How to Tell Your Ex You Want a Divorce (in the Most Amicable Way Possible)

Your relationship is over but you’ve waited to have the “Dear John” talk. Here’s how to do it (nicely).

It may seem insensitive or trivial. Who do I think I am – writing your “Dear John” letter; your script to break the news to your spouse that you want a divorce? 

But here’s the thing. It stresses everyone out. No one can sleep the days, weeks and sometimes months or years before they tell their spouse they want out. Hundreds of people have asked me how to approach this crucial step in the process. So, I created a guide. These are just suggestions – but, maybe you’ll use it verbatim. Maybe you’ll find the “right words” after you read this. But one thing is for sure: reviewing this post won’t make things worse. How do I know? I’ve been a divorce lawyer for over 15 years – first at Levine Family Law Group and now as the CEO and Founder of Hello Divorce, a “modern breakup service,” that guides you through the legal process without the cost, confusion and drama of a “traditional” divorce. 

So, here goes (feel free to copy, paste and edit):

Dear STBX:

Last night was hard for me. I can’t even imagine how you must be feeling since I shared with you that I want a divorce. This was the most excruciating and important decision I’ve ever made and I want you to know that I didn’t make it overnight. We’ve been struggling for a while and I just don’t see a path forward that keeps our marriage intact and both of us happy. While I have had time to process what I want and why – it still feels quite painful and I need you to know that I did not come to this decision lightly. I am certain that despite our ongoing struggles,  this feels surprising to you and you are flooded with a million different emotions. 

I want you to know that I am committed to making the divorce process as civil and amicable as possible. We began in honesty, let us end in it, too. I have done a lot of research on divorce and what I’ve learned is that there are ways to stay out of court and keep costs down. While I want us both to have the support that we each need, I am confident that we are not the kind of people who will fight about every last thing in a long drawn out court battle. 

I’ve decided to proceed with help from Hello Divorce. It’s an online platform full of resources, articles and worksheets that support people through the divorce process. It’s been helpful to me, and I think it will be helpful to you, too. One thing that Hello Divorce really stresses is that in divorce, more information helps people feel more empowered and in control, which leads to less conflict. And I so very much want to work through this process with you with as much openness, honesty and communication as possible.

While I was on their website, I found a few articles about the divorce process that were helpful to me, that I think will also be helpful to you:

[If you have kids, add this in:] 

And because I know we’re both concerned about the kids, I sincerely hope we can agree to make every effort possible to come up with a co-parenting solution we can all live with, and build our next chapter from. I’ve done a bunch of research and from what I understand, kids are super resilient, and they do much better when we shield them from (our) conflict. 

I think this worksheet, Create a Thoughtful Co-Parenting Plan would be a helpful tool for us to both work through. It has some good questions for us to think about in advance. If we work through this, we can compare our thoughts/notes as we start creating our own plan. There’s loads of other resources at this link, including 26 Ways to Win at Co-Parenting, This Year (and Beyond)

I’ll confess, I don’t really know how to end an email like this. 

But I do know that while the future for us isn’t what we’d planned, I am grateful for the life we shared together. And I hope we can move forward in a way that gives both of us the freedom to focus on our next chapter – without focusing on the stuff that led us to this place. Not that we can’t be angry or sad, but I am hopeful that we can remember the good, not just the recent struggles or painful memories. 

[Your name here]

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