How do I tell my spouse I want a divorce?

Man talking to his husband about divorce while sitting at a table

Telling your spouse that you want a divorce is much easier said than done. For many, it is a moment that sticks with them for a lifetime. The moment you fall out of love with someone is not easy to forget. There will be a rush of emotions and extreme nervousness and fear because you will not know how your partner will react. Perhaps at this moment, you have realized that you have done everything you could to make your relationship work. But when it comes to telling your spouse that you want your marriage to end, it is important, to be honest. Tell the truth and find a way to explain why divorce is in the best interest of not just yourself, but your spouse and the rest of your family as well.

Again, much easier said than done.

How you tell your spouse and what you tell them will shape how the rest of your divorce will unfold. If you are worried about breaking the news to your spouse about wanting a divorce, there are ways you can make the conversation easier. If you have fully made up your mind about getting divorced, these are a few ideas to start the conversation and a few things to keep in mind before doing so.

Preparing to have the conversation. 

In a perfect world, both parties will be open and adult about the conversation. Everything would be calm and both you and your spouse would agree about everything being said. This, however, is not a perfect world. Many emotions will rise to the surface, particularly during that first conversation. Telling your spouse you want to leave them will not be easy.

Before breaking the news to your spouse that you want a divorce, it’s good to think about how you are feeling and to write those thoughts down. One idea is to keep a journal or meet with a friend who you can trust and talk to about the way you are feeling.

Try to plan ahead of time what you want to say and what would be the best way to say it. 

These are a couple of phrases you might use to start the conversation:

  • “I have been thinking about this for a long time, and I think it would be best for us to live separately for a while.”
  • “I know we have been working on improving our relationship for a long time, but I am still not sure if things are working out. I think spending some time apart may help me put things into better perspective.”

Also, try putting yourself in your partner’s position. You have probably been thinking about divorce for a very long time and have therefore had more time to process it. Your spouse might be on the opposite end of the spectrum. The topic of divorce could be a complete shock to them, and therefore you should be prepared for that reaction. They may believe that everything is fine with your relationship, in which case they may lash out. Before having the conversation, be prepared for the worst-case scenario. At the same time, try not to expect the worst. Your spouse may also be sharing similar feelings. Especially if you both have been trying to make it work for a long time and have had little success.

Consider a trial separation

A trial separation is when you and your spouse decide to live apart for a while to see how each party feels about the relationship. This is a great option if you and your spouse are unsure if you want a divorce but need time apart to evaluate your relationship. How you communicate this with your spouse however is very important.

If you want to live separately for a short while to try and reconcile your issues, you need to make that clear to your spouse.

If you have children, you need to be careful with a trial separation in case it becomes permanent. There is a concept of “status quo” that is important to understand. The courts are reluctant to change circumstances that are working. So if the status quo (present circumstances) are working the court won’t want to change things unless you can prove a change is in the best interests of the children. If the status quo is that you rarely see the children, you may be stuck with this situation on a long term basis.

These are a few suggestions as to how you can communicate this clearly:

  • “I need time and space to evaluate my feelings about our marriage. If we live separately for a few months and continue to go to couples counselling, we can figure out and process our feelings.”
  • “I have heard that trial separations are an effective way of gaining perspective on a relationship. Maybe some time apart can help us center our feelings and sort out what we want.”

If you are unsure if this decision will be a stepping stone to divorce, you will also need to communicate that with your spouse. Couples will often immediately throw out the words ‘I want a divorce’ which can be harsh and in some cases a bit premature. If you are at this time not 100% sure if you want to divorce your spouse, a trial separation may be a great route to help you decide.

Have you and your spouse tried to make it work?

If you have not discussed your issues, have not met with a counsellor, or tried anything to make it work, then your option to get divorced might be a bit rash. Unless of course, you feel that staying in your marriage is a threat to your wellbeing or the wellbeing of your children.

It is important to at least talk about your issues first to see if there is anything that can be done to repair your relationship. However, if your spouse insists that they only want a divorce, there may not be a lot you can do to change their mind.

If you have exhausted every option and you know that you want a divorce, you will need to make that as clear as possible to your partner. In this case, you can try saying:

  • “We’ve done everything we could to make things work in our marriage, but I think it is time that we file for divorce.”
  • “I am happy that we have done everything we could to repair our relationship, but I think the only choice we have left is to get a divorce.”

Choosing the right time to have the conversation

When having the conversation, choose a time when you are together and won’t be interrupted. Put your phones away and pick a time when your children are away. This is not the kind of conversation you want your children, a family member, or a friend to accidentally overhear. Pick a time and place where you and your spouse have all your focus on one another.

This conversation could take a long time, hours even, so it is impossible to plan exactly how every part of that conversation will go. Your spouse may agree with your decision, or they may try to talk you out of the decision. For now, focus on what you can control — how you will start the conversation.

Remember where you stand

The key to this conversation is clarity. If you are firm on your decision about getting divorced, you need to tell your spouse that your decision is irrevocable. Be clear that no amount of convincing or arguing will change your mind. If you are considering a trial separation and think it may help your marriage, make that clear. All in all, you need to stand your ground. Do not go into this conversation with doubt and without preparation.

You will also need to control your emotions. Your spouse may begin to verbally attack you or accuse you of things that caused your marriage to fail. If this happens, you need to do whatever you can to avoid retaliation. Try to hear your partner out and try to avoid conflict wherever possible. Remember, this conversation will reflect how your divorce will play out. Also, keep in mind that there will be more discussions to come, so do what you can to keep the peace.

Ensure you are safe

If you fear that your spouse may respond violently, you need to come up with a plan to ensure your safety. It may be better to tell them while you are at a restaurant or some other public place so that they are less likely to erupt in violence. Have a plan for your safety.

When you’re ready, seek a divorce lawyer to help you 

Once you have had a discussion with your spouse about wanting a divorce, it is in your best interest to seek legal representation to help you. At Galbraith Family Law, we can help you through the divorce process. Whether you need us for a few hours of legal advice or if you need us to represent you in family court. Our team of divorce lawyers are here to support you wherever they can. When you are ready, give us a call at one of our five offices throughout Ontario. For our Toronto offices call 647-370-8965, for our Newmarket office call 289-210-4692 or you can reach us at our Barrie office at 705-230-2734. A divorce is never easy to initiate, but we are here to help you ease the process as much as possible.

Brian Galbraith

Brian Galbraith is the owner and founder of Galbraith Family Law Professional Corporation. Brian is known in the legal community for his commitment to efficiently practicing family law using technology and streamlining the divorce processes.

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