Do You Have Divorce Guilt? Stop This Right Now!

divorce guilt

By Jackie Pilossoph, Creator and Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling site, podcast and app, Love Essentially columnist and author

From a DGS reader: Feel ALL the guilt today. My body physically hurts. My temples feel bruised from tension. We made the divorce official and told friends and family. We’re still living together until the end of the school year. This divorce guilt is killing me. He’s broken to pieces about our split. I hate seeing him in so much pain.

My advice:

The first thing I want to ask is, where is your guilt coming from? Do you feel like you did something wrong? Do you feel like you should be staying with your husband because that’s what HE wants? Do you secretly feel excited about the chance for a new and better life for yourself?

I don’t know your situation, but I have to believe that you did not want to end up divorced when you got married. So, you probably tried to fix and/or save your marriage. In other words, I don’t think you just woke up one day and said, “I don’t want to be married anymore.” I have to believe that you have been very unhappy and in pain for a long, long time. Divorce was probably your last option.

 

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So, all that said, why the divorce guilt? What is there to be guilty about? By initiating the divorce, you are not only helping yourself, but you are helping your husband have a better life because who wants to be married to someone who doesn’t want to be married to them? And, you are also helping your children. What kind of example would you be setting for your kids if you stayed together in a toxic, unhappy relationship? They might have ended up in the same pattern when they got older.

Here’s the thing about divorce guilt (or any guilt, in general): guilt is an emotion that is a huge waste of time and energy. Guilt sucks the life out of people and just makes them feel badly about themselves.

Feeling guilty is like punishing yourself. Is that what you want to do? Punish yourself for trying to be happier in life?

 

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Guilt can also cause stress and anxiety, which can lead to physical symptoms, such as stomach issues, depression, etc. I personally experienced guilt leading to health issues. I was in an unhappy relationship and wouldn’t end it because I felt so incredibly guilty.

I ended up having so much stomach pain that I had to have all these tests. I lost a lot of weight because I couldn’t even eat. The test came back that I had inflammation of the stomach lining due to stress. I ended the relationship and guess what? The stomach pain went away!

 

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Here are some reasons people might experience divorce guilt:

1. They are now engaged in a parenting plan, so they have some days/nights without their kids, and secretly they enjoy the time off.

2. They feel guilty for feeling happier and relieved that they pulled the plug and started the divorce process.

3. Let’s say their kid has a game and they have to miss it because of work. They feel incredibly guilty, but if they were still married, they wouldn’t feel guilty at all!

4. They feel guilty every time their child cries, even if it has nothing to do with the divorce (which in most cases it doesn’t.)

5. They feel guilty if the child asks for something and they don’t give it to them. (Saying “no” to a child becomes much more difficult and children of divorce sometimes end up really spoiled.)

6. They are secretly excited about the prospect of finding love again, because maybe it’s too soon to be having these thoughts.

I’m not really sure why people getting divorced engage in divorce guilt. I did it myself, and I regret it. It’s OK to want to be happy, to feel like you deserve to have a life you love.

Here are some reasons you SHOULD have divorce guilt:

1. You are badmouthing your ex to your kids.
2. You are making things difficult for your ex, regarding payments or scheduling changes, etc. (because that ultimately hurts the kids.)
3. You are rude to your ex (or give him or her the silent treatment) in front of your kids.
4. You are fighting with your ex in front of the Children.
5. You are bringing multiple boyfriends (or girlfriends) around your kids and letting them sleep over.

and the biggest one:

6. you are taking out your guilt on your soon-to-be ex spouse! I see this so often. A man or woman leaves their spouse and then instead of recognizing their own guilt, they take it out on the spouse, almost as if they are enraged at the person.  Who they are really enraged at is themselves, and they are trying to get rid of the guilt they feel by shifting the blame to the other person.

 

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So, if you are aren’t doing any of these things, LOSE THE DIVORCE GUILT and start enjoying your life!

My advice to this reader about her divorce guilt is to sit her soon-to-be ex down (if she hasn’t already) and talk to him. Explain that she is very sorry but this is the decision she has made, and that she will do her best to make things as easy as possible for him.

Also, every time she feels divorce guilt, she should shift her thinking to: I am doing what I think is best for all of us. She should write down all the reasons she thinks divorce is the best option and then read them every time she starts feeling guilty.

