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Is a Divorce Guilt Trip Keeping You From Enjoying Your Life?

Are You Ready for Divorce?

TAKE THIS QUIZ and Find Out. 

You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, and on some level, you hate yourself. You can’t stop thinking about how you destroyed your family, ruined your kids’ lives, and caused your entire world to come crashing down. If any of that describes how you’re feeling about yourself these days, chances are you’re on a divorce guilt trip.

What is Guilt?  

Guilt is the emotion you feel when you believe (accurately or not!) that you have done something that violates either your own standard of conduct, or violates a universal moral standard of conduct.

When you’re guilty you feel a sense of regret for something you’ve done. Or you may regret NOT DOING something you think you should have done. You can even feel guilty about something that was entirely not your fault and out of your control. (For example, people who have survived tragedies when others around them died often feel survivor’s guilt.)

The key to guilt lies in your belief about what’s right and wrong.

If you believe that you’ve done something wrong, you feel guilty. If you don’t believe you’ve done anything wrong, you don’t. That’s true even if your action was exactly the same in both circumstances.

It’s your BELIEF, not your ACTION, that causes guilt.

In the context of divorce then, if you were the one who decided to divorce chances are that you felt (or still feel!) guilty about it. That’s because when you got married you made a promise to stay married “’til death do us part.”

Most people take their marriage vows very seriously.

If your marriage is ending, and you’re still alive, you believe you broke your vow. That makes you feel guilty.

And if you believe that your actions caused the divorce (perhaps by having an affair, or “tuning out” of your marriage), then you REALLY feel guilty! That’s often usually when your guilt morphs into shame.

Upset young woman holds her head as lots of fingers point at her.

Guilt v. Shame

A lot of people confuse guilt with shame. They are not the same thing.

Both guilt and shame are associated with feelings of regret. But the difference is that guilt is the feeling that you DID something wrong.

Shame is the feeling that you ARE wrong.

Shame and guilt often go hand in hand. You may feel ashamed AND guilty about ending your marriage. But the feeling of shame goes so much deeper than guilt.

When you feel shame, you feel like you’re bad, wrong, or unworthy of being loved as a human.

Shame cuts directly to the core of who you are. It makes you feel like you’re “not enough.” What’s worse, shame can make you feel like you’ll never be enough.

While guilt and shame are both negative emotions, guilt can have an upside.

For example, when you hurt someone or cause a problem that you could have avoided, your guilt may prompt you to make amends. In that sense, guilt is a social regulator. It acts with your conscience and makes you feel bad when you do something you shouldn’t have done.

That kind of guilt isn’t a bad thing.

When your guilt is proportional to your actions, it’s actually healthy.

The problem arises when your guilt is either out-of-proportion to your actions, or when it lasts for way too long. When that happens, or when you feel guilty over something that wasn’t actually your fault and that you couldn’t control, your guilt is unhealthy.

Unlike guilt, however, shame has no upside. There is no such thing as “healthy” shame.

As shame researcher Dr. Brené Brown notes, guilt can be adaptive and helpful. Shame, however, is primarily destructive. What’s more, shame is often a tool your ex uses to put you on a divorce guilt trip.

Your Divorce Guilt Trip

“Guilt trips” are more than just guilty feelings.

Guilt trips are a form of coercion or psychological manipulation. They are designed to make you feel bad.

Guilt trips are usually inflicted on you by someone who is using guilt as a weapon to get you to do what s/he wants you to do – or feel bad about yourself for not doing it! The person who’s inflicting the guilt trip generally knows exactly what s/he is doing.

Guilt trips don’t happen by accident.

For example, if you’re divorcing a narcissist, you probably have been on the receiving end of more than one guilt trip during your divorce!

Even if you’re not divorcing a narcissist though, your spouse may have tried to put you on a divorce guilt trip anyway. That’s because guilt is commonly used in our society to get people to do what we want them to do. Since divorce rarely brings out the best in anyone, spouses often try to manipulate and hurt each other by “guilting” them both during and after their divorce.

Yet, just because spouses use divorce guilt as a tool to get their way, that doesn’t mean that “guilting” someone is healthy.

The problem is that, in divorce, your spouse and his/her family aren’t the only ones using guilt as a weapon. More times than not YOU are the one who’s putting yourself on a guilt trip by what you believe and what you take on.

Sad woman on a divorce guilt trip sitting against a brick wall.

The Self-Imposed Divorce Guilt Trip

When someone tries to guilt you into doing something, you usually feel it. On some level you KNOW (or at least suspect!) that you’re being manipulated.

But when you are BOTH the manipulator AND the manipulated, you’re often blind to what’s happening.

What’s worse, because you’re guilting yourself, you feel like everything is “your fault.”

That kind of guilt generally leads to shame. It destroys your sense of self-worth. It makes you feel small.

The trouble is that when you're guilting yourself you may not even realize that YOU are making yourself feel bad! You also don't believe you can change.  You think you're stuck.

You're not. 

That's not to say that dealing with your guilt at the end of your marriage will be easy. If you had an affair, or neglected your marriage for way too long, the guilt you feel over ending your marriage can be crippling.

The same thing can also be true even if you didn’t do anything “wrong.” Sometimes you feel more guilty when you decided to divorce simply because you were tired of being unhappy all the time!

No matter what the cause of your divorce guilt is, the key to dealing with it effectively is to find a way to acknowledge your guilt, then let it go.

Like so many other things in life, though, that’s easier said than done.

Word "Guilt" carved out ofwood

5 Tips for How to Let Go of Your Divorce Guilt and Move On

1. Admit that You’re Human 

A huge part of the reason we feel guilty in divorce is because we haven’t lived up to our own moral code. We expect ourselves to be perfect.

Yet human beings, by definition, aren’t perfect!

We all make mistakes! We all do stupid stuff from time to time.

Beating yourself up from now until eternity for making a bad decision or doing something you now regret is NOT helpful! As a matter of fact, putting yourself on that kind of a divorce guilt trip ultimately hurts – not only you – but your kids, your spouse, and every other person you ever get in a relationship with!

Yes, you need to acknowledge your mistakes. Yes, you should learn from your mistakes and not make them again.

But there’s a big difference between using your guilt to improve your behavior in the future and using it to keep you focused on the pain of the past. Keeping yourself in a state of misery and shame will not only destroy your marriage. It will destroy your life.

2. Apologize and Make Amends

If your behavior led to the demise of your marriage, take responsibility for what you did!

Admit it. Apologize for it. … I mean REALLY apologize for it!

An effective apology requires you to do four things:

  • Accept responsibility for what you did. Don’t try to make what you did less important by pointing out that your spouse did bad things, too. If you screwed up, just admit it.
  • Express genuine remorse for what you did. Let your spouse know you understand what you did and that you’re sorry for hurting him/her. There’s a BIG difference between saying “I know I hurt you and I’m truly sorry,” and saying, “I’m sorry you feel bad.” The first expresses genuine remorse. The second is a cop out.
  • Make amends if you can. There are some mistakes that can’t be fixed. If you had an affair, and the trust in your marriage is gone, you may not be able to get it back. But, if your spouse is open to trying, and both of you want to save your marriage, then do that! Go to marriage counseling. Go to therapy. Do your best to make up for your mistakes.
  • Take steps to change your behavior. Apologizing without changing your behavior is meaningless. When you change your behavior, you demonstrate that you’ve actually learned from your mistakes. It’s the only way you can truly grow.
  • (NOTE: Just because you apologize, that doesn’t mean your spouse will accept your apology. It also doesn’t mean that your marriage will magically be put back together again. But when you dig down deep and apologize from the depths of your being you will have done everything you can do to make amends! That’s all you can do. What happens after that is out of your control.)

3. Forgive Yourself

Of all the steps that will help you get off your divorce guilt trip, forgiving yourself is by far the hardest. That’s because we’re all hardest on ourselves.

So, it often helps to do a little role-playing in your head.

Imagine for a moment that YOU weren’t the one who screwed up. Imagine that it was your child, or your parent, or someone you loved deeply who made the mistake that you made.

How would you treat them?

Would you scream at them and embarrass them and go out of your way to make them feel worse? Or would you do your best to treat them with love and compassion no matter what they did or how badly you were hurt?

That’s how you need to treat yourself.

