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How to Tell Your Nice, No-Conflict Spouse You Want a Divorce

Are you considering a divorce but your spouse hasn't really done anything "wrong" to prompt it? You're likely doubting yourself, wondering why you can't just make your marriage work. After all, it's not necessarily "bad." But is the lack of negatives reason enough to stay in a marriage that isn't fulfilling you? 

For many people, the answer is no. You and your spouse may simply no longer be in synch with your goals and desires. Things, and spouses, change – or one does and the other cannot evolve alongside the other.

If you're in this camp and want to tell your not-at-fault spouse you want to get divorced, we have some tips to help you. Delivering this difficult news isn’t easy, but there are ways to do it that will minimize conflict and encourage a smooth transition. Keep reading for tips on how to tell your nice, no-conflict spouse you want a divorce.

How to ask for a divorce when nothing is really "wrong"

Generally speaking, this conversation should take place in a private spot where you won't be interrupted. Choose a time when both you and your spouse are calm and collected – this is not a conversation to have in the heat of the moment. 

Have a firm but gentle conversation

You simply cannot sugarcoat this. You want to file for divorce, and it would be unfair to “hem and haw” around the topic, making your spouse wonder what you are trying to say. Be direct with them. Let them know, in no uncertain terms, that you want a divorce and what your reasons are. At the same time, however, it’s important to deliver the news gently.

Write your spouse an email or letter

Writing a letter may be appropriate if you believe a conversation with your spouse about divoce would be explosive or even dangerous. Breaking the news in a letter allows you to explain yourself without interruption, and it gives your spouse the chance to experience their initial reaction privately. 

Note, however, that a letter isn’t a blank slate where you can freely attack your spouse and list all of their faults. This creates hostility rather than cohesion. In your writing, stick to the facts: why you want a divorce and what kind of divorce agreement you would like to establish.

Use a process server

If you don’t believe you can ask for a divorce by talking to your spouse directly or writing them a letter, a process server may be your best option. Hiring someone else to deliver the news via a divorce petition allows you to avoid potential face-to-face conflict or escalation. Further, it gives both of you time and space to prepare for your eventual in-person discussion.

How to respond to your spouse’s reaction

Few conversations are more difficult than telling your spouse you want a divorce. You may feel any number of emotions yourself – anger, sadness, relief, fear. So, you can certainly imagine the array of emotions your spouse might be feeling. 

Approach this conversation with care and thoughtfulness, as this will set the tone for your entire divorce process. Know that even if you put your best foot forward, however, your spouse may react in a way you don’t want them to.

Anger, sadness, bargaining, and even threats of self-harm are all potential reactions. Preparing for each possible scenario can help you diffuse the situation as much as possible.

Anger

If your spouse reacts with anger, it's important to stay calm and avoid getting defensive or raising your voice. Instead, try to empathize with them. Acknowledge their anger, but at the same time, remain clear about what you want and why you want it.

Sadness

Sadness is a common reaction to hearing that your spouse wants a divorce. It's important to be understanding and assure your spouse that you understand how they feel. It's also crucial to emphasize that you don't want to hurt them and that you still care about them deeply. 

Bargaining

Your spouse may try to bargain with you. In this case, unless you’re wavering yourself, it’s important to stand firm in your decision. Explain that you've already made up your mind: Divorce is the best option, and there is nothing your spouse can say or do to sway your decision. For example, you might say something like, "I know you're upset, but I've made up my mind. I think divorce is the best thing for us." 

Shutting down

Your spouse may shut down emotionally after hearing your news. Allow them time to process the information, and avoid pushing them to talk before they are ready. Once they have had time to absorb the news, you can try to revisit the topic.

Threatening self-harm

This is by far the most serious reaction and should be dealt with immediately. If your spouse threatens self-harm after hearing you want a divorce, call 911, or take them to the nearest emergency room. This reaction shows that they are in an extreme state of emotional distress and need professional help. 

How to deal with divorce guilt 

Now let’s talk about you. Regardless of why you want a divorce, you’re likely to feel bad after asking your spouse for a divorce. Acknowledge whatever you are feeling, but understand that guilt is a difficult and often harmful emotion that can hurt you emotionally, physically, and spiritually if you let it linger.

Forgive yourself 

The first step in dealing with guilt is forgiving yourself. Remember that you're not perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. What's important is that you keep learning and growing and move on. Dwelling on your guilt won’t make it go away. In fact, it will only make things worse. 

Journal your thoughts 

Writing your thoughts down in a journal can help you make sense of them, cope with stress and heartache, and release some of the tension from your mind and body. 

Address self-doubt 

It's common to doubt yourself after making such a big decision … but you know what's best for you. It would be unfair for you to stay in a relationship where you are unhappy and unfulfilled. Further, it would be unfair to your spouse to make them a party to such a relationship. 

Your needs, desires, and feelings are valid. Trust yourself and your judgment.

Focus on what you can control 

In this situation, you can control three things: your actions, your reactions, and how you spend your time and energy. Choose wisely. Allowing guilt to consume you is counterproductive and harmful. Focus on caring for yourself emotionally and physically so you can move on with your life.

How to negotiate your settlement

Dealing with the emotional side of divorce is only half the battle. There is also your divorce settlement to consider. How will you and your spouse divide all aspects of your life, from your marital home to your debts to your time with kids and pets? 

It’s daunting, especially when emotions run high. But with proper planning and communication, you can negotiate a divorce settlement that works for both of you. Here are five tips to get you started.

1. Define your goals

Before you even start talking to your spouse about a settlement, take time to define your goals in this regard. What are your must haves? What are your deal-breakers? With a clear understanding of your goals, you'll be in a much better position to negotiate a settlement that works for you.

2. Prepare to compromise

Divorce is all about compromise. There will be some things that you're willing to let go in order to keep the peace and move on with your life. It's important to remember that your ex-spouse is likely feeling the same way. Don't be afraid to release some of your less-important wishes in order to reach an agreement everyone can live with. 

3. Communicate openly and respectfully

Throughout the negotiation process, it's important to communicate openly and respectfully with your spouse. This means no yelling, no name-calling, and no ultimatums. If things start to get heated, take a step back, and agree to revisit the issue another time. The goal is to reach an agreement, not to score points off of each other. 

4. Consider mediation 

If you're struggling to reach an agreement on your own, consider handling your divorce settlement with the help of a professional mediator. Mediation can be an effective way to resolve disputes and come to an agreement both parties can live with. 

5. Use Hello Divorce to help you and support your spouse

Hello Divorce offers affordable and customizable plans to support and guide you through your divorce process. We also offer mediation services so you can work toward a suitable divorce settlement with your spouse. Click here to schedule your free 15-minute introductory phone call to learn more about the online divorce plans and other professional services we offer. We also have plans or add-ons to help your spouse.