Lastly, being divorced doesn’t mean abandoning your ex. If this woman’s husband needs her (even after the divorce) for anything, she can be there for him. Getting divorced doesn’t mean you aren’t a family anymore, especially if you have kids.

I’m sure her decision to divorce did not come quickly or lightly. But while she can still be there to help her husband through the divorce, she also needs to be there for herself. She’s probably in a lot of pain, too. Here’s a thought: Maybe she’s focusing on his pain so she doesn’t have to think about hers.

One thing is certain. The divorce guilt needs to stop right now. It is unproductive, and breeds negative energy, with bad physical and emotional side effects.

 

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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorced Girl Smiling is here to empower, connect and inspire you. Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling, the site, the podcast and the app. A former television journalist and newspaper features reporter, Pilossoph is also the author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

23 Responses to “Do You Have Divorce Guilt? Stop This Right Now!”

  1. Stacy

    There are so many other reasons why I feel guilty 2 years post divorce. Number one… Not having a traditional family unit for my kids who I might add are 22 and 18 now. I just need to know how to free myself of the guilt and allow myself to be happy.

    Reply
    • Jackie Pilossoph

      Don’t you love yourself? If you don’t, you need to find out how to get to that place. People who have self-love don’t have that guilt. So, how can you get there? Maybe therapy. Maybe the support of friends? Maybe talk to your children and don’t apologize for the divorce, but apologize that they had to have divorced parents? That might relieve some of the guilt. I’m not an expert, just a divorced person. I do get your guilt. It’s not that I don’t understand it. I do. But life is short. Don’t waste it on guilt! You deserve to be happy

      Reply
  2. Toni

    @Jackie Pilossoph, thank you so much for your “in your face” advice. I needed this. I am divorcing an abusive husband and I felt guilty because I felt embarrassed and responsible. NO MORE!!! Thank you so much.

    Reply
  3. Sarah

    What about divorced people, like me, who don’t have any kids? What about the guilt of feeling like you are cheating on your first husband with your new fiance? What about wondering if you were wrong to leave, if it was half your fault, not just his? If I should have tried harder. Even though everyone told me when we were together that he was a mean frightening man and thought I should leave him for my safety and emotional well being, but I knew why he was the way he was and I promised in my vows to love him in sickness and in health, and shouldn’t mental sickness count? My new fiance is from a culture where people only ever love and get married once, and my sister says she wouldn’t date someone who had been divorced because she coouldn’t trust someone who already made the same promise to someone else and broke it. What about all the things we have done together? Lots of things bring back memories. How to move on? I left my husband. I still love him but I can’t be with him anymore.

    Reply
    • JD

      It sounds like you already know why you feel guilty. You made a lifelong vow to someone, and you broke it. You won’t find any answers to how to deal with the guilt here…this is just amateur psychology along the lines of “ignorance is bliss.” Regardless of your husbands problems, you vowed “for better or worse.” I’m sure you had your own issues because in fact you are an imperfect person just like your ex-husband is. If you really want answers, turn to the God of the Bible. Do not put your faith in other people, such as this blogster. God gives us guilt for a reason, so we can learn and grow and become more like Him. If you feel guilt, first ask God for forgiveness, and then ask your husband.

      Reply
  4. Dee

    ^ Sarah I’m feeling the same thing and it’s crippling and even making me physically ill I’ve just found out after a trip to the doctor 🙁 no kids & I don’t have someone else, but I feel awful for my husband although he never was a good partner to me and probably never could be since people don’t change. I still love him, but like you said, we can’t be together and be happy; it was a not a healthy successful relationship/partnership and it hurts a lot, I feel constant guilt (when I’m not feeling anger towards him).

    Reply
  5. Stephanie (@MakingMyOwnSun)

    I agree with Sarah and Dee. Not everyone who gets divorced has kids and just because we didn’t doesn’t make this any easier. He asked for it, its been 8 months and I feel guilty that when I think of dating, I think of him! Or hey, when I think about one day maybe just maybe remarrying, well I certainly don’t want to ask my friends to come to another wedding. They’ll already attended my first one. Nevermind the worries and concerns when it comes to eventually dating. If I ever decide to let myself open up again. There is so much more to divorce than those with kids and neither side is easier. I wish you had acknowledged those with no kids and / or grown kids too.

