How Do I Tell My Spouse I Want a Divorce?

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Divorce has been on your mind for some time now. As scary as it feels, you are ready to proceed, but you have a problem. A big one. You have no idea how to tell your spouse.

Telling your partner is a major milestone in the divorce journey. Yet no one ever seems to talk about it. Some people wait years before they gather the courage to ask for a divorce. One of my clients who is 73 years old waited 20 years.

How Do I Tell My Spouse I Want a Divorce?

Let’s call this client Norm. I remember Norm sitting across the table from me. Listening quietly with his head down as I was explaining TDS’s simplified divorce process, and how he and his wife can finalize the division of all their assets within a month. They’d each be able to move on within weeks. 

He intended to go travelling after the divorce was over, and I was explaining how attainable that was. When I finished my explanation, excited for Norm, I asked if he had any questions for me. He looked up shyly and said, “But Zeina, how do I tell my wife?” 

Caught Up in Shame 

Telling your spouse that you want a divorce activates an ugly feeling in your psyche- the feeling of shame. Shame tells you that you are a mean ungrateful person for doing this to someone you promised to love. It tells you you’re harming your children.  

Shame tells you you have not tried hard enough. That you are a fraud of a partner. It tells you that your spouse will never forgive you, and neither will your mother, father, siblings, coworkers, barista, and that guy who works out across from you at the gym. After shame tells you all these lies, it demands that you hide, swallow your pain, and never mention separation or divorce again.  

But how do you come out of hiding, and face your spouse? After all, you are not going to give in to shame forever, right? You can’t continue to live like this.  

Acknowledge the Shame 

The first step to moving past this feeling is acknowledging your shame. You could try journaling about why you feel shameful and guilty. It’s very effective to give shame a voice. You’ll find that as soon as you do, it will start to dissipate.  

The next step is to plan the conversation with your soon-to-be-ex. Like anything else in life, good planning yields better results. This is what I suggested that Norm tells his wife, whom we’re going to call Donna. 

“Donna, you and I know that we have both been unhappy and distant for some time. The only thing we do together is sit down and eat quietly at the dinner table.  

We are old but our lives are not over. We each deserve to be content and not have to feel the resentment and anger we have against one another right now. I respect you and I will never forget all the happy moments we had together, however our time together has come to an end, and we need to acknowledge that and move on.  

I want a divorce, and I will make sure that I am fair and kind to you during the process.”  

Seems Harder Than It Is

Norm left my office feeling the heavy weight of responsibility- knowing that he now has the tools to face his wife. He was scared but committed to talk to Donna.  

The next day Norm called me and said, “Zeina, I did it, and you were right, it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.” 

Norm and Donna worked with me through our 5 Step Constructive Mediation Process. They were able to settle a two million matrimonial property division in three hours. Norm got his tickets to Europe shortly after. Donna kept the house.  

Happily Even After 

What was interesting to me was Donna’s perspective. When she came in to sign the final divorce document, she said to me, “Zeina, Norm and I had not opened up about our feelings for 20 years.  

And that day, in mediation, when he said to me that he acknowledges all the time we had together but he doesn’t want me to be a part of his life anymore, I felt such a relief.  

I always worried that I needed to be the perfect wife “until death do us part”, but hearing him saying that he no longer wants me involved, gave me permission to let go. It felt so liberating.”  

Now I tell my clients to never assume that because you want to let go, the other side wants to hold on. Sometimes they show or say that they do, but it’s because they themselves have not acknowledged their guilt and shame, and are struggling to take the next step forward.  

If this is something you’re experiencing, I hope this make you feel a bit more confident to talk to your spouse now. If you have questions about what comes next, take our 2-minute quiz. 

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