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How to Tell Someone You Want a Divorce

You’ve been thinking about divorce for months. You’ve attended the Second Saturday Wake County divorce workshop in Raleigh. You’ve spoken to an attorney, a financial adviser, maybe a therapist. After a lot of soul searching, you decide yes, divorce is the right path. Now, it’s time to separate from your partner.

How do you tell him or her? The way you approach this conversation can set the tone for the next year of separation, the approach you both take to divorce, and your communication in the years that follow (if you have children). Here are some important steps to take before, during, and after you break the news:

Before – How to Prepare

Know what you want. Are you set on divorce, or are you willing to try a trial separation? It’s important to know what you will say and whether you are willing to try counseling. Your partner may suggest that or other options as an alternative.  

Don’t surprise your partner. If you can, try to talk about your unhappiness with the relationship with him/her several times. Consider attending marital therapy or hinting at couples counseling. (However, if you are not willing to go to couples therapy, do not make that suggestion; it will give false hope.) These are ways to let your partner know what’s on your mind, so the news is not a complete shock. If divorce is a shock to your partner, he will be dealing with the first stages of anger and grief while you are thinking about the future and moving on.

Prepare the words. Practice the words in advance so you can deliver them calmly. Use language such as “I’ve been unhappy for a long time,” and avoid placing blame such as, “You’re never there for me.” Make sure your intentions are clear. “I believe our marriage is over, and I want a divorce” is one approach. But if you’re willing to try a separation, you might consider starting with that, as in, “I’d like to try a trial separation so we can sort out our feelings and each get a sense of what we want.”

During – The Talk

Photo by Ed Yourdon

Don’t leave a note or have your partner served with papers as a surprise. You once loved this person, and that relationship’s end deserves some respect. Tell him/her alone in a private space, such as your home. He/she will have some sort of reaction to the news, and a restaurant or other venue is not going to give him/her room to do so. If you have children, choose a time when they are not home so you can have a private (possibly loud) discussion.

Exception: If you are concerned about your safety, such as in cases of domestic abuse, it is just fine to leave a note or send papers. In that case, talk to area experts about how to leave and making sure you and your children have a safe place to stay.

Remain calm. You might meditate or take deep breaths earlier in the day if that helps. The goal is to leave anger behind and approach the talk with compassion. You might express that as in, “This will be hard for you to hear.”

Do not attempt to discuss legal issues. Your goal is to break the news and give him/her time to process.

Expect insults or accusations. He or she will probably be angry and may bring up history, throw blame, or insult you. This article has some important notes on how to remain quiet through the tirade. When it is over, repeat your points and prepare to leave.

After – Next Steps

Be prepared to move out that day/evening if you think it’s best, but don’t have your luggage sitting there while you talk. Some suggest having it packed in the car or already in a new location. Your spouse might find that insulting, so in some cases, you might not have anything packed. This depends on your relationship and whether you have children. If you plan to remain in the house, mentally prepare for sleeping in separate rooms for a few nights to give your spouse time to figure out a plan.

Schedule a time to tell the kids. You may need to work some things out with your partner after he or she has had time to process the news. But it’s best for the two of you to sit down and tell the kids together, and you must have answers about where they will live at first.


While this isn’t a comprehensive guide to asking for a divorce, these steps should help. We also advise you to speak to your attorney and therapist about breaking the news. Ask our experts during our monthly Second Saturday Wake County divorce workshop.

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