Divorce Guilt – Does it Ever Go Away?


It kind of comes with the divorce territory.

Guilt over ending a marriage. Guilt over marrying the wrong person. Guilt over the way you handled things. Guilt over breaking up the family. Guilt for not feeling guilty.

It’s exhausting!

Does guilt ever go away?

The answer is…it depends.

Guilt isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, that’s what a conscience is all about.

Feeling guilty about something is a sign that you have a conscience, which, in this day and age seems to be increasingly rare.

It’s letting you know that you have stepped out of character for you. It reminds you to check in with your values.

Misplaced guilt, on the other hand, is a major issue.

Feeling bad about getting out of a marriage that is toxic makes no sense. You deserve to be safe, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

You can let yourself off the hook for that one.

What if a marriage isn’t actually toxic, though?

What if it’s just the wrong person or you’ve grown apart?

Where is your guilt really coming from? Making a bad choice? Hurting someone else? Ending it poorly?

Examining your motivations and behaviors are actually good things to do. It’s how you learn and grow.

We all make bad decisions and stupid mistakes. Sometimes BIG ones and other people are affected.

If you’d like to NOT do that again, you’re going to have to look at and own those guilty feelings.

Learning from our errors in judgment, lack of understanding, or just flat out desire to ignore blatant facts is really the only way to do better the next time. 

Case in point – my own first marriage.

Now, I’ve documented all over the place how tough of a situation that was. Abusive on many levels. I had every right to leave and in fact, feared for my life if I didn’t.

I never had any guilt about ending the marriage. But I had a lot of guilt for getting married to him in the first place.

Was it warranted?

At the time I chose to marry him, I was in a situation where my options for marriage were (I thought) very limited. People in my world got married very young and if you weren’t on the road to marriage by age 20 there might not be anyone left to marry!

Couple that with a very financially unstable family of origin, no access to a college education and therefore better financial options for myself and my own future well, I was basically scared to death!

Did I see potential anger and abuse issues with my ex?

Ummm…yes. And no.

Since I had known him since childhood I knew his family was very tumultuous – adopted at 3 months old to an alcoholic father and basically nutso mother – violence was pretty common in his family.

But he never showed that behavior toward me in the 7 years that I knew him prior to our marriage – at 19.

My own fears combined with naivete about generational abuse patterns was a pretty powerful combination for making the WRONG choice.

I just literally didn’t see any other choice.

As I have matured and learned to look at my own actions as well as the actions of others, that guilt has mellowed.  I learned from my mistakes and forgave myself for being young and inexperienced in life.

Guilt served me well in this case. 

That is really the purpose of it all.

Examination. Learning. Course corrections.

All of that leads up to leading a more productive, more awakened and more deliberate life. One to be proud of.

One that makes new mistakes instead of repeating the old.

So in answer to debate about rather or not guilt is good, I say yes.

What you do with it is what determines rather or not you hang on to it or you release it.

If you aren’t sure if you’ll ever shake the guilt, walk through these steps:
  • Did you have any control over the situation?
    • No? Let it go
    • Yes? Even if your level of control is minimal, understand your part in it so it doesn’t happen again. Example: You get mugged. Not your fault at all – some creep perpetrated that crime. However, if you were also carrying a lot of cash, walking down a dark alley, in a seedy part of town, in the middle of the night, you might want to look at that. The crime wasn’t your fault but you did put yourself in a situation where the likelihood of something bad happening was pretty high.
  • If yes, what could you do differently moving forward?
    • Did you let yourself be blind to information? How could you have paid better attention?
    • Did you behave less than stellar? Hey, we all do it – it’s called being human. But if you don’t want that kind of behavior to tell the story of who you are, examine how you could have behaved differently. What motivated you to do what you did?
    • Were you unduly influenced by other people? Family, friends, pressure from your now ex – these things can really cloud our decision-making ability. Recognizing that, understanding why we caved to external pressures and finding ways to stand in our own truths is how we can stand up against those pressures moving forward.
  • Is the current state of affairs affecting innocent people, typically the kids?
    • Parental guilt is as old as time. Regardless of how you answered the previous questions, you will very likely have some guilt in this area. You have now entered the “it is what it is” arena.
      • This is the situation.
      • Your kids are affected.
      • You cannot change the past.
      • Accept it.
      • Do what you can to minimize the impact now.
      • Cut yourself a little slack.

The area if parental guilt would probably exist rather you were divorced or not. It would insert its ugly head somewhere.

Think of it this way – would you rather give your kids an example of a bad marriage with miserable adults just slogging through it OR give them an example of a responsible adult, owning their actions, their life, and working to correct their mistakes?

Next time you feel some guilt pangs, take it as a welcome opportunity to do some self-examination.

And then for heaven’s sake, fix what you can and let go of the rest!






P.S. Did you get everything you needed from this article? No? Maybe it’s time for a little more.

My goal is to meet you where you are and walk with you until you’re ready to set out again. A little strategy goes a long way. Let’s set up a mini-strategy session to get you started!

And don’t forget to grab your FREE Divorce Survival Kit before you go!

Looking for some holistic ways to care for yourself? Check out my new website www.layloyoga.com where we explore how to use Yoga and wellness as a way to heal your heart and deal with the stress and anxiety of day to day living.

About Laura Aiello

Divorce Strategist & Coach, Author, Speaker, Fitness pro, Yogi, Entrepreneur, Wife, and Mom. If you're facing, in the midst of, or recovering from divorce, I am here to walk with you along the way. Divorce is AN end, but it's not THE end; it's the opportunity of a lifetime!

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