I got an email from a reader who explained that she is going through a divorce, and that the divorce was HER decision. She asked me if I could give her some advice for a woman in her situation. In other words, how does one deal with the immense guilt of leaving your husband, when HE didn’t want the divorce? (or didn’t know it was coming.)
“I feel like most things I read are about a women who feels like a victim in the beginning, and who comes out stronger eventually,” she wrote.
Here’s where I started to get really empathetic.
“It would be so much easier if I could stamp him as a cheater, alcoholic, slacker, loser, abuser. But I can’t! He has been a good father to our kids, a loyal husband as far as I know, and a good provider for our family. I am in therapy for all the feelings including guilt. The fact is, this has hurt him and ripped his heart out (those were his words).”
I have a few thoughts about this woman’s situation.
First, the fact that she has fessed up like this, admitted what’s really going on, taken responsibility for what she’s done, and is seeking a therapist’s help puts her so far ahead of the game when it comes to healing.
In lots of cases like this, I see both men and women who take the guilt they have about leaving their spouse, and spin it. What I mean is, they somehow start to blame the other person, and then become angry at the other person, and then they turn into a nightmare for that person by being cruel and vicious. What they are really doing is taking the hatred they have for themselves and putting it on the other person to try to alleviate their own guilt.
Here’s an example. I know this woman who left her husband for another man. She had an affair, and then asked the husband for a divorce. I am by NO MEANS judging her for doing that, because I have no idea what her marriage was like. BUT, I can tell you the day I started judging her. I heard her say to a group of women, “I’m just the bitch who left him.” She then began to giggle and laugh and roll her eyes. She reminded me of a high-school mean girl.
If I’d heard her say “What I did was selfish. I know that. It wasn’t good for my ex-husband and it wasn’t good for my child, but it was good for me. That’s something I have to live with. I feel badly about it. But, I fell in love with someone else and it seemed right. I will always feel guilty and somewhat shameful for what I did, but I will always do my best to be a great mother, and as good of an ex-wife as I can possibly be, because my ex deserves that.” If I had heard her say this, I would have no issues with her. Trust me, there’s more to the story that makes me really dislike this person, but the point is, she will never really be able to heal, because she hasn’t acted like an adult and really owned up to what she did. She isn’t being honest with herself like my reader is. That’s the difference.
When I got divorced, it was initially my decision. Here is what I was feeling:
GUILT: It’s an awful feeling to live with. Even if your husband has some serious flaws, perhaps there’s an obvious deal breaker. Abuse, cheating, drinking…Whatever it is, if your husband didn’t want a divorce, and you did, you will probably still feel incredibly guilty for a long time.
And, guess what guilt makes you do? It makes you walk on eggshells, and try to be as nice as you can. Guess what? He doesn’t want to be your friend. Ever. Accept that. There are exceptions, but they’re far and few between.
Guilt can also make you settle financially in your divorce in a way you wouldn’t have settled had it been the other way around. You might accept less child support, give him the house, do whatever it takes monetarily to appease your guilt. And it won’t work. You’ll still feel guilty.
Guilt can also make you hate yourself, which is so totally unhealthy. Please get help if you feel guilty and it isn’t going away. You have to find a way to get rid of the guilt and regain self-love. Otherwise, you will never be able to move on.
Here’s the reason you shouldn’t feel guilty. First of all, if your ex wasn’t a good husband, if he cheated or drank a lot, or was abusive, or had a drug problem, then you should feel SMART not GUILTY that you ended it before things got really bad.
Leaving someone takes guts. Be proud that you are doing what’s right for your children and yourself, and that you left and didn’t take the easy way out by staying, maybe because he has money, or because it was comfortable.
Regarding my reader who refers to her ex as “a good father to our kids, a loyal husband as far as I know, and a good provider for our family,” here’s what I want to say to her.
No one can control how they feel. A woman could have the best husband in the world, and if someday they drift apart, or one of them changes, and the woman decides to leave, whether it’s for another man or not, then that’s what it is. It’s not a pretty situation, but it is life. It happens. HOW she handles it is very key.
Also, does your husband really deserve to be with a woman who doesn’t love him anymore? Doesn’t he deserve better? Your leaving him opens the door for him to possibly find love with a woman who appreciates him and wants him.
And lastly, just because it was YOUR decision, that doesn’t mean you aren’t hurting just as much as he is.
I remember feeling like just because it was technically my decision, maybe I didn’t have the right to feel hurt. Maybe I wasn’t allowed to miss him, or to grieve or cry or be upset. It was as if someone was always in my ear saying, “Well, this is what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Leaving someone is never an easy decision. I’m sure that women who leave their husbands, (even the girl I can’t stand) agonize over the decision, and go back and forth a million times before actually doing it.
I have a dear friend whose husband blindsided her, and left her for another woman who he married two minutes after the divorce was final. I have said to her often, “Sometimes I feel like you are lucky because you didn’t have a say in this.” Sometimes it’s easier to be the dumpee versus the dumper. When something happens to you, you have no control. So, there’s no guilt.
In closing, divorce is very painful for both people, regardless of who left who. There’s really no way around that. But in the end, what ends up happening is, no one really remembers who left who. It doesn’t really matter, does it? All that is of significance is how the two people live their lives from that point on, and how they treat each other after the divorce, especially when it comes to the kids.