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 for Divorce Guilt:
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, and so that is causing you to feel guilty?
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.
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?
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?
If you feel like you are a good person and you are behaving in an ethical way, in a kind way, and you truly aren’t divorcing with malicious or other negative motives, then what do you really have to feel guilty about? Nothing.
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 a bunch of 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!
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, and feel guilty 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.
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.