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How to Ask for a Divorce the Right Way

Gabrielle Applebury
couple having a serious discussion

Knowing how to ask for a divorce can reduce some stress that you may be feeling at this time. Thinking about what you're going to say, mentally and emotionally preparing, and getting an idea of how your partner may react can help you feel a bit more prepared as you begin this process.

How to Ask for a Divorce Peacefully

Once you've decided you want a divorce, it's important to think very carefully about how and when you will let your spouse know. If you have a spouse that tends to become enraged, an abusive partner, or a partner that may be surprised by your request for a divorce, it's critical to take their personality traits and behavioral history into consideration as you formulate a plan. Regardless of your situation with your partner, there are ways to minimize the intensity of this conversation and transition into the divorce process as peacefully as possible.

Finding the Right Time

The right time to ask for a divorce is when you've officially decided that your life would be better without them as your partner and that you have no doubt that this is what you want to do. If you have changed your mind few times, it's important to examine why and to dig a little deeper into understanding that before speaking with your partner. In general:

  • Pick a time when you and your partner are relaxed and calm.
  • Opt for a time when you both have free schedules and aren't distracted by work or any upcoming projects.
  • Try to pick a time when life isn't peaking in terms of chaos.
  • Pick a day that gives you both time to process before heading back into work.

What to Do if Your Partner Is Volatile

If your partner is dangerous and you fear for your safety, it's best to ask for a divorce in the safest way possible. This means that you have thought about their potential reactions in the past and have a good idea of what they may do. You may want to:

  • Already have your essential belongings at a friend or family member's house so you have a safe place to stay after letting them know that you want a divorce.
  • Organize for children and pets to be in a safe location all ready, before speaking with them about a divorce.
  • Ask for a divorce over the phone, via text, or in a crowded public place.
  • Notify schools, caregivers, pet-sitters, and your work of your partner's volatility and make it clear what the boundaries are.
  • File for a restraining order.
young couple having an intense argument at home

What to Do if You Have Children Together

If you have a child or children together, it's best to organize for them to be at a sleepover or babysat overnight if possible. This way, you both will be able to have this conversation without having to worry about any children overhearing something that is potentially inappropriate. Once you've discussed divorce, you will need to plan to have another conversation regarding next steps in terms of:

  • Co-parenting
  • Custody
  • Housing arrangements
  • Rules regarding being respectful of each other
  • Rules regarding children meeting other potential partners down the line
  • Potential therapy or other support options for the children

What to Say When Asking for a Divorce

Your word choice can make a distinct difference when having this difficult conversation. Be up front, honest, and concise when speaking with your spouse. Try not to delve into details as this could lead to an argument, which can make this discussion even more challenging.

If Your Spouse Is Safe

If your spouse hasn't been aggressive or violent and you have experience resolving fights with them in healthy ways, you can discuss the divorce in person. Keep the focus on your feelings and avoid saying anything that could put them on the defensive. Keep in mind the point of this discussion isn't to be right, but to simply share that you'd like to move forward with a divorce. Keeping this conversation amicable can help set the stage for a more peaceful divorce. Before diving into this conversation, make sure to check in with your partner regarding a good time to talk. This way they won't be caught as off guard when you begin sharing your thoughts about your relationship. While every situation is unique, you can consider opening with:

  • I've been thinking about the state of our relationship for a while and I think it would be best if we moved forward with a divorce. I want to keep this as peaceful as possible and am happy to answer any questions you may have.
  • I know this is difficult to discuss, but I've had this on my mind for some time. I don't feel like this is the right relationship for me anymore and would like to hear your thoughts on us getting a divorce.
  • I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about our relationship. I've thought really hard about this and decided that it would be best if we got a divorce. I no longer feel like we're the best fit for each other as romantic partners, but I really want to maintain our friendship if you're comfortable with that.
  • I'm wondering what you think about us getting a divorce. I feel like we've been trying to work on our relationship for a while and it seems like we'd be better off as friends and co-parents instead of partners.

After you've mentioned that you want a divorce, pause and wait to see if your spouse wants to speak. If not, you can discuss some emotions that you've been feeling in general due to the relationship, but don't get bogged down in the details as this may trigger your ex to be defensive. Try to focus on broad themes you've experienced in your relationship such as difficulty spending time together, lack of connection, and loss of being in love. After you've shared your perspective, be sure to listen to their response without judgment and without becoming reactive, even if they are.

Unhappy Couple After an Argument

If Your Spouse Has Been Abusive

If your spouse has been abusive in the past and you do not feel comfortable having this discussion in person due to safety reasons, let them know through a call, text, or email that you'd like to get a divorce. In these circumstances, it's important to have everything in place before mentioning the divorce. This includes having a place to stay, securing your finances, having your belongings with a trusted individual, consulting with a lawyer, reporting the abuse to the police, having a restraining order ready to be served, and having your child, children, and/or pets already in a safe place. Your safety and the safety of your dependents are of the utmost importance as your partner will most likely lash out.

What to Discuss After the Initial Divorce Conversation

After initially speaking with your spouse, you should plan on later discussing:

  • Housing arrangements
  • Pet sharing or sole ownership
  • How to tell friends and family members
  • What you both envision this process looking like
  • Making a schedule for how to go about moving forward
  • How much you both are comfortable leaning on each other for support
  • What you'd like your relationship to look like post-divorce
  • How to handle family events
  • How to manage events and parties with friends
  • Discussing boundaries you both feel comfortable with in terms of appropriate contact

Discussing a Divorce Versus Threatening a Divorce

When it comes to bringing up the topic of divorce, note that this should only take place if you are serious about following through with it. Divorce shouldn't be used as a way to punish your spouse. This can severely damage your relationship with your partner and it can be very difficult to rebuild your trust after using this threat.

Finding Support

After discussing the divorce with your spouse, you may feel an overwhelming cascade of emotions. The intensity may take you by surprise. Know that having an emotional reaction is completely normal, and it's important to process what you're going through in a healthy way. If you feel like you need some extra support or guidance, reach out to a counselor or therapist who specializes in divorce processing. You can also look out for support groups or online forums where you can connect with others going through a similar life experience.

Preparing Yourself to Ask for a Divorce

Deciding to move forward with a divorce is an incredibly difficult decision, but there are ways you can ease your partner into it while taking care of yourself. Preparing yourself for the conversation and finding helpful resources to support you afterwards can alleviate some stress that this process can bring up.

How to Ask for a Divorce the Right Way