Remember that you are NOT your mistakes! You’re more than your mistakes and you’re more than your divorce.

Whether you believe it or not at the moment, you are an amazing and wonderful human being. You deserve to be loved simply because you are human. Period.

Large man pointing a finger at a smaller version of himself. The little guy is looking down, ashamed.

4. Learn from Your Mistakes

Apologizing and forgiving yourself is all well and good. But if you keep repeating the same mistakes, forgiveness is going to become harder and harder.

So, how do you learn from your mistakes?

You start by accepting them. That means doing all the things we’ve already talked about, like admitting you’re human and doing your best to apologize and make amends. It also means being willing to stop obsessing about everything you did wrong and focus instead on what you’re going to do right from now on.

Contrary to what you might think, ruminating over the past won’t help you learn from your mistakes. It will just keep you locked in the pain of the past.

Instead, try to figure out, not only WHAT you did wrong, but WHY you did it. What led you to the point where you are now? IS there something you could have done differently that would have helped you avoid the mistake you made? What will you commit to doing differently in the future?

Asking yourself THOSE kinds of questions will lead you to learn from the past and change your behavior in the future.

5. Get Help if You Need it.

Human beings are complicated.

Dealing with your emotions isn’t easy. Understanding them and moving past them can be even harder. Working with a good therapist can help you manage your emotions, let go of your pain, and move on with your life.

Sometimes, as humans, we feel SO guilty and SO ashamed of ourselves that dealing with our emotions on our own just isn’t possible. On some level it’s as if we believe that we don’t deserve to feel good. Subconsciously, we’re locked in our own guilt trip and we can’t see how we can ever break free.

A good therapist can gently guide you to explore the places inside that you don’t even know exist right now. S/he can help you manage your emotions, deal with your guilt, and gracefully let it go.

Ultimately, that’s the key to living a happy and healthy life in the future.

Pretty brunette woman in a hat drinking Kool-Aid from a plastic cup through a straw

BONUS TIP: Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid 

From childhood we’ve been taught that marriage is good and divorce is bad. While that certainly can be true, it’s equally true that being married can sometimes be bad and being divorced can sometimes be good.

Everything depends on the situation you’re involved in, and what you DO with the situation you’re in.

If you do find yourself facing divorce – for whatever reason – and you can learn and grow from the experience, then it’s not ALL bad! (It may not be great. It definitely won’t be fun. But that doesn’t mean it’s a total loss!)

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that getting divorced is always a good thing or that everyone should do it!

The point is that NOTHING is ALWAYS good or ALWAYS bad.

Life simply isn’t that black and white.

So, give yourself a break. Extend yourself some grace. And go back to tip #1 and remember that you’re human!

Letting Go of Your Guilt

Letting go of your divorce guilt takes time. Like everything else in divorce, it’s a process! It won’t happen overnight.

But it can, and it will, happen, if you are willing to invest the time and energy you need to put your past behind you.

Remember: guilt is a conditioned emotion. We have to learn how to feel guilty.

What we learn, we can un-learn.

With the right mindset, and the right help, you CAN put your divorce guilt behind you. No matter what you did, or what you think you did, or how horrible you think you were, you can forgive yourself and move on.

Everything is possible.

So, if you find that your divorce guilt is taking you on a trip to a place you don’t want to go, do yourself a favor. Don’t go along for the ride.

__________

This was originally posted on October 29, 2015 an updated on July 27, 2021.


Tags

dealing with divorce, deciding to divorce, divorce blog, guilt and shame


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  • That’s my problem right now. Nothing really bad happened, I just don’t want to be married anymore. I feel nothing in my marriage. My husband wants to work on things and is trying really hard to be a better person and be there for me and our three children. Divorce is highly frowned upon and I feel guilty thinking about breaking up the family. I don’t know whether I should just suck it up and keep our family intact. I don’t know if I’m being selfish thinking of my own happiness over that of my children. I’m torn and I find myself constantly thinking of being out of it and being with other people which I know is horrible but I can’t help it. I feel guilty and know it would be so much easier to stay for everyone including myself but easier doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.

    • Would it really be easier to stay? Really?! (Be honest.) Is it easier to stuff your feelings down and do what you “should” do? If you do that, I can almost guarantee you that, sooner or later, your feelings will come out in some other way – a way you don’t expect and most certainly will not want. Feelings, especially those that you don’t like, won’t ever go away until you let yourself feel them, and deal with them.

      I don’t mean to be hard on you, but feeling guilty is not helpful. It doesn’t help you, your kids, or your husband. It also won’t save your marriage. You can let yourself feel guilty while you suck up your true feelings, but I can promise you that if you do that, without changing yourself or your relationship, eventually it will catch up with you. Either you will become progressively more miserable, or your marriage will end anyway.

      I know it is hard to think about divorce when those around you disapprove. That only adds a layer of guilt onto an already tough situation. But if you can start admitting to yourself how you feel, then dig into the source of those feelings, and exploring alternatives for dealing with them, then you have a chance at happiness. A good counselor/therapist can help you do that. A marriage counselor may also be a good choice. But, even if you use a marriage counselor, you still need to explore what is going on inside of your own head and heart, too.

      If you do start dealing with your feelings, does that mean you will end up divorced? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. But you have a much better chance of saving your marriage, and creating a happy marriage, if you deal with your feelings, than you will if you ignore them simply because it is what you think you “should” do.

      Best.

      Karen

      • If she follows this advice she will always get divorced!!!!!! Marriage will never be easy, NO ONE ever has said that. If your husband is working hard on becoming a better man then that is good and amazing. It means he is committed to you and wants to grow with you. You must also work to become a better woman. Everyone has thoughts of being with other people, that just means you are human. It does not mean it is okay, you just need to accept that it is not a good thing but normal, and work to not do it. The point of marriage is grow together and become better people. Both men and women are not complete alone. We must learn our missing piece from our spouse to become whole. This does not mean counter dependence, that would be bad. You both should be growing as individuals into stronger people.

        There are many more intricacies of marriage that would take way too long to go over. You should commit to your relationship and go see a marriage counselor. The biggest part of this is for you to commit. If you do not it will never work out and yes, it will be you that is deciding marriage is not worth it. This man gave you his life, his youth with the idea that you would honor your vows and would both work hard in your relationship. Think about the vows you took that day, when love was still a fresh only chemical reaction in your mind. That feeling will always fade and typically lasts for 2 years. This is when the real relationship starts and you will actually begin to grow. Bottom line true love is a choice not a feeling. The feeling will come and go in your relationship. If you stay with him the feeling will come back if you develop some intimacy, that is how it works. But it will also fade. The choice needs to be made to get through the highs and lows together. If this is something you do not want, next time do not get married and be honest about it to your next partner.

        Last I mentioned how hard it all is. The truth is that it really is not hard at all. Make the decision to commit #1. And after that the time you put in to learn more about each other and what/how a relationship should look like you will feel much better than you ever did. Even in the wonderful 2 year lust phase. Work at it! You said yourself your marriage was not bad and you only wanted to leave because it was not good. Make it good!

    • Same thing. Nothing bad but just feel like I am responsible for my soon to be ex wives happiness..more so than mine. She makes plenty of money to live on her own and her son is grown. I already am taking on all the credit card debt and paying for half the mortgage while I live in a tiny apartment paying for all of my bills. I would give her more money but I don’t have it. I think that has to be a guilt thing for sure.

      • It definitely sounds like guilt to me. The question is, why do you feel like you are more responsible for your STBX’s happiness than she is? And why is her happiness more important than yours. Don’t you both count?

        … just something to think about. 🙂

        Best,

        Karen

  • I am very sad , my husband wants to divorce me because I took advantage of his kindness.
    I love him so much and don’t know how start all over again . I knew that he loves me but I never communicate with him because I have too much going on with my family back home. I was helping them financially and didn’t know that my husband is not happy about it. I felt so guilty because I really didn’t show much love to him and its too late when I realized that he is everything to me . I love him so much and now we are in the process of divorce. I have * year old girl and I feel guilty because I ruin her future life . I don’t know what to do its seems like its end of the world.

    • I can hear how sad you are feeling. What you need to remember is that everyone makes mistakes. You are human.

      No matter what you do, you can’t change the past. That doesn’t mean that you don’t take responsibility for your actions. You do. You need to take responsibility and apologize. The problem is, if your husband has already checked out of the marriage, your apology still may not change anything. Yet, it is important to do.

