Feeling guilty because you ended it?

divorce healing Dec 21, 2020

According to the CDC© about 25% of clients seeking a divorce coach throughout the U.S. & Canada are considering divorce and haven’t filed yet.  Those clients commonly ask me, how do I know when I’m done trying to work on this?  Spoiler alert: Only you can answer that question.  With these clients in the consideration phase, I also hear a tremendous sense of guilt as they describe their marriage. 

 

Guilt she’s considering ending the marriage.

Guilt she didn’t do more/better/different trying to fix it.

Guilt she found comfort outside the marriage.

Guilt she doesn’t love him anymore.

Guilt she’s even in the situation.

 

The feelings of guilt, while perfectly normal, are not good motivators for positive action or a better life on the other side of divorce.

 

The day you got married to your spouse, you probably stood up in front of family and friends and professed that you would, above all else, prioritize making the marriage the highest priority in your lives.  I’ve done it twice, and both times I stood up either on an altar or on a platform and told my soon-to-be-husband the same.  And you know what, I was never more certain about anything in my life both times I professed those vows.  For me, the second marriage also came with three stepchildren, and I said vows to them too, with all my heart. 

 

Fast forward and you may be at the point where you’ve been married one year, five, or even 15 or 25 years and you’re looking at your spouse wondering how you each evolved into the people you are without the marriage working as well as it once did.  First, this is common, and no matter the reason, if you are sure in your heart, body, and soul that there is nothing else you can do to make this marriage work, just know it’s going to be OK. 

 

I had to decide to end both of my marriages due to what I think were extenuating circumstances which would have made it nearly impossible to stay in either marriage as a healthy individual.  And even though I knew I couldn’t stay, I still felt incredible guilt for ending each marriage.  The guilt hit me from all angles – religious guilt, personal feeling of giving up, losing self-respect, and more.

 

If you are struggling with guilt because you are a strong woman who realized you cannot live your best life with your spouse any longer, remember you are not alone.  Strong relationships aren’t built in the absence of mistakes, they’re built in the wake of how those mistakes are handled by both parties.  Try to release any notions that you didn’t try hard enough, do the right things, or say what you should have in order for the marriage to work.  I believe we all do the best we can with what we’re handed at any given time. 

 

I have a client who told me her husband of nine years refuses to go to therapy and work on things.  She says she feels guilty for having a relationship outside of the marriage after years of their marriage being unfulfilling to both of them.  Many of us will say we understand her guilt, it makes perfect sense.  This client has come to see that her outside relationship is merely a symptom of a larger problem in her marriage.  She didn’t go out seeking it, she didn’t try to hurt her husband, and although she says she would have done things differently now, she has released her guilt from the past so she can look forward. 

 

Guilt is not a good motivator.  At best, guilt will help you look backwards and realize you could have done something differently in your marriage, separation, divorce, etc.  When you look back at the things that make you feel guilty, remember that guilt doesn’t serve you moving forward.  Try to release the guilt.  I share this technique often because it really works: Pretend you are exhaling your feelings into a helium balloon on a string.  Breathe in deeply, and then fill that balloon with those feelings.  (My balloon is usually red, but you can choose whatever color you like to imagine.)  After a few moments, see yourself walking outside and gently letting go of the balloon string.  Watch the guilt balloon gently float away.  Say this to yourself three times: I did the best I could. 

 

On a final note, because I’m talking about clients considering divorce and not yet in the legal process, if you think there’s still hope to work on it and your spouse is willing to do the same, contact a therapist (ask me for a reference if you need one!) or pick up a copy of any book from John Gottman.  Marriages can not only survive but also thrive after all kinds of issues including breach of trust, growing apart, and much more.  It takes a lot of work to get things back on track and it also takes both people to be ready and willing to do the work.  I advocate for doing what you, and only you, know is best.

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