When your marriage reaches a great divide, you can only hope that you are both on the same page for the same reasons. Civility would be the cherry on top to make something upending seem at least survivable. But divorce isn’t the conclusion to a perfect marriage, so expecting such an alignment between imminent exes is often unrealistic. Telling your husband you want a divorce when he doesn’t may be your first hurdle to overcome en route to an unavoidable conclusion.
Divorce, like marriage, isn’t a decision to be entered into lightly. It is, in a different way, its own kind of commitment. It has life-changing consequences for everyone involved, including those not part of the decision-making process.
How you come to the conclusion that divorce is your only answer is as important as the conclusion itself.
Overthinking when to leave your husband can lead to a drawn-out Purgatory suffered by everyone in your home. Even the best effort to keep your considerations under wraps can’t hide the subconscious leaks of doubt, testing, and indecision.
And the stress of being in, then out, then unsure can wreak havoc with your sanity and health.
Underthinking when to end your marriage can be just as damning, if not more so. Using divorce as a threat or exasperated resignation isn’t a wild card that you can casually play without lasting consequence.
Telling your husband you want a divorce when he doesn’t—and when you’re not sure you do—is irresponsible, even cruel. You could do irreparable damage to a struggling marriage that might otherwise have a chance of repair with the right help.
Divorce as a Last Resort
For purposes of this discussion, we will assume that you have given your marriage every effort you can to heal it. You are not throwing up your hands in anger or fatigue and simply saying, “I am so done!” as you walk away.
You have examined your own role in whatever issues have become irreconcilable. Perhaps you have even gone to couples counseling with your spouse and laid your issues on the table.
You have considered outside factors in your discontent—stress, overworking, financial issues, children, health issues—and have assessed and adjusted fairly.
You know that this is more than just the normal ebb and flow of marriage. And you are convinced that you cannot be happy and true to yourself in the context of this relationship.
Your husband, however, has a different take on things.
Perhaps he thinks you are overreacting or are too sensitive or emotional.
Perhaps he isn’t as unhappy as you are or he simply has different or fewer expectations of marriage than you do.
Or perhaps he thinks the two of you are making progress in your marriage that you simply don’t see.
Perhaps the two of you have very different beliefs about living out your marriage vows, regardless of what staying together would look like.
All you know is that you are absolutely sure that divorce is the only livable solution for you. And you are prepared to go through with it.
But now the hard part: telling your husband you want a divorce when he doesn’t.
If you have really been working on your marriage and communicating with your husband about your discontent, then he may not be surprised.
Remember that divorce is a complicated, often drawn-out process. It’s not a snap-your-fingers change in living arrangements. You may not be able to move out or physically separate until after the divorce is final.
So call upon wisdom and civility to guide your discussions and decisions.
Here are some important considerations for telling your husband you want a divorce when he doesn’t.
1. Think about how your husband is likely to react.
Take into consideration your husband’s temperament and his style of communicating and dealing with conflict.
This isn’t going to be easy for either one of you. But you have at least had a head start on the decision to divorce.
The more aware he has been of your unhappiness, the less of a shock the conversation will be for him.
2. Create the right time and space for the conversation.
You’re about to tell your spouse you want to end your marriage. So respect the magnitude of the conversation by setting aside an uninterrupted time for both of you and a space that feels neutral and safe. No kids, no phones, and no appointments on deck.
3. Avoid the shock-and-awe.
Don’t open with “I want a divorce.” Instead, communicate the feelings and irreconcilable discontent you have had in your marriage.
How long have you felt this way? Why do you believe it can’t be repaired? What efforts have you made to understand and remedy the issues in your marriage?
Disclosing that you have decided you want a divorce should come at the end of that discussion.
You may have decided you want out of your marriage. But your husband has his side to the story, too.
If you have come to the table prepared to follow through, then you can at least listen to what he has to say. Conviction doesn’t preclude courtesy.
Be compassionate and own up to your own contribution to the failure of your marriage.
5. Be strong.
Telling your husband you want a divorce when he doesn’t has heartbreak written all over it—at least for him.
You may have accurately predicted his response, but you may also be surprised. He may become angry, defiant, silent, withdrawn, or even supplicating in an effort to change your mind.
If and only if you are firm in your decision, it is important to be clear about your intentions.
Don’t allow yourself to be baited into an argument, and, whatever you do, don’t accuse or blame him for the divorce.
6. Schedule a time for more discussion.
This disclosure won’t be an over-and-out deal. Allow the two of you to sit with this new reality for a while, then come back together to move forward with cooler heads.
7. Always be civil.
Remember, no matter what your feelings are toward your husband now, this was a person you once loved enough to marry. And, if you have children together, he will always be their father and will therefore always be in your lives.
Sometimes knowing that you are preparing for a new future makes it easier not to succumb to provocation or anger.
Recognize, as well, that your composure and treatment at the beginning of the divorce will be reflected in the process itself.
Civility from the get-go can also influence lasting decisions like settlements, custody, and alimony.
8. Have support on hand.
Weddings today often have professional planners. And for good reason. Divorce, while not something to look forward to, has its own form of guidance and support.
Talking about divorce with a spouse is difficult enough. Telling your husband you want a divorce when he doesn’t is especially complicated and difficult.
Having support in the form of people who “have been there” and/or who know the process of divorce is indispensable. Have resources in place so you have reliable guidance before and after “the talk.”
Being on different pages in your marriage is a difficult way to live.
Being on different pages in your divorce is equally difficult.
Once you have made your decision, however, your disclosure will become easier and more focused.
And you will be able to close the door on unnecessary regret.
Ready for more?
Read advice from our clients “Women Share How to Live Together During Divorce”
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