No one likes to give or receive bad news. Asking a spouse for divorce can be one of the most stressful questions in life. No matter how you ask, it may be hard to gauge the other person’s reaction. It could range from peaceful acceptance to full-on rage.

Male and female equality is an ideal that applies more to equal rights than to emotions. Like it or not, abundant research over the years has reliably shown that men and women, on the whole, can express and view feelings differently. Your spouse—whether male or female—also brings uniquely personal reactions to the mix.

End-of-the-line shock

Marriages can be strange. Sometimes, a spouse lives on cruise control, unaware that the other party is no longer on board in the marriage. The worst-case scenario is catching your mate by surprise. It hurts to see an unsuspecting spouse’s devastation when a request for divorce blows up the person’s belief you are both happily sailing on smooth waters.

A spouse caught unaware by the news can run the gamut of reactions, from reasonable to wrathful. Few people like negative surprises. A few fortunate spouses find the request is not unexpected; the other spouse has already seen signs the marital ship is sinking

She says: How to ask your husband for a divorce

Remember, you are about to deliver news of a death: your marriage is dead in the water, and you both need to abandon ship. While no “expert” can guarantee a peaceful outcome, a softer approach can succeed where aggression fails. You may want to try effective methods:

  • State your divorce request clearly, simply and briefly.
  • Use “I” words so your husband hears your feelings, not your accusations.
  • Make it clear that you are not ready to discuss the details yet.
  • Let him know you are open to marital counseling or mediation through your attorney.
  • In a calm, kind voice, tell your spouse you want a fair and equitable divorce.
  • Assure him that, while no one gets everything they want, you are ready to compromise.
  • Keep the discussion brief, and invite him to take some time to adjust to the idea.

He says: How to ask your wife for a divorce

Often, divorce plunges women into poverty; your wife’s first reaction may be fear:

  • Assure her you will generously share your time and fairly divide marital resources.
  • Offer to support her in the difficult task of finding a better career or going back to school.
  • Suggest you want to maintain a positive relationship and avoid litigation.
  • Ask if she would meet together with your attorney for mediation instead of a traditional divorce.
  • Give her your word you will reliably and consistently pay alimony and child support.
  • While the marriage is over for you, suggesting marital counseling could ease acceptance.

Show your spouse you are firmly committed to respect, fairness and willingness to compromise so both of you can retain an amicable relationship, particularly when you will be co-parents for years to come.