Guilt takes many forms before, during, and after divorce. You may feel guilty about a specific instance, or maybe it is just a nagging feeling that takes over your life and threatens your happiness. It weighs you down and has you over analyze every decision, every detail, until you are so exhausted that you cannot move forward.
Guilt occurs because you feel you did something wrong. But what is wrong about ending an unhappy marriage?
Even though it is a tiring, difficult process, the decision to end your marriage is not wrong. It can actually be the healthiest outcome for you, your ex, and your children.
Where does divorce guilt come from?
Deciding to end an unhappy, unfulfilling, or unhealthy marriage is often in the best interests of the family. However, it is likely that each family member experiences guilt, and it materializes in different ways. For example,
Spouses’ guilt can manifest from breaking a commitment that they vowed to keep. Even though no single person is at fault and they agreed to end the marriage, they may feel guilty over what might have been.
Parents feel guilt as they worry about the impact that the divorce has had on their children. When couples decide to have children, they take on two identities: spouse and parent. Losing one of these identities can stir up many negative feelings, and parents may question if they are acting in the best interests of their children.
Children are also likely to feel the effects of divorce guilt. Although irrational, children may feel that they are at fault for their parents’ divorce. They could believe that maybe if they behaved better, or if they had done something differently, their parents would not divorce.
You are likely to experience a wide range of emotions during divorce. Anger, grief, and guilt to name a few. These emotions, although temporary, are valid and necessary to help you process the situation, but they do not reflect the truth. Even though you feel guilt right now, there are ways to overcome it.
Here Are 3 Tools For Overcoming Divorce Guilt
Overcoming guilt starts with forgiveness. You use forgiveness all the time; at home, at work, even when the barista messes up your coffee order. Why not extend the same kindness to yourself? It is important to realize that healing from divorce cannot start until you forgive yourself.
Accepting responsibility for your own wrongdoings is a good first step in the healing process, but constantly beating yourself about what happened in the past will not change it, nor is it helpful. You can get out of this fixed mindset by changing the way you talk about divorce. For example, instead of saying:
I feel guilty because I should have realized something was wrong in our marriage sooner.
Try, it takes two for a relationship to work. I did my best at the time and I am proud of myself.
Another important part of forgiveness is letting go. Let go of the image you once had of your future because change is inevitable. Realize that you have no control over your ex’s actions either. Letting go of the past is difficult, but you will not be able to move forward if you are still trying to live in the past.
The best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to be honest about your emotions. Speaking with trusted friends and family can help you process your divorce. You may be trying for what seems like forever to come up with a solution for your guilt, but a few minutes with someone who cares about you can help tremendously.
Expressing your feelings openly and honestly is usually a positive thing, but it is important to tread carefully around your children. This does not mean suppress your emotions around your children, but do be careful about the messages you are sending them. Deal with your divorce guilt away from them. It is not fair for children to carry the weight of their parent’s guilt, and doing so may confuse them, which will hurt their emotional development.
If your children are ready for it, have an honest conversation with them about your feelings. Let them know that it is ok to feel pain about their parents’ separation, but the decision was ultimately made for the whole family’s benefit.
At the end of the day, everyone wants to know that they will be ok. When you feel overwhelmed by feelings of guilt, take some time to remind yourself that your decision to end your marriage was a healthy one. Rather than trying to fight the guilt all the time, try embracing the positive aspects of your decision. For example, you can now pursue interests that you did not previously have time for. Think of divorce guilt as collateral - something that has to be endured in exchange for creating a healthier, happier life for yourself and your family.
You should also use this time as an opportunity to give your children reassurance as well. Remember that they are likely to feel guilt as a result of their parents’ divorce. Let them know that they have the unconditional love and support of both of their parents, and that divorce cannot change that.
Guilt, like all emotions, is temporary. With these 3 tools you can recognize this as you move forward and overcome your divorce guilt.