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How to Tell Your Wife You Want a Divorce: Do’s & Don’ts
By Divorce.com staff
Updated Mar 02, 2023
When you realize you want a divorce, you have a lot of important choices to make. If efforts to salvage your marriage didn’t work or if tools like therapy weren’t an option, your wife may already suspect that you want a divorce. Sometimes, she may want a divorce as well.
The conversation you have about getting a divorce can set the tone for the way your divorce will unfold. Be considerate, plan your conversation, and try to keep your wife’s needs in mind. This way, you can start your divorce off as amicably as possible.
Don’t Wait Too Long
Getting divorced can be a painful and expensive process that most people prefer to avoid. Other courses of action like couples therapy, mediation, or simply committing to open communication can help you revitalize your bond and circumvent the need for a split altogether.
Still, divorce is often the best option for you and your spouse if your relationship is truly over — infidelity, living a double life, or merely physically separating won’t help you avoid the pain of your legal split. It’ll simply make the situation that much more complicated when you finally take the plunge.
The longer you avoid the issue or the more you complicate your marriage, the worse the situation will get. People may feel hurt or vengeful. Tensions can rise. You may even have a difficult time maintaining an amicable relationship with your spouse, which is extremely important if you have children.
Don’t delay the conversation — tell your wife you want a divorce as soon as you’re sure that staying together truly isn’t an option.
Don’t Blame Your Wife
The conversation you have with your wife about wanting a divorce shouldn’t be a long list of her faults or all the things she did to make you unhappy. While it’s true that people have certain reasonable expectations of their partner, no one is solely responsible for another person’s happiness. You probably both failed to communicate important things in a timely manner.
Don’t show up to the conversation ready to play the blame game. Consider all the things you may have done that negatively impacted her. The breakdown of a relationship is almost never completely one-sided: Keep that in mind when you’re planning your conversation.
Don’t Speak Out of Anger
You shouldn’t decide that you want a divorce just because you’re currently angry about something. If you’re angry, that means you’re not done sorting out your feelings.
Anger means you aren’t in a position to speak constructively about how you’re feeling and what you want. You may not even have a clear idea of what you want to do until your anger subsides, and divorce should never be your first course of action during difficult times.
Don’t mention that you want a divorce during an argument. Doing so will escalate the argument, and it may even cause you to backpedal. It could feel like you said something in the heat of the moment. Your wife may not take it seriously, and you may feel bad about how you said it.
This could lead to you feeling the need to apologize and procrastinate getting a divorce, even if you know it’s the best thing for you.
Even if you don’t feel the need to backpedal or apologize, you’ve set the tone for your divorce as a shouting match or a battle. No one wants to experience a divorce this way — an amicable split is always the best-case scenario if divorce is really inevitable.
Wait until cooler heads prevail before you have a conversation about your split. You may even find that divorce isn’t what you really want, helping you avoid plenty of unnecessary stress.
Don’t Involve Your Children in the Private Side of the Process
Your children don’t need to know any of the private decisions you and your wife make about your marriage. They don’t need to know any of the private details about how your relationship failed. It’s none of their business, and exposing them to too much information or allowing them to witness arguments can traumatize them.
While “trauma” may seem like a heavy word to use, divorce can have a profound effect on children, especially when it's acrimonious.
While you should tell your children you’re getting a divorce, you should use general terms to explain why. Try something like, “We want to be happy, and we need to do different things to be happy, so we can continue to do our best for ourselves and for you.”
You should only talk to your children about divorce once you and your wife are both sure that’s what you want to do. You should sit down with your children together, rather than separately, to tell them what’s going on and be prepared to answer their questions calmly as a united front.
Don’t Choose an Inappropriate Time or Place
When you’re considering how to tell your wife you want a divorce, you need to decide how private that conversation should be. You shouldn’t have it in front of anyone, like in a crowded public place like a restaurant. It’s bound to be an emotionally charged situation even if you’re both in agreement, and you’ll want to be in the appropriate venue to process your feelings.
You should also be considerate about the time. If your wife just received terrible news or had an awful day at work, don’t pile the divorce conversation onto the stack. Wait for a perfectly average day where nothing is out of the ordinary.
Plan What You’re Going To Say
Asking your wife for a divorce isn’t a situation where you should wing it. You’ll want to carefully craft a statement. It may be worthwhile to write out what you want to say before you say it. Read over what you wrote and consider how it’s going to come across, and put some time and effort into your wording.
Read your prepared statement back to yourself, and consider how you would feel if you were the person on the receiving end of those words. It’s only normal for your spouse to feel upset, but there’s a difference between the subject matter being upsetting and feeling like words were specifically designed to hurt you.
There is no upbeat or optimistic way to ask your wife for a divorce, but there is a respectful and tactful way. Always be mindful of tact and respect when you’re considering how to approach the subject.
Consider Your Wife’s Happiness
There is almost never a situation where one person in a marriage is completely happy, and the other person is at their wit’s end. If you’re unhappy, your wife is probably unhappy as well. A divorce can be an opportunity for both people to reclaim their independence and pursue their own happiness. That’s something important to keep in mind during a discussion.
Empathy and compassion are extremely important. If you use a compassionate and empathetic approach to your divorce, there may be a chance that you and your wife can have a peaceful divorce and go on to enjoy a friendship.
Yes, you’re unhappy. Yes, she’s probably unhappy. Both of your happiness matters. Discuss why you feel a divorce is the right choice for you, and explain that you’re also being mindful of her feelings.
If you’re unable to be the kind of partner she needs or if you can’t share the lifestyle she desires, remind her that she’s allowed to find someone who will make her happy. Express your desire for a positive outcome for both of you.
Allow Her To Feel Her Feelings
Your wife may get upset. She may get angry. Don’t interfere with her ability to feel her feelings.
Your wife deserves to process her emotions. Rather than attempting to comfort her or counter her points, give her space. Politely excuse yourself from the situation and let her know that she can come to you when she’s ready to talk about it. She may need a few hours (or even a few days) to digest the situation.
Set the Stage for an Amicable Split
Mindfully telling your wife that you’d like a divorce can be extremely helpful in the days and months to follow. By laying the groundwork for an amicable separation, you may be able to avoid the stress and expense of a contested divorce.
By making careful decisions such as promptly telling your wife about your desire to divorce, not assigning blame, speaking without anger, and planning your statement in advance can help make a difficult conversation a little bit easier. While your wife may still feel angry or sad, coming into the discussion with her needs in mind will only benefit you in the future.