People feel guilt when they’ve done something wrong. Stolen something, told a lie, or somehow or another not been on their best behavior. It seems perfectly appropriate, if not deserved, to feel guilt or shame for a misdeed. After all, one should feel bad if they’ve hurt another, broken a rule, not fulfilled an obligation, or caused inconvenience.
So, why is it that divorce elicits feelings of guilt and shame?
No two divorces are alike, so no one from the outside should presume to know of any fault in another’s marriage break-down. Obviously some marital problems are apparent to outside observers. Perhaps the husband was an abusive alcoholic or the wife was an incessant critic and nag. Otherwise, and even when we do think we know what someone else’s life is like, only the spouses in the marriage know what life is like behind closed doors.
If you have mistreated, abused, lied to, cheated on, and betrayed your spouse, you deserve the guilt and shame you bear.
What about the rest of us who either were not