      At the same time, feeling guilty about what has happened is not going to help you or your daughter. I know you feel like your world is ending now. It is not. Your world will change, but it won’t end. What you do with that change is up to you. You can either learn from what happened, accept it, and move on, or you can wallow in guilt and blame and stay stuck in the past. As bad as what happened to you feels right now, if you can grow from this experience and vow to be better next time, then what happened will not be for nothing.

      I know it’s hard, but try not to beat yourself up. You might not have done the right thing, but you were doing the best that you could at the time, based on what you knew then. Now you know better. Decide to become better because of this. Focus on creating a good life for yourself and your daughter.

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

  • Karen I found your site because of my now ex wife posted on it and I thank you very much for the insite into her deceit. but on another note I need to know what I can do because im finding more and more lies and Its killing me I just found out that the “new love” and her have had something going on for more then 2 years! we were only married a year and a half and she told me she was not ready to be married. I should have backed off and just said screw it because the pain I now feel after meeting this “new love” destroys me I met him while driving through the town she works and I recognized him, It destroyed me to realize what I was left for I know everything there is to know about his man and his twin brother they are so much lower people with far less to offer my ex wife I should not care and I should wish them the best I know but it destroys me to see how low she has thought of me from the beginning and the lies and the deceit of this entire ordeal. I cannot look at a woman the same she was my everything I did everything I could for her I always treated her with the utmost love and respect. I wish she said something before the wedding and shit since I now know this has been going on well before we were married I cant come to grips with the WHY, Why did she put me through all the torture and pain of the lies and the games she was playing staying out till 240 in the morning saying that she was with her sister. I talked to her sister and she confirmed my worse fears that she had not see my wife in MONTHS! which led me to look further into records and Find Much more incriminating evidence into her infidelity But honestly Karen I know a relationship based on Lies is bound to fail . I suspect that the beginning of our relationship was based on lies also since she was living with her “ex” as I was told but I don’t believe this face anymore I think she just needs to rush of a new relationship while she is cheating on the last one. But Karen I need your input and advice on how I can stop caring and stop focusing my energy on her this love I had has become hatred for her and the Lies If there were no lies and she just wanted out I woulda been in a much better state but the more I look the more lies and energy I find I wasted on someone that was not worthy of my love and trust. Please give me advice on how I should rid my mind of the good times we once had or should I say I had because I find that she NEVER loved me! thanks sincerely -Blue

    • Dear Blue,

      Where to start?

      First, you are not going to rid your mind of the good times you had, nor do I think that is what you really want to do. Why would you want to forget all the good times? What you want to forget is the bad times — the pain and the lies you have uncovered. Sadly, you are probably not going to forget those either. But, the pain you feel from them will fade away in time.

      The key to stopping the pain (or at least slowing it down a bit) is to stop asking the question “Why?” “Why” is a question without a good answer. The more you ask yourself “why?” the longer you are going to loop around in your head playing out every possible horrible scenario you can think of. Continuing to ask yourself “why” all of this happened will only keep you locked in misery.

      Of course, if you want to know why your wife did what she did you can ask her. Maybe she will tell you. Maybe she won’t. Maybe she can’t. Maybe she doesn’t even know why. Human beings are complicated. All of us do things from time to time that even we don’t understand. The problem is, even if she answers you, and even if you know why she did what she did, that is not going to make the pain go away. It is not going to make you feel any better, even though right now you think it will.

      If you want to start to feel better (and, mind you, it will likely be a long time before you feel “good” again — sorry!) you have to stop trying to figure out why your wife did what she did and start trying to figure out why you did what you did. You said you pushed your wife into getting married when she told you she was not ready. Why? How else did your behavior play a role in getting you to where you are at now?

      Please understand, I am not in any way suggesting that your wife was right to cheat on you, or lie to you. This is not about fault or blame. All I am saying is that it always, always takes two to tango. Even if your only role in all this was just to ignore your gut, or turn a blind eye when you knew things were not right, that was something you need to look at. Why? Because the only person you can control is yourself. The only person you can “fix” or change is yourself. So you will get farther faster if you start looking at the one person you can control -you – rather than trying to change someone you can’t control – your wife!

      What you have just been through can either make you bitter, or it can help you grow. (Yes, growing is painful sometimes.) Right now, though, everything is too fresh, too raw. For now, the best thing you can do is to allow yourself to feel the pain. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it hurts like hell. No, its not fair. But you can either feel your pain and face it now until it goes away (and it will go away in time) or you can drown it in a bottle, or in pills, or food, or whatever is your poison of choice, or you can lie to yourself and try to “man up” and pretend you are fine, or you can stay in bed for weeks or months and wallow in self-pity. What you need to know is if you do anything other than face your pain and deal with it, you will be in pain much, much longer.

      I wish I had a magic wand I could waive and make you feel better immediately. But, I don’t.

      I hope this helped.

      Karen

  • mine is an arranged marriage, i am 35 years old married for 9 years have a gorgeous daughter of 8 years; but now i have fallen in love with a women coworker she is 31 yrs; we love each other so deep that now i want to divorce my wife and marry the other women; my wife has done nothing wrong she was always a perfect home maker but i never was in really love with my wife; my feelings for this other women are so strong that i want to leave everything and be with her but the guilt is killing me day n night from past 1 year that i am being so unfair to my wife n daughter but still i cant help myself to be away from my coworker she is an awesome women, i feel she’s my soulmate,,, please help me i have already started talks with an attorney for divorce process my wife doesnt have a clue about it yet, but i want to divorce anyhow,,,,please help me i am so sad n feel guilty,,,,please help me

    • I can tell how much you love your co-worker. I can tell how much you want to be with her. I understand how strong the pull to be with your soul mate can be. I don’t want to push you into staying married to your wife when you don’t love her. But, before you do anything, try to step above the “heat of the moment” with your co-worker and ask yourself: what is important to you? What do you really want? What are you willing to give up to get it? Make no mistake: no matter which choice you make, you are going to give up a lot.

      Leaving one relationship for another is very tricky. You have to be willing to take the chance that you could divorce your wife, and then your relationship with your coworker could fall apart, too. If that happens, how will you feel? Will you still feel like you made the right decision? If the answer is “yes,” then you’re fine. If the answer is “no” or “I don’t know,” then you might want to take a step back and figure out what is really going on, both in your marriage, and in your own head, that has gotten you to this point.

      You didn’t say anything about your relationship with your wife, other to say that she has done nothing wrong, but you were never in love with her. Is that relationship good? Is there anything you can do to make it better? Was there ever a time you were in love with your wife? Can you get that love back?

      If not, then you need to, again, take a step back and figure out what matters to you.

      I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to find true love. Everyone is entitled to happiness. If that is what you believe, too, and you don’t think there is any chance that you will ever find true love and happiness with your wife, then getting divorced to be with your coworker may be a risk you are willing to take. It is, however, a risk. No relationship comes with a guarantee.

      No matter which decision you make, you will have to live with the consequences. If you get divorced, you will have to live with the fact that you chose to leave your family. You will have to live with all of the consequences that accompany divorce: not seeing your child every day, losing half of your assets, paying child support, paying spousal support, living with the stigma of divorce (my guess is that if you had an arranged marriage, your community is not too open to the idea of divorce) etc.

      If you don’t get divorced, you will have to live with the fact that you had a shot at true love and you walked away from it. You will never know the joy of being in a committed relationship with your soulmate. You will also then stay in a marriage that you are not satisfied with, at least for awhile longer. The truth is that, if you let go of your love, you may regret it so much that it ends up destroying your marriage anyway, and making you bitter on top of it!

      What you need to understand is that each choice is simply that: a choice. Each choice will have consequences. The choice you make will determine the consequences you get. But, that doesn’t mean that either choice makes you “Right” or “Wrong.” Neither choice makes you “good” or “bad.” They are both just choices. It is how you see those choices that makes them “good” or “bad” to you.

      Of course, other people WILL interpret your choice as “good” or “bad.” They will judge you based on THEIR values. That is why you have to start by understanding and owning YOUR values. What do you believe? Stay true to your values, and stay true to your heart, and there will be no room for guilt. ON the other hand, if you do something that violates your own values and beliefs and you will feel guilty.

