How to Tell My Spouse I Want a Divorce

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You’re unhappy in your marriage and want a divorce. Telling your spouse can be intimidating, awkward and pain provoking. The fear of initiating this discussion can be so strong that the pain associated with it seems worse than the pain of avoiding it, says Laura Campbell, founder of, a website that aims to help women on the heels of divorce. Taking steps to minimize hurt feelings and future damage can make the conversation go more smoothly.

Time and Space

Tell your spouse that you have an important issue to discuss. Don’t tell him you want a divorce during an argument. Pick a time when you are both calm and relaxed. Allow plenty of time for the conversation, which should be face to face. Pick a location where you can talk privately, without interruption. Sam Margulies, author of “Negotiating the Good Divorce,” suggests turning off cell phones and eliminating other distractions.

Telling Your Spouse

Know what you want to say ahead of time. According to Margulies, how you tell your spouse you want a divorce and what you say will shape how the divorce unfolds. Be calm, direct, kind and confident in your decision. Be clear that you won’t change your mind. Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital, suggests that you acknowledge your role in the failure of your marriage. To avoid heated discussions, don’t place blame on your spouse and don’t comment on his perceived failures or deficiencies.

Your Spouse's Reaction

You can’t control how your spouse responds, Saltz explains. Your spouse may express shock, anger, hurt or even understanding. He may try to talk you out of your decision. “You may have to repeat your determination to end it several times in the face of intense emotional attack by him/her,” Marguiles explains on his website, Give your spouse time to talk, and listen without interrupting. Encourage him to discuss his feelings.

Future Discussions

Give your spouse time to absorb and accept your decision. Discuss details of the divorce at a later date. For example, during the first discussion of divorce, you should avoid practical discussions about whom will get the house, the dog or the car. Reassure your spouse that you want to have a fair divorce and keep it as peaceful as possible. A healthy divorce is as important as a healthy marriage, especially if children are involved.