How to Break the News of Divorce to a Spouse

by Beverly Bird
Give your spouse the consideration you’d expect if the shoe were on the other foot when you bring up the topic of divorce.

Give your spouse the consideration you’d expect if the shoe were on the other foot when you bring up the topic of divorce.

Broaching the subject of divorce with your spouse is much more than just another stressful conversation to get through. The way you do it can have long-term ramifications. Handled poorly, it’s not just an unpleasant scene. It can set the tone for the entire divorce process, making negotiations more about anger, getting even and hurting you back than about wrapping up the details of your marriage and moving on. A misstep can set you up for years of grief, so tread carefully.

Drop hints long before you drop the bomb. In an article for the “Huffington Post,” author Susan Pease Gadoua indicates that hitting your spouse out of the blue that you want a divorce can devastate her for years. That’s cruel; so give her some warning that you're unhappy before you tell her you want out of the marriage.

Tell him before you tell anyone else. Don’t talk about your decision with friends or family before you break the news to your spouse. No matter how well intentioned people are, someone might slip and let the cat out of the bag. Give your spouse the same respect at the end of your marriage that you would have given him at the beginning. Don’t betray him by letting him hear the news from someone else first.

Plan every possible detail of when and where you’re going to have the discussion. You know your spouse better than anyone, and you can probably gauge pretty closely how she’s going to react. If a public place will keep her from screaming, choose a park or a restaurant or bar--just make sure neither of you are drinking too much. If she absolutely hates scenes in public, do it at home. If she’s under a lot of stress at work right now, don’t pile on. Wait a week or two until she's better able to deal with it.

Avoid casting blame. Don’t tell him about all the things he’s done wrong that led you to this decision. Tell him that you feel you’d be happier if the two of you parted or that you just don’t want to be married anymore. Make it about you, and hold your tongue if he lashes out. You’ve just delivered quite a blow, so expect the worst and weather the storm. Let him vent and try not to fight back.

Tell the truth -- but not all of the details. If you’re leaving her because there’s someone else, don’t lie. She’ll find out eventually, and when she does, that will make things worse. But don't go into all the details about your new relationship, either. That's just salt on an open wound.


  • If you anticipate that your spouse will try to retaliate in some way, such as by cleaning out joint bank accounts, take the precaution of moving half the money into an account into your own name first. Don’t spend it; just set it aside until you talk to a lawyer and find out what your rights are.
  • If your spouse has a violent temper, make arrangements to leave immediately after you’ve broken the news and spend the night elsewhere, with a friend or family member, if you don't already have a new residence lined up.

About the Author

Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She specializes in personal finance, divorce and family law, bankruptcy, and estate law, and she writes as the tax expert for The Balance. She is the author of more than 30 novels.

Photo Credits

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