      That is why you feel so guilty now. My guess is that on some level, you have a belief (probably from your culture, religion, or both) that it is wrong to leave your wife. Yet, you also believe in true love. That belief conflicts with your other belief about marriage. The conflict of those two beliefs is making you feel guilty. Until you decide who YOU are and what YOU believe, and are willing to act in accordance with what you believe, you will continue to feel guilty.

      The last thing you need to know about guilt is that it is (at least in my opinion) a fairly useless emotion. Feeling guilty about something never changes the thing you feel guilty about. It just makes you feel horrible in whatever situation you are in. It destroys your happiness. In your case, it will make either decision that you make a losing proposition, if you let it.

      I know this is a difficult time for you. Just do your best and be true to your self.

      Karen

  • My boyfriend has been handed a Catholic plate of guilt from his mother (even though his mother never liked his wife). He has been trying to get a divorce for six years. They had not been intimate for 10 years prior to that!!! But his wife knows he has guilt and she consistently uses it to manipulate him and it makes life so difficult for him. She uses the fact that they had no children to make him feel bad even though they both agreed not to. She uses the fact that she will be alone and she constantly undermines our relationship. I was not even the reason they broke up! Anyway, he is drinking to deal with it and I don’t know what to do. His guilt is real but needs to be dealt with in some way. What do you suggest?

    • Having been raised Catholic myself, I can relate to the whole “Catholic guilt” thing. It is very real and very destructive. I’m sorry you have to be dealing with it too!

      I have to tell you, though, I’m a little bit concerned about your boyfriend. Drinking is no way to handle anything! My guess is that his drinking is only making things worse.

      The best thing your boyfriend could do is get a good therapist and start digging into what is really going on with him. Depending upon the level of his drinking, he may want to look into a 12 step program like Alcoholics Anonymous too. (That might be overkill, but I’m just throwing it out there in case he is drinking a lot!)

      If your boyfriend left his wife six years ago, and still can’t bring himself to get a divorce, what’s going on with him? What is it that is stopping him? Whatever it is, he needs to deal with that before he can move forward. (I also recommend that he read any of Brene Brown’s books, or watch her TED talks on shame. Here is a link: Brene Brown TED Talk.

      The truth about guilt is that it is very self-focused. In order to feel guilty about leaving his wife he has to be focused on himself, and the fact that he “screwed up” somehow (presumably for wanting a divorce). Even though you might think that his guilt means he is focused on his wife, he’s not. (He is also not focused on you either!) He is completely focused on how HE feels, and how his “failures” make him a bad person. Meanwhile, he is not doing anything to change his situation – he is not helping his wife, and he is certainly not helping you. Plus, by turning to alcohol rather than facing his problems, he is only avoiding dealing with anything.

      Your boyfriend’s relationship with his wife is not healthy. I also question the level of commitment he has to you, too. (Sorry!) If he can’t leave his wife, then that means you will always be second fiddle. She is undermining your relationship because he is allowing her to do so. What you might want to think about is: what are you willing to accept and allow in your relationship with him?

      • Karen: Well, He is also OCPD and it affects his ability to process at times. I think the drinking is a way to deal with his emotions since he is not doing what he needs in communicating. Everything has these levels of complexity and our relationship is no different there. We were childhood sweethearts and reunited. There is lots of history there. He is a very kind, hardworking person but torn in a million different directions with no clue how to balance it all. His drinking has only been happening for the past couple of years. His sister drinks a lot. His brother is bipolar, so was his father and sister, who have both passed.. He comes from the same kind of dysfunctional family as I do. I think he is also avoidant. The reason I love him is because he is kind hearted, empathetic, a hard worker, cares about his mother, is kind to animals, cries at sad movies, etc. He has lots of fine qualities that make him perfect for me–this is what makes me wait. He is hoping to get the paperwork in this week (without any special considerations for his wife). After all, she has lived in a five bedroom house with a pool for the last six years by herself. I hate feeling this way and hope it is over soon. You are right. I already informed him that he is on my time now.

          • Karen–No, in fact, he moved back in with his wife for his convenience and did not bother telling me. He then lied to me about how much time he spent with her. I saw phone bills where they speak several times a week if not daily. At that point, I realized he was a pathological liar because he lies when he does not need to. He lied to her too. He lied to his job. He is just a totally avoidant person who can confront anything and so he just lies. I am well on my way to being over it and I quit lying to myself. He was not the person I met. He was not capable of loving anyone or anything. He needs to have a strong woman to look out for him. He is a victim of habit and it was easier to lie to her than to me and so he chose the path of the least resistance. Plus, he was really worried about the alimony and retirement and frankly, I think they were more important than me. I have gathered friends and family around me and am working on getting over it. I changed my life for him. Now, I have to change it for me. I am excited about that. I have shed so many tears but I have learned and am not going to make the same mistake again.

          • You have come a long way! Good for you that you finally saw the truth of what was going on!

            I know you loved him, and that you shed a lot of tears. But, you are much better off now. Gathering your friends and family around is perfect! I’m sure that they are glad to see you living for YOU again.

            This time is going to be hard, but you will get through it. Look at the progress you have made already!

            I wish you a beautiful new life!

            All the best.

            Karen

  • Guilt is a really hard pill to swallow. I want a divorce and my husband does not. We have 2 children together (5 and 2) and have been married 7.5 years. He insists that the kids will be ruined by the divorce and refuses to talk to our oldest about the separation together. He said he wants it to be known that this is 100% my choice and not his. It’s hard enough to want a divorce, it’s worse when you’re being guilt tripped by your spouse and they are using the kids as a pawn. I’m in a tough spot because I’m not sure I could actually live with myself if my kids hated me for this divorce. My husband has been very manipulative in trying to play on my values (religion, family). He once told me all the bad things that were happening to me were happening because of my decision to end our marriage. The guilt sometimes is crippling. 🙁

    • Guilt really can be crippling … if you let it.

      First, let me start by saying, I get it! I was raised Catholic. I know what it is like to feel really, really guilty about so many things. But, when I finally started to realize that guilt is just someone else’s way of getting you to do what they want, things started to change.

      Guilt is just a story. It only has power over you if you buy into the fact that you are bad or wrong for getting a divorce. I seriously doubt that that is true. I think that you are really a good person who is caught in a tough situation, and is trying to do her best. Did you make mistakes in your marriage? Probably. Everybody does. Is getting a divorce bad? Personally, I don’t think so. But, even if “divorce” is bad, that doesn’t mean that you are bad for wanting a divorce.

      You are not your divorce. You are so much more.

      It sounds like your husband is very hurt and very afraid. He is covering up his own insecurities by lashing out at you. Unfortunately, he is dragging your kids down in the process. But, you don’t have to accept the guilt that your husband is laying on you. You don’t have to buy into his story that the kids will be ruined by your divorce. It’s simply not true.

      It’s unfortunate that your kids are being put in the middle of your divorce. That makes everything so much harder. You might want to talk with a child psychologist or therapist to figure out some strategies that you can use to help your kids through this transition even though their father is making it difficult.

      You also might want to get help for you, too! Going through a divorce is rough enough under the best of circumstances. When you have a spouse who is not above putting the kids in the middle, it’s even worse.

      In the meantime, remind yourself of how good, and how strong you are. Do your best. It’s all you can do.

      Karen

  • Karen,

    I am currently going through a very rough time. My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for the last year. He has been married 20 plus years and has two kids – one in college and on who is just becoming a teen. Recently, he has been plagued with guilt. His heart and his wants are to be with me but he is so worried about not being there for his boys. He believes that getting a divorce will make him a bad person and that he won’t be able to have the relationship he wants with his kids. I know that if he goes back he will not be happy, he will go through the motions and regret it. How do I show him that it’s okay to make himself happy and to ensure him that we can make sure he has the relationship with his kids that he wants?

    • I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but you are in a really tough spot. Falling in love with a married man, even one who is separated from his wife and says he wants to be with you, is never secure.

      Here’s the problem: you can probably find dozens of ways to tell your boyfriend that it’s okay for him to make himself happy and that he won’t lose his relationship with his kids if he gets a divorce, but it won’t matter. He has to believe it. And, it sounds like he doesn’t.

