if you feel it welling up. You can feel sorrow, yes. Anger, no.

Consider the children

If you have children, assure your partner that they are still father/mother to the children and that this is important to you. Bolster their esteem in any reasonable, honest way you can. Reassure them that their relationship with the children need not change. Discuss how you will tell the children and plan to do so calmly and ideally together. This is important for the children.

Prepare the ground

Before telling your spouse that you want a divorce, it may make sense to prepare them over time. Discuss divorce as a growing likelihood. Consider breaking this message in a public place with some privacy – a coffee shop or restaurant. The public setting will encourage your spouse to respond in a restrained and rational fashion. Think about when you will have the conversation, break the news during the daytime. Morning is best.

Keep calm

During the conversation, take deep breaths to relax. Don’t listen to abuse if you can avoid it. Say “I understand how you feel, but I do not think it helps either of us to have you go on this way” and leave or hang up and suggest you speak again when they have had time to take stock.

Be ready to separate

Often it is best, after the “I want a divorce” conversation, for immediate physical separation. You should have a place to go selected, even if you hope to remain in the home. You can go there if your spouse refuses to leave.

How do I tell my husband or wife I want a divorce without hurting them?

Unless your spouse also wants to divorce, the reality is that finding out you want to end the marriage is likely  to hurt them. However, being clear and upfront about how you are feeling can cause less hurt in the long run than avoiding the subject.

As mentioned above, preparing the ground beforehand can limit the hurt by helping your spouse to get used to the idea the marriage might end ahead of you telling them you want a divorce. The less of a shock it is, the more easily they are likely to be able to cope with the news.

How do I tell my husband or wife I want a divorce when they don’t?

If you are sure your spouse does not want the marriage to end, this can make the divorce conversation particularly tough. It is a good idea to think about how they are likely to react and plan how to tell them you want a divorce. As covered above, if you think they might react angrily, you should consider having the conversation in a public place and having someone else you trust present.

One thing you do not need to worry about is your spouse preventing you from getting a divorce. Under the new no fault divorce rules, there are almost no circumstances in which your spouse can oppose the divorce. So, remember, you are not asking for divorce, you are telling your spouse that this is what is happening – you do not need their permission.

What do I do after telling my husband or wife that I want a divorce?

After you have told your spouse you want a divorce, you will need to start the legal process. We strongly recommend speaking to a specialist divorce lawyer before having the divorce conversation so you can get the process started promptly. They can also advise you on the full implications of your divorce, so you know exactly what to expect.

You will need to complete a divorce application (which can be done jointly with your spouse if you wish). You will also need to decide how your finances will be separated and what will happen to any children you have. A divorce solicitor can support you through all of these issues, making sure you get the right outcome for your future.

Talk to Woolley & Co Solicitors about planning for divorce

Having come to a decision to separate and had the difficult conversation with your partner, it is important that you consider fully any legal implications of your separation or divorce.

At Woolley & Co Solicitors, our expert divorce lawyers can offer specialist legal advice to guide you through a quick and stress-free divorce process. We can advise you on the full implications of getting divorced and everything you need to plan for, then guide you through the entire process.

To take advantage of your free 30-minute consultation with an expert local family law solicitor, call 0800 321 3832 or complete our quick online form.

Rebecca Franklin
Divorce lawyer Birmingham

Blog Author - Rebecca Franklin

Rebecca FranklinRebecca Franklin

Rebecca is a divorce and family lawyer based in Birmingham.


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