    Reply
  6. divorcee

    It’s been three years for me and I constantly feel guilt. I left after 15 years together. I refused to let my daughter think that it’s ok for mommy and daddy to fight, to not speak for days. We tried counseling, I wasn’t allowed to tell the counselor “real things” that were bothering me. I know we weren’t good together and it wasn’t a healthy environment for my daughter. Now, three years later, I remarried, had another baby and the guilt is even worse. She has been the only child for 7 years. We share custody 50/50. I agreed to it because I know my daughter needs her father just as much as she needs me and here I still cry when she isn’t there, when she leaves for a holiday with her father. If I do something with the baby, I feel guilt because she’s not there enjoying it with us. Guilt and sadness seem to be the only emotions I know. I don’t regret giving my daughter a better life. I’m a firm believer happy parents make happy children but I can’t stop feeling bad for her and she seems perfectly fine. ANY SUGGESTIONS??

    Reply
  7. Caroline

    Sometimes i need to remind myself that at the end of the day, meaning more like the last years of my life… what is going to matter? That i was happy, that my kids are okay and i lived my life honestly and was honest with myself.

    Reply
  8. Hope

    ^^I’m experiencing severe guilt because of initiating a divorce, as well. No kids. 4 years together. I was really neglected in the relationship… emotionally, it was very one-sided. No passion. No sex. No excitement. I tried to express my needs for years, and no action was ever taken to try and alleviate our problems. I ended up having an affair, but the affair turned out to be the best, most beautiful and exciting thing to ever happen to me. I’m still with the person I had an affair with. My ex, however, is very depressed… not doing well… and recently found out that they might even have a rare form of blood cancer!!! My ex has NO family and FEW friends to be supportive… The guilt is eating me ALIVE. It’s also affecting my new relationship because I’ve been honest about not being able to get over my guilt. I don’t know what to do…

    Reply
  9. Jonathan K

    I feel guilty for not trying harder to win back my wife’s affection. When I found out she cheated I simply got very angry and spiteful and after she filed for divorce and was dating a married VP at her work I told her I knew about it and she broke it off out of guilt. And when I was hospitalized for suicidal depression, I didn’t think of how ashamed she would be to have a husband who was depressed. And when I got angry at her for cheating in Las Vegas during a bachelorette party, I did not think about how Las Vegas is outside the bounds of marriage and how Girls will be Girls, and I should have known when I married a hot party girl that she’d be like this and…

    Okay, this is all tongue and cheek. I was married to a passive aggressive, work-obsessed woman who cheated on me and filed for divorce. I was so sad and guilty because all I did was work on my own things and she felt neglected, but the truth is, no one put a gun to her head and told her to cheat, and I used that knowledge to absolve myself of guilt, and now I am a tall sexy divorced father of two living in LA surrounded by beautiful women who won’t cheat on me and will be supportive of my dreams.

    It’s ok. We get second chances in life. Guilt is fleeting. Divorce is forever.

    Reply
  10. Laura

    I’m currently going through the thinking process of divorce. I have decided many times to divorce and have separated but it’s not the conventional separation. He still comes to mine every day and I have to go to his because of our daughter. He was a good guy but we lost focus on our marriage a while ago. He became obsessed with working to provide secure finances for our daughter and I also worked full time. I tried to talk to him several times that this isn’t good, that I also have the capacity to earn and he should cut down because it’s not good for him. Always stressed, got short if I asked for help at home etc.

    Without realised I ended up in an emotional affair….the guy listened but more importantly asked! I’ve never had that! But obviously that all blew n Guilt surmounted but I couldn’t love my husband. After this I have 6 months of verbal abuse saying how worthless I am etc. I feel drained all the time. I really wish to leave but he says blood will be on the floor before I get a divorce. The counsellor says I have a week to decide even though I have said many times I want a divorce…but as my husband is saying an absolute no, she thinks I should think harder and give better reasons than I don’t love him.

    My head hurts. In my culture this is not done. As my sister said the whole point of marriage is that you put yourself at the bottom of the lowest pit and lie there…family comes first and find your happiness in that.