      The only way that he will ever know whether getting a divorce will prevent him from having the relationship that he wants with his kids is to get a divorce. Obviously, if it turns out that the divorce DOES hurt his relationship with his kids, it is then too late to change course. Even if he later decides to go back to his wife and forget about getting a divorce, he will have damaged his relationship with his kids (if that is what happens). It’s almost impossible to put that genie back in the bottle.

      I’m not saying, though, that his kids will definitely hate him if he gets a divorce. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they would even be happy for it. I don’t know. I don’t know him or them. What I do know is that you can’t control him or them.

      Like it or not, the decision of whether or not your boyfriend should leave his wife is not your decision to make. It’s his.

      Maybe the the question you should be asking is not, how can you convince your boyfriend that he deserves to be happy, it is: “Do you deserve to be happy, too?”

      That’a a question you can answer.

      From what you have written, it doesn’t sound like you are very happy right now.

      Here is the truth that you probably don’t want to hear. The only person you can control is you. You’re dating a married man. You are not in a good position. How long are you willing to stay in that position?

      I understand that the two of you may love each other. I don’t doubt that. I get that you may be really good together, and that you might make each other happy. I’m not trying to make you feel guilty or bad about the position you find yourself in right now. But, all that having been said, you are still stuck in a relationship with a man who isn’t available and is conflicted about doing what he needs to do to become available.

      The only thing you can do, if in fact you believe you deserve to be happy, is to decide how much longer you want to live like this. If you want the chance to be in a real committed relationship, then either your boyfriend has to get a divorce, or you have to break up with him and find someone new. If you don’t mind being in a half-committed relationship with a man who is full of guilt and can never be completely devoted to you, then you can stay where you are at.

      I really don’t mean to be hard on you. Believe me, I know how hard this probably is to hear. But, since you asked my opinion, I felt obligated to tell you the truth as I see it.

      You deserve to be happy.

      I wish you the best.

      Karen

  • Hi Karen,
    I recently got my final divorce papers and I thought I was emotionally ready for it but I was wrong. I filed for it and I couldn’t wait for the process to be over so we can both move on with our lives and stop going back to the depressed state every time we have to go court. But for some reason, when they handed me the final, signed and sealed/stamped divorce degree, my eyes started to water thinking “This is it. This is final. Why did we end up like this? We were so happy and so inlove.” I had to seat down and started crying. All the good memories started coming back. I played our CD from when we were just dating and cried in the car while driving to work. I felt guilty for ending the marriage and for hurting him. I do feel like I am a bad person. I’ve made mistakes and now I feel like I don’t deserve to be happy again. I have been isolating myself and noticed that I have been eating too much than I normally do. I have thoughts of killing myself. Thoughts that this world is better off without a bad person like me. People say I should celebrate being single and be happy. That this is what I want since I filed for it. But I am not happy at all… I don’t know what to do… please help…
    Anna

    • Oh Anna! You are not a bad person at all! Yet, I know that you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that. The real key is for you to believe that you are a good person.

      How do you do that/

      First, I suggest you get yourself into therapy as soon as possible. Divorce often brings up conflicting emotions. What you are going through is not unusual. You are not alone. But, because you are isolating yourself, you probably feel very alone. So, step one is for you to get someone you can talk to who understands what you are going through and can help you get through it in the best, most productive way possible. The person who can do that best is a therapist.

      Next, see if you can find a divorce support group. THere, you will meet other people who are going through the same thig you are. You will get ideas for how to deal with your situation. You may even make new friends. All of that will help.

      Finally, I suggest that you check out this book: You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise Hay. It’s an amazing book and it can truly help a lot.

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

      PS One last thing. I know in your situation it’s easy to torture yourself by only remembering all the good times. But, what about the bad times? You wanted a divorce at one point. Why? You must have had a reason. Think about that. In other words, don’t distort your memory of reality by only thinking about what was good. Try to be honest with yourself. There was good. There was bad. Based on all of it you made a decision. You did the best you could. Second guessing that decision now is only making your life miserable. So try not to do that.

      • Hi Karen,
        Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my message!
        Yes, it is quite difficult for me to think that I am a good person. I still blame myself for not putting up with the situation longer, like other wives do for the sake of the family. But I really wanted to get better. So, for the first time I took the first step to seek professional help. I went this morning and my therapist/counselor adviced me to get a prescription for an antidepressant so I went to my primary doctor. I am honestly hesitant about it thinking, “Do I really need medication?”. My doctor then referred me to see a psychiatrist just to make sure I get the proper medication. She said this is a crucial stage so she wanted to do what’s best for me. I didn’t realize how serious my depression is until now that the professionals are telling me. I am really hoping the medication will help. I will try to find a support group once I am ready to be around people again. Hopefully after the meds kick in.
        Thank you very much for this website! I am sure you were able to help a lot of people. I will try to find the book you recommended, as well! Have a good one and God bless you more!
        Sincerely,
        Anna

  • I’m currently going through a divorce where my wife is trying to use my son to guilt trip me. I left because I found out about her several monogamous relationships she had within our 27 years of marriage. She has made me feel so guilty and even made me consider going back just for my son. Saying I’m a bad father and how can I leave him behind the way I have. We have been separated for almost 2 months now. I don’t know what to do….

    • Okay, so you know your wife is trying to guilt you into staying. The only question you need to answer is whether you are okay with that or not.

      I’m not sure how old your son is. (With a 27 year marriage, he may already be an adult … or not.) Either way, know that kids learn as much from the example that their parents set for them as they do from anything else. If you go back to your wife just because you feel guilty, what does that teach your son? On the other hand, if you leave, what does that teach him?

      Know, too, that leaving your wife has nothing to do with whether you are a good father or not. You can still see your son and spend time with him whether you’re married to his mother or not. In many places now, parents are starting to share time with their kids equally after divorce.

      The bottom line is that getting divorced does not make you a bad father.

      One more thing that might help you deal with the guilt is finding a good therapist, someone you can talk to about your feelings. S/he can help you understand your guilt, and deal with the manipulation that is causing it. (Sorry to be harsh, but if your wife is using your son on purpose to make you feel guilty, that’s manipulation!)

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

      • Well I went back, and I regret it… I’m not in love with her anymore. I know that things will only get worse. I have everybody telling me to go back, to fix it, to make it work. But they don’t know the hell ive been through. I keep trying to please everybody else. I don’t want to hurt anyone yet I know I have. She has put so much in his head that I feel if I do leave his mother, he will feel I’ve also left him. I’m also in love with another woman who is much younger than me and the fear of her leaving me because of our age gap is what steered me home. Yet I hurt her in the process… how do I know my decision will be the right decision ?

        • You don’t. All you can do is the best you can. But I STRONGLY recommend you talk through this with a therapist. It sounds like you’ve got a lot to work through here. A therapist can really help you clear the fog so that you can make the best decisions possible.

          Karen

  • Thank you for your article. I am one of those who has wanted a divorce for over 30 years, but stuck with the marriage mostly for benefit of the children. After the first several years of our marriage, my wife did not turn out to be the person I thought she was, but by that time we had children. In her own way, she is a great person-good wife, mother, etc., but other than that, we just do not see things the same way, and have constantly argued. I have tried to leave numerous times, asking her for a divorce, but she has insisted each time that we stay together. If I don’t relent, then she gets ill, with terrible headaches, etc., and each time she does that I back off, because I do care about her, I do not hate her or anything like that. As it is, I can only take her company in small doses, and then I am ready to head off with friends or to stay by myself visiting friends, etc. Every time I do that, I feel mean and selfish, and like I am being brutal to her. She is the type that has no hobbies, friends, etc., and wants me to direct her entire life – I do not want to do that. I have no illusion that divorced life is going to be “fun”, and it will be hard to start over at age 66. But I would like to go forward without feeling guilt. I am a Catholic also, but not a “good” Catholic after all of the priest child abuse controversies, so I am questioning my faith as well. How should I handle this guilt?

    • The question you need to ask is, “Why do I feel guilty?” Is it because Catholics aren’t supposed to divorce? Is it because you know you will hurt your wife and you don’t want to hurt anyone, particularly the mother of your children? Knowing the core reason for your feelings will help you figure out what you can do to work through them.

      If it’s the Catholic stuff (and trust me, I get that!) then you need to figure out whether what you’ve been taught (e.g. God made marriage to last forever so if you divorce you’re violating God’s will) is really true. Without getting into a heavy theological discussion here, suffice it to say that if you believe that God is love and that God loves you no matter what, then the whole “I’m goign to burn in hell if I get a divorce” argument kind of falls apart.

