How To End A Marriage With Dignity

Six steps that will keep you on track and amicable during your divorce

Last updated on Apr 13, 2024

Couple shaking hands at the end of their marriage Meeko Media via Shutterstock | Afid Andika and Andaria via Canva

Why are endings so important? Endings lead to new beginnings. And when you consider how to end your marriage with dignity, it sets you up for success as you move forward with life. If your divorce is handled with clarity, integrity, honor, and respect, you will feel free and fully prepared to embrace whatever comes next.

As I ended my marriage, I thought about how I wanted to be seen by my family, my children, and hopefully, my ex. I knew that my actions and my words would reflect on me. Operating from a place of honor and worth is not always easy when facing the end of your marriage.


I admit I wasn’t always on the high road — I took more than a few serious detours! But having a goal and knowing how I wanted to be seen (especially by my children) was a touchstone that I could use when facing any situation or decision that came up, and in divorce, there are many!

RELATED: 8 Steps To Divorce: Charting Your Own Course To Getting ‘Unmarried’

Here's how to end a marriage with dignity.

1. You know it’s been over for years

Chances are, your marriage has been on the rocks for some time. No one decides to end their marriage easily. It’s one that we grapple and struggle with sometimes for years. If you’re like most people, you didn’t decide on your own either — you’ve probably sought the help of family, friends, or your religious community (if you have one) or a couple’s counselor.


Marriages break down for a reason or multiple reasons. Maybe you have communication or intimacy problems. Perhaps, you don’t see things eye-to-eye and have conflicting values, desires, and needs. Maybe you’ve grown apart. Or there are substance or other abuse issues.

Whatever the reasons, if you’re reading this article, you’re at the place where you’re serious about ending your marriage. Understanding why you want to end your marriage is a helpful step toward taking action and, ultimately, healing. It helps if you are clear on what went wrong and feel confident that you have tried everything to fix or accept it.

Being clear will be helpful with your resolve and communication as you move forward with your divorce.

end marriage with dignity Photo: guitarfoto via Shutterstock


2. Start with the initial conversation

Set the stage for the ending you want to have. Choose the place and time wisely. Do you want to do it in a neutral place? Your home? Outdoors? Someplace healing?

When my ex and I were ending our marriage, some of our best talks were on a secluded bench up in the hills of our neighborhood overlooking a canyon. Being up high physically had a calming effect on both of us. We could see for miles, and it would help to shift our perspectives.

A private place is preferable unless you fear for your safety, so you may want to have the conversation in a public place or with a trusted third party. If you’ve been doing couple’s counseling, perhaps your counselor’s office would be the best place, or if you belong to a place of worship with someone there.

You can also prep for the conversation in advance with the help of a therapist or a divorce coach. You can explore what sentiments you’d like to express to come up with key points you want to communicate. And even role-play how you think the conversation will go so you may feel more confident and prepared.


RELATED: 5 Less-Obvious Reasons My Divorce Made Me So Much Happier

3. Take the time

Plan on enough time to talk. This conversation could take some time. And you don’t want to rush it. Your spouse may not want the marriage to end.

Chances are you won’t be on the same page, and this may be a huge surprise. Give your spouse the time and space to have their feelings. This could be shocking and most likely deeply upsetting.

4. Feel your grief and loss

Grief is the loss of joy. Divorce means a lot of loss: loss of your marriage, loss of your spouse, loss of your family structure, and loss of hope for your relationship’s future, for the marriage you hoped you’d have. There’s a lot to grieve here, even if you are the one initiating the divorce.


If you’re familiar with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, you will know that this means you and your spouse will go through feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes, getting stuck on one or cycling back to the beginning with an event that triggers you or your spouse.

In this initial conversation, your spouse may be in denial or go through all five emotions/stages. It’s good to be prepared for all of them, know how you will handle those emotions, and have a general idea of what you’ll say. Expect the best, and prepare for the worst.

5. Use your words

Put thought and feeling into the words you use. Take responsibility for your choice in ending the marriage. Honor what you had in your relationship and show respect for your partner.

At this point in the relationship, when things are obviously in dire straights, this may be difficult, and you may have to dig deep — going back to the beginning of the relationship for positive examples and fond feelings that you tap into. Answer your spouse’s questions honestly and with kindness.


Truth is like a sword, so be careful how you wield it. If you can, it’s best to stay calm, speak gently, and be kind — to yourself and your spouse. This is a heroic conversation and the start of a hero’s journey down the path of divorce and ending your marriage with dignity.

6. Have compassion and clarity

Most of us don’t want to hurt our partners. We’re afraid to cause them pain. But don’t run away from this conversation or the steps to ending your marriage. Be brave and face up to it. Deliver the initial news with compassion and clarity. However, take care to be honest and clear. Don’t be vague.

A person who doesn’t want a relationship to end might grasp at any straws or any ray of hope. It is easy to misinterpret what you’re saying if you’re even a little bit unclear.

If your spouse asks for an explanation or further clarification, give it, but articulate it carefully and thoughtfully. There's no need to bring up past hurts, indiscretions, or fights from years ago. Minimize any words of rejection. There’s no need to cause further emotional pain or trigger feelings of abandonment in your spouse.


How do you think your spouse will react? Is there a way that you can lessen the blow? You know your spouse better than anyone. Take care not to trigger them. Create a safe space where you both can have your feelings.

If you cannot do this on your own, or circumstances make it impossible, you may want the help of a therapist to guide the conversation and create that safe place. How you end the relationship typically sets the tone for how the divorce will progress.

RELATED: Divorce Coach Shares 4 Reasons Women Are Happier Than Men After A Marriage Ends

7. Have closure

Everyone needs closure to heal and move on. What are your reasons for wanting to end the marriage? Can you communicate with them without tearing down or insulting the other person? Can it be framed in an "I" statement?


For example: "I’m thankful for the years we’ve had together and all of the hard work we’ve put into trying to make our relationship work. But, I’m at a crossroads in life, and I’d like to take another direction. I want to end our marriage with respect, honor, and collaboration. I’d like nothing more than for us both to find happiness and joy moving forward."

After the talk, ask your spouse what they need. Then really listen. Acknowledge their feelings. Offer a few choices to provide them with a semblance of control. For example: "Would you like me to sit with or hold you while you process? Or would you like me to give you some space?"



8. Move forward

Both of you will likely need some time and space. It’s easy to be angry and overwhelmed by our emotions. And the next steps in the journey are major ones.


You’ll need to start untangling your marital lives, setting boundaries, choosing a divorce process, dividing assets, establishing support, and creating a plan for your children (if you have them). There will be much to discuss.

Relationships get more entwined the longer they’ve lasted, and unwinding a marriage takes time. It’s not an overnight process. (The divorce process can sometimes take years.)

Be patient with yourself and your spouse as you end your marriage. The courts might have a particular timeline you have to follow, outside of that, move to your rhythms. This is your divorce.

Starting with the initial conversation about how to end your marriage with dignity and continuing on each step of the process, acting with dignity will serve you well and put you firmly on a path to forgiveness, gratitude, deep understanding, compassion, and joy as you establish your new lives apart.


RELATED: If You Want To Get Over The Heartbreak Of Divorce, You Need To Learn How To Find Yourself

Kira Gould is a certified divorce coach specializing in working with women who would like to get married with clarity, compassion, and positive intentions.