    Reply
  11. GG

    I’m married for 8 years with no kids. I also feel some guilt and sadness for my wife. I initiate the separation. although not yet got an official divorce, but we agreed on it. she is in fact suggested to get an official divorce. I was neglected in the relationship. and there is no good communication between us. I also wanted to have kids, but she never took that seriously. She also couldn’t understand me and she got upset over simple differences. For example if I don’t believe in souls, she gets upset. She ask me to do things that I don’t believe in, I did. but anything I asks her, she doesn’t care. She doesn’t care much about the house. I believe that we both should take care of the house, cleaning, improving. but she not only rarely do any of these. but she causes mess and throw her things around and doesn’t want to follow any rule to make our life easier. I have expressed many times the problems and wanted to find a solution. I even told her that I can’t continue living like this and someday I might give up, and if that happens there is no second chance. she ignored all that . I don’t think our problems can be solved. I don’t think she will ever change. and I gave up.
    After separating, I met a wonderful woman. I didn’t hide that from her. I feel guilty for moving too quickly. I feel guilty that she feels sad and hurt. but I know it’s the right thing.

    Reply
    • Barry

      You did the right thing. Never question what you did. Happiness is where we find it. And, only each person can make themselves happy. If you met someone who is wonderful, go for it! Life is very short

      Reply
  12. NoHope

    My wife just left me and I know she feels no guilt and that hurts. I was not a bad person, and I know I could have changed. She never even gave me the opportunity too, she never communicated how she felt as she had already given up.
    I would have done anything and changed anything if she would have just talked to me.
    She has already started seeing someone that she met before she left me, and I know she is already happier. I could have given that to her. I was so stuck in how we were going to build our future that I lost sight of the present.
    I feel so sad and guilty, I thought she was the one. I loved her with all I had. Whenever I tried to talk to her about our problems, she just shut down.
    I miss her so much and all I can find is 40 something woman blogs that tell women why it’s ok to leave their partners. People can and do change, leaving is not always the right thing as love takes hard work and communication.
    It’s too late now, and I have no hope of recovery. I know I lost the best thing that has ever happened. She should feel guilty, she should feel guilty for not communicating and working on it and just giving up!

    We are separating amicably. I don’t want to make this difficult for her, and I want nothing than for her to be happy even though it has cost me mine.

    Reply
  13. Rebecca

    My son is three years old and his father and I are recently separated. I not only feel guilt for not spending every night with my young child but an immense amount of pain. At first, a little break was nice. However, now it just feels wrong to be away from him. It breaks my heart. I hope I find the strength to allow things to get better but I just can’t imagine how they will. I can’t wrap my head around missing so many days out of my sons childhood. How do mothers cope with this? I have even considered going back to his father just to be a family and be with my son everyday. He has a good father and he was a loyal partner and very good in many respects but I just was not happy. I never considered leaving him until I had a dream and someone told me the best mother I could be was a happy one…so that dream gave me the courage to leave. And yet I can’t bare the pain of missing him. It’s just really sad and the hardest part of separation.

    Reply
  14. Rev

    Hi Laura,

    Did you ever file for divorce? I feel the same way as you felt and was wondering what did you decide to do?? How are you now?

    Reply
  15. John stevens

    How do I not feel guilty when my less responsible ex asks for money in addition to the court payments to pay rent where my child lives most of the time or to sign for a new apt since her credit is trashed? I want to take care of my child but I have to protect myself too.

    Reply
    • Jackie Pilossoph

      Have you ever thought of asking the courts to pay her rent directly? (so that you know the money is going toward the rent and not other things?) I have known people who have done that.

      Reply
  16. Harvey Rickard Jr

    I feel guilty because I neglected and took my ex for granted and now she is with some else and it hurts. I should have taken her places now it will never happen

    Reply
  17. Sara

    My husband of 12 years came home one day asking for a divorce. We had an 11 year old and 2 year old at the time. We had also had a stillborn baby 3 years prior and I believe the grief was too much. I immediately remarried and have been married for 4 years. I feel SO much guilt over everything…even years later. My ex is a part of my boys’ lives. My new husband is an angry person and I think I got sucked into everything because I was looking to “feel” good. But things quickly changed. I feel stuck and I feel like if I leave my current husband I will be hurting my children AGAIN.

    Reply
    • Jackie Pilossoph

      I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine the difficulty you have faced. Cut yourself some slack. You did what you did to cope with what happened. So you made a mistake. So what? After the death of your baby, a divorce from this guy might not even seem like a huge deal. You will hurt your children worse if you stay with someone who is angry and doesn’t treat you well. just saying. You deserve to feel good for the rest of your life–whatever it takes, and being in a bad relationship isn’t going to do that for you. I”m not saying jump ship and give up the second there are problems, but if your gut tells you it’s wrong, then it probably is. I wish you all the best.

      Reply

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