      If you just don’t want to hurt your wife, I also totally understand that as well.

      But, here are 4 questions you need to ask yourself:

      1. What do I want?
      2. What am I willing to do to get it?
      3. What will happen if I don’t go for what I want?
      4. What will happen if I do?

      If you want to live a life that doesn’t involve your wife, are you willing to weather her headaches and illnesses in order to do it? (Also, just so you know, she is completely controlling your relationship! It is not a coincidence that she gets ill when you want a divorce and she gets better when you come back.)

      How do you deal with the guilt? You don’t own it. You accept that you are human and that you have changed your mind about being married. Maybe you forgive yourself for choosing a wife who didn’t turn out to be who you thought. Maybe you forgive yourself for not being the perfet husband. Definitely you forgive her for whatever you think she may have done wrong.

      Most of all, you start to work on separating YOU from your behavior.

      Yes, you are responsible for your behavior. 100%. BUT just because you may do things that you aren’t proud of doing, that doesn’t mean that YOU are your behavior. You are not. While that may sound like a cop out, it’s not. If you cause a car accident, you are responsible for the damage you cause. You (or your insurance company) will have to pay to fix things, or compensate someone you have hurt. But, just because you hurt someone, that doesn’t mean that you need to spend the rest of your life beating yourself up about it, or feeling like you’re a rotten human being.

      Guilt won’t change anything. It won’t fix anything. At the same time, you can’t just say to yourself “I won’t feel guilty anymore.” You have to work on it. But you work on it through forgiveness and letting go. (If I remember correctly, Jesus had a similar message.)

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

  • Hi Karen.

    First and foremost thank you for your articles. I have come across a couple of them and while it’s not ideal that anyone has to feel pain and suffering, it helps tremendously to know that I’m not alone.

    My story is that my wife and myself have been married for 6 years, together for 9. She has two older children from a previous relationship and we have a 7 year old daughter together. Two years ago she asked for a divorce but gave me a second chance to make it work, and I didn’t do what I needed to do. I didn’t know what I needed to do. She was telling me what she needed and for some reason I just didn’t know or didn’t understand. Looking back on the past I see all of the things I could have done differently. I’m a caretaker. I do the laundry, go shopping, my fair share of the cooking and cleaning. I don’t think I was ready for older children as I wasn’t financially stable enough to handle that once they became very expensive. We have always struggled financially and it turns out that being a caretaker doesn’t matter so much to someone who doesn’t really need that. In turn I left her alone, wasn’t there as her rock, her protector, and broke promises to be a better husband along the way. We’ve both done a lot of things, but I understand what my role was and accept my responsibility.

    We have been separated for six months but living in the same house in separate rooms. Last week I faced the hard truth that she has checked out, it’s over and beyond the point of no return. I felt blindsided with a roller coaster of emotions. One second I’m crying, the next I feel like I’ll be okay, the next I feel kicked in the stomach, the next I’m accepting the truth, over and over again. I’m not sure if I had been in denial for six months? Two years? Whatever it was, it was there and I didn’t even know I was doing it, just day to day as normal for so long. I’ve been studying the different stages and I feel it all at once and it’s so hard to deal with.

    Now I feel guilty when I think I’ll be okay. I feel guilty telling her I had a good day, or that I had fun doing something. She has great days, she’s emotionally disconnected and done with me so she’s off doing her own thing. Whenever I feel like I am okay, I will be okay, or even better yet I’ll flourish (which last about a half hour this morning) I feel this overwhelming sense of guilt that I shouldn’t be okay. That I need her to know how sorry I am and that it hurts and I finally realized what I needed to do, albeit too late. That I destroyed something beautiful that was given to me by someone who loved so much that I should feel the pain because at least for now it’s what I deserve.

    Any advice? If nothing else, thank you for letting me vent and again thank you for your articles.

    • First off, if venting helped, awesome! That’s a great start.

      Second, the emotions you are feeling are totally normal! (Sorry! I know it’s hard!) But when you’re going through a breakup, it’s normal to ride a roller coaster of emotions. Eventually they’ll calm down. But in the meantime, it can be quite a ride!

      As for the guilt, it sounds like your problem is that you are upset with yourself for not doing whatever it was that you think you should have done in the past. The problem, of course, is that you can’t change the past. While accepting responsibility for whatever you did (or didn’t do) is important, there’s a big difference between accepting responsibility and tearing yourself down with blame.

      There is nothing wrong with starting to feel good. That means your emotions are starting to settle down. You are starting to heal.

      Meanwhile, I have some questions for you. How long do you have to punish yourself before it’s okay to feel good? (And, by the way, who made up that rule?) Does punishing change your situation or make anything better? If not, why are you doing it?

      Here’s the bottom line: you’re human! Human beings make mistakes. Sometimes they make big mistakes. But, when you make a mistake that you can’t fix (and it sounds like you can’t fix your marrige at this point) then all that’s left is to apologize, forgive yourself, and move on. Notice that the forgiveness comes BEFORE you can move on.

      I encourage you to be kind to yourself. Accept that you screwed up. (We all do.) Forgive yourself. Then focus on your daughter, and do your best to go forward from here as amicably as you can.

      I wish you the best.

      Karen

      • Thank you Karen. I grew up in a situation where I had to take care of my ailing father as a child so I’ve always had problems taking care of number one. I know that maybe if I had known how to do that I would have been able to give her my 100%. I’m currently looking for a therapist due to this so hopefully I see some positive changes here soon.

        Thank you again.

  • Hi Karen,
    I just wanted to say thank you for writing this article, your words have made me feel so much better and I am going to bookmark it for when I have another low day. I have been separated for a year and divorced for nearly 2 months now. I was the one who left my 13-year marriage because I simply didn’t love him anymore and I did spend a few years prior to making my decision in complete denial over my feelings. We met when we were 18 and got married when we were 22, but looking back now I know that we were just too young and I know that I am not the same person I was when we got married. He had an affair 2 years after we got married but I took him back and then 3 years later I found out he had managed to get himself significantly into debt and so we separated for four months when my daughter was two. But again I took him back basically because I couldn’t bear the shame of getting divorced (guess what? I too am Catholic!) and I was petrified of being alone. We also went onto have another child. Last year, I really don’t know where it came from, but I finally found the courage to admit to him that I wanted a happier life for us both and that I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I know I broke his heart and I have been plagued with terrible guilt and shame that I did this to him despite knowing that he himself wasn’t a saint in our marriage and he too broke my heart and trust also. He has since been able to move on much quicker than I have and is now in a serious relationship with someone I know (I was a bridesmaid with her at his best friend’s wedding in 2015) and he has recently told me that they plan to move in together in a few months time, and they’ve only been together for 8 months. I am so genuinely shocked that he has been able to open his heart to someone else so quickly and yet I seem unable to do this myself because whilst I am seeing someone, the thought of any commitment petrifies me. I don’t know why I feel so hurt that he has been able to move because I am the one who left, and I am confused by my feelings because I know that I don’t regret my decision.
    Most articles I’ve found on the internet don’t seem to be very forgiving when someone leaves a marriage and we are painted in a rather negative light, thus further compounding my guilt!
    Anyway, thanks again,
    Laura

    • You’re so welcome! I’m glad my words helped. I hope that soon you can start to see yourself for the amazing person I’m sure that you are. (And if the voice in your head just said,” Oh, yeah! It’s easy for her to say that I’m amazing. She doesn’t know me!” Please (politely) tell that voice to shut up!)

      It sounds like your husband has moved on. I hope that you can forgive yourself soon so you can move on too! You deserve it!

      Best,

      Karen

      PS Just because you’re the one who had the courage to do what you knew was best is no reason to persecute yourself for years!

  • I have tremendous guilt. I am in the process of divorce and I feel alien in it on one hand and the other ready to experience this new life and make the best out of it. No one ever thought we would get divorced , we didn’t either but I realized I was not in love with the man I loved most in the world, which was like a huge bomb detonating inside of my heart. To make matters worse, I only confronted this truth because I fell in love with someone else. I have guilt because society teaches us that marriage is one of compromising and safety, loyalty etc. but is it possible to have that and be in love with the person you are committed to?I hope so. My husband cheated too, he doesn’t know about my affair I don’t think and he doesn’t know I know about his. I hope I’m doing the right thing. I am in love with the other person and in a committed relationship during my separation period of two years. Our divorce will be final in a few months but I am also grieving deeply. Am I grieving because I’m making a huge mistake or grieving because Im saying goodbye to someone I love very much but I’m not in love with.? Should you divorce someone you love because you’re not in love with them? Btw- my new relationship ( total of 3 years) is amazing and fulfilling and comfortable but yet exciting and passionate because we are so attracted to each other. I never felt this way about my husband in this area. I honestly didn’t know it was possible. But is it the right and responsible thing to do?

    • Is what you’re doing right?

      That’s a judgment call. It’s also not my judgment to make. It’s yours.

      It sounds like you have a lot of inner conflict about your decision, though. I can understand that. Divorce is a huge decision. Most people are conflicted about it, at least for a while. But what you want is to get to the place where you know inside that the decision you made was the right one. Making a decision and then feeling guilty about it is counter-productive. It locks you into a situation where you constantly feel bad.

      To get help working through your feelings, I suggest finding a good therapist in your area. While you can work on this yourself, a therapist can help you understand and manage your feelings better. S/he can also help you deal with your emotions and resolve your issues so that you don’t repeat the same patterns in your new relationship that you lived through in your old relationship.

      Hope this helps.

      Kare

    • Karen, I have been researching and reading article after article to find support for the guilt that I’m feeling. Thank you for writing this. Both your piece and the comments are so helpful.
      I have been separated for nearly 3 months after being with my husband for 16 years (though we married only two and half years ago).
      We both met right after our first divorces. I was 30, living in a big city and we had a long distance relationship for about two years before I moved back to my hometown to live with him.
      I ignored some red flags from the get go. We were very different, but I kept at it. I wasn’t very content, but he was. He had a good heart and everyone loved him so whenever I thought I wanted to end things, I talked myself out of it. I would create a diversion for myself…a house project, a trip, a new routine of some sort. The newness would carry me for a time, but the doubts and unhappiness would continue to resurface.
      Nearly four years ago, we bought a home together and moved. Then we spoke of finally marrying after being partners for so long. We eloped, it was a lovely day. But again, the diversion (I realize that I just called marriage a diversion 😱) didn’t work.
      This past year our differences became more and more glaring. I always try to go on a self-improvement kick when this happens because I feel that I should better myself to make the relationship better. Well, I finally ran out of gas. I admitted that I may want a divorce.
      Even though I’ve shared my feelings with him over the years, I just kept enabling the issues, so he felt surprised that I was feeling so strongly. I feel so guilty that I’ve hurt him. I gave him a big settlement that I now regret. I know that I definitely want a divorce — I am so ready to live my life — but I am so worried about telling him. I don’t want to hurt him further. It’s an awful feeling.
      Reading your words has helped. I’m going to keep reading them.
      In the meantime, any other words of wisdom or thoughts to give me courage?

      • I’m glad the article helped! I wish I had some amazingly wise words that could help give you the courage you seek. Maybe it would be best if I just quote others who have gone before me:

        In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, relationships we are afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.
        -Author unknown

        The truth will set you free … but first it will make you miserable!
        – John Garfield

        So, focus on the big picture. Taking the easy way out today will only cause everyone more pain tomorrow.

        Hope this helps!

        Karen

  • Thank you Karen so much for this article. I have been married for a year now and have just recently asked my husband for divorce. We barely knew each other when we got married (only a few months, and we had only met once. The rest of the time we would just talk on the phone). It turns out my husband and I are very incompatible, we have opposite characters, different takes on life, we never agree on anything, even the smallest things. He is very closed minded as well, when it’s not his way or what he thinks, it’s not good or it shouldn’t exist. So since day 1 I have been telling myself that I have made a mistake marrying him, that he is not the one for me and I am not the one for him. But I was willing to suck it up but my main issue is that he is extremely short tempered. He gets angry very fast for very little like recently I did not make him tea after diner one night, as I usually do, he got mad, yelled at me for almost an hour and did not talk to me for 3 days. That’s how he is, every little annoyance, even if I am not the main cause of it (i.e. the politician he is rooting for looses the election), he will yell at me, not eat when i cook for him or/and not talk to me for days. Keep in mind he tells me horrible things when he yells. Often I was afraid he was going to hit me but he never did. This behavior of his really affects me, disturbs my sleep and makes me very sad. It got to the point where I don’t want to start a family with him anymore (because at first I thought having kids might soften him) and I resent any type of intimacy with him. I put a lot of thought into it and came to decide I can’t stay with him anymore. I mean I am not even in love with him, I was just staying because we were already married and it’s easier that way. Now that I made it known that I want to leave, I saw even more disturbing behavior: him lying to his family and friends about me (just so they’re “on his side”, never admitting to all the thing he’s done or said). I have my family’s support but friends and family on his side keep calling me and basically saying I am the issue, I am ruining the relationship because I want to leave, I am selfish for putting happiness and well-being first, that i am wrong for feeling the way I feel, that there are marriages out there that are so much worse, that there are people out there that want to be married but aren’t and I am throwing mine away. It is starting to get to me now. What i want is to leave him, even if i’ll be single for the rest of my life I prefer that than being with him and unhappy forever. That is very clear to me and i have no doubt about that. But they make it so hard emotionally for me that sometimes i think to myself ‘maybe i should just stay because it seems easier’ but i know if i do so in a few weeks time i am going to be right back to where I started, wishing i never married him in the first place. He doesn’t want to grant me divorce (in my religion/culture, even if the divorce is not from mutual consent for it to take place the husband has to “free” the wife by telling her ‘you’re divorced or you’re free to go’). Now i am looking for a place to rent and in two days i plan on leaving the house to stay with my brother while i search for a place. My parents advised I leave the house first before they intervene and ‘force’ him to give me divorce, so he won’t be able to hurt me physically since he is so short tempered. At home my husband and i just say hi and good night, we don’t even talk. Sometimes he’ll try to ‘fix the issue’ as he says it but all he really does is criticize me for wanting divorce and because i don’t react the way he would like me to (i.e. forget everything and want to stay with him) we just end up fighting again. Do you have any advice for me? I am 24 and regret this mariage very much. I think it is time i think about myself and do what’s good for me.

    • First of all, I apologize for the delay in responding. I’m only one person and sometimes it’s hard for me to keep up with all the comments on my website. So from time to time it takes longer for me to respond than I’d like.

      As for advice, let me start by saying that I agree with your parents 100%! The most important thing is for you to be safe. So first get out of the house. THEN worry about a divorce.

      Next, I have a fairly simple task for you that will help you deal with your situation a lot. It’s simple, but not easy. Ready?

      Stop talking to your ex’s family and friends!

      It sounds like you’ve known from the beginning of your marriage that you made a mistake. That’s actually a good thing. It is far better (and easier!) to cut your losses and get out of your marriage when you’ve only been in it for a year than it is to wait 10 or 20 years to get a divorce! (And YES! People know they made a mistake and still wait that long!) It’s also very wise that you decided not to have children right away. Trust me – children do not soften anyone in a marriage! Bringing children into a bad marriage just makes them miserable and your divorce worse.

      The biggest problem you have right now is that other people are trying to force you to do what you know is wrong. Not listening to them sounds easy, but it’s hard to ignore what you hear. It’s easier to stop talking with them altogether.

      Talk to your parents. Talk to your brother. Talk to your friends. Hang out with people who support you – not those who want to tear you down. It really will make your life easier.

      Best,

      Karen

      PS You’re not bad. You’re not wrong. You’re young and you still have a chance for a beautiful life! Focus on THAT, not on the negative!

  • Hi Karen,

    I just wanted to thank you for your insightful article. I’ve been going through a long, painful relationship and separation for a few years. I’m constantly looking for new ideas to cope with my situation, and when I find a piece that speaks to me, I feel such a deep sense of gratitude for the writer. I wanted to let you know that your words had a positive impact on me. What an achievement in life to impact people in such a way!

    I’ve been married for a few years, but dated my wife on and off for almost 10 years (since starting college). I had many good, and also many bitter, negative experiences with her. Since our marriage, I almost immediately felt in my gut that I needed to leave because of incompatibility for the future. Now we are separated and I spend my day trying not to think of her and moving on, but I just can’t bring myself to file the divorce papers. I remember our good times together, I feel selfish, and I’m paralyzed with guilt for hurting her. I fought very hard to make the relationship work, we had many issues with family and background incompatibility. I know the longer I wait, the more difficult it becomes. I have gone to document preparation services twice and walked out, unable to file. I feel like I’m going crazy, going back and forth in my mind, unable to move forward.

    When I look at your past responses, I see that I would benefit from seeing a therapist. But ultimately, the choice is mine. I’ve been close to divorcing only to back out last minute because I just can’t do it. Slowly I hope I can figure out a way. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you again for your article and I wish you the best.

    • You’re welcome. I’m glad the article helped.

      Another thing that could help (besides going to therapy, which I STRONGLY recommend!) is the Decision Day Retreat. During the retreat we work on figuring out what’s blocking you so that you can get the clarity you need to make a decision you can be comfortable with. The last Decision Day Retreat for 2019 is coming up at the end of this week. If you miss this one, and 2020 rolls around and you’re still in the same place, you might want to check it out.

      Best,

      Karen

  • Hi, I’m also having a really hard time with my guilt. this article was great! thank you for writing it. im married now 12 years and have 2 young kids. my wife is the sweetest person. everyone loves her, she’s so perfect to everyone she knows. problem is she always put me last on the priority list. she suffers with anxiety as well. she has a real issue with affection and giving me attention. I love her very much, but through the years i have fallen out of love with her. i decided a little over a year ago i wanted to divorce. without jumping the gun too soon i said i would give myself another year to decide. we been going to couples therapy for months and it hasn’t fixed anything. i still feel the same, only i feel tremendous guilt. its now a year and 3 months since i decided and i still can’t seem to pull the plug. i feel like a bad person and i feel like everyone is going to look at me like i destroyed this family and i hurt my little kids. i love my kids more than life and i would never hurt them. i want out but i dont know what to do. i dont do couples therapy anymore with her but i still go to my own therapy. why do i fear leaving soo bad and why am i soo guilty? thanks for any advice…

    • I wish I could answer your questions, but I can’t tell you why you’re so afraid of leaving or why you’re so guilty. There may be a thousand reasons for both.

      What I can tell you is that leaving is incredibly hard, especially with young children. You KNOW that if you leave you won’t be able to see your kids all the time. That’s hard. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to do. Sometimes doing the “hard thing” takes more love and more courage than doing the “easy thing” that looks good.

      It sounds like a lot of your guilt and fear stems from the fact that you don’t want to look like the bad guy to the world. Because everyone loves your wife, you’re convinced that you’ll look like a jerk if you leave her. The truth is – you’re probably right. A lot of people WILL think you’re a jerk for leaving. They’d think you were a jerk for leaving even if your wife wasn’t the sweetest person in the world. They’d think that because that’s THEIR judgment and THEIR values.

      But I have a bigger question for you. Ready?

      So what?

      So what if everyone thinks you’re a jerk? If you have tried your very best and done everything you can to make your marriage work, and it still isn’t working, there is nothing else you can do. Zero. If you’ve done your best, there’s nothing left for you to do.

      Of course, if you HAVEN’T done your best, if you haven’t given your marriage your all, then, of course, you’re going to feel guilty about leaving. But “doing your best” doesn’t mean that you have to stay in your marriage for decades after you know it will never work! Doing your best means that you did everything that you could reasonably do. It means you tried your hardest.

      What you need to understand is that, even if you did your best, even if leaving your marriage will ultimately be the best thing you could do for yourself, your kids, and even for your wife, PEOPLE WILL STILL JUDGE YOU.

      Until you are okay with that, you’re going to stay stuck.

      If you wait for other people’s approval, you will be waiting a long, long time. You will also be living a life that’s not your own.

      So, what matters to you more: creating the life you want, or staying in a marriage you emotionally left 15 months ago, just so you don’t look like a “bad guy?”

      Think about it.

      Karen

  • Currently I am struggling with the guilt of wanting to be happy. I have been married 19 years, together 22 years. There were many years of emotional, verbal and even physical abuse. However, while I was ready to end my marriage years ago, I decided to forgive my husband and instead we went to counseling and worked to save our marriage. Fast forward to today, we have been to 4 different therapists, years of counseling and so many attempts to change but again I find myself here. Unhappy, I love him I forgive him but I am so tired and my feelings for him are not the the kind of love a wife has for her husband. There is no passion, there is no intimacy, we are incompatible and we fight all the time. Most of the time I am questioning everything I say or do and always feeling like I did something wrong. He is never happy. I am so ready to be out of this toxic marriage for the sake of my children and for me and my husband. Yet, every time I stand firm he suffers. He does not want me to leave. I see how hurt he is and I feel so bad for him. I pray he finds peace and acceptance and maybe even a woman who can love him better than I did. We do not work. But I always end up worrying more about how he will cope, what he will feel, his sadness, his depression that it stops me from moving forward and not looking back. I would love to see us accept that our marriage has failed and raise our children peacefully as exes. I just can’t get my foot out of the door when I see him in pain and I have no idea what to do. Can you please help me? Thank you.

    • It sounds like you care deeply for your husband, even if you don’t love him in the way a wife loves a husband. That’s beautiful. But sometimes, doing the right thing causes pain to people we love and care about.

      If your marriage is as toxic as you say, then ending it may be the right thing to do. (Since I don’t know you, I can’t say. It’s always your decision. But that’s what it sounds like from what you’ve written.) You’ve tried counseling. You’ve tried to save your marriage. So, the question now is, do you have the strength to do what you believe in your heart is right even though it will cause pain – at least in the short term? I know that’s a hard question.

      When you care about someone, it’s hard to see them in pain – especially when it’s pain that you feel like you caused. Yet, growth is often painful. If you don’t go through the pain, you never grow. Right now it sounds like both you and your husband are suffering. Neither one of you is growing. Neither one of you is changing. And as a result, my guess is that your kids are suffering, too.

      So what is the cost of staying with the status quo? What price are you paying to avoid your guilt? What price are your kids paying? And, what price is your husband paying? (I know. He doesn’t want you to leave. He doesn’t want to change. But sometimes, the most loving thing we can do for someone is to do what needs to be done when they’ can’t – or won’t – do it themselves.)

      Here’s the truth you probably don’t want to hear. (Sorry.) Your husband IS going to be in pain if you leave. So are you. That’s just the reality of ending a marriage. At the same time, it ALSO sounds like you’re both in pain right now anyway … it’s just a different kind of pain. It’s the pain, anger, and resentment that comes from constantly fighting and being in a toxic marriage. It’s the pain of seeing your kids suffer because of your conflict. The difference is that you don’t think of your current situation as being “painful.” You’re using different words to describe it. But, fundamentally, it’s negative. It’s pain.

      The pain of staying in a toxic marriage is less acute, less dramatic. But it’s ongoing. It doesn’t stop and it doesn’t heal.

      The pain of leaving a toxic marriage is immediate and intense. But it is the first step toward getting OUT of pain. It is the first step toward healing – for everyone.

      No matter what you do right now, there will be pain of some kind. The only question is do you want the pain to end eventually, or not?

      Hope this helps.

      Karen

  • I have been divorced for 2 and a half years and have been in a new relationship for a year and lately I have tremendous guilt over being happy in a new relationship. Also when we have issues/disagreements I feel like “gosh this is familiar why couldn’t I have worked it out with my ex if I can work it out now”

    • Feeling guilty about being happy in a new relationship is probably not doing much to keep you happy in your new relationship! I can hear how bad you feel that you couldn’t work things out with your ex. But different people act and react differently. So sometimes you CAN’T work an issue out with one person, but you can with another. Making yourself feel guilty over not being able to work something out with your ex isn’t helping either of you right now. It’s also probably hurting your current relationship!

      The truth is, though, we all take ourselves with us into every relationship we have. If you find you’re having similar issues in this relationship as you had in your marriage, that might be something you want to take a deeper look at. If you’re interested, I’m sure a good therapist could help you figure out what’s going on with you AND help you deal with your guilt.

      Meanwhile, give yourself some grace. My guess is you did the best you could with your ex. Beating yourself up about the past changes nothing. Being kind to yourself, however, just might!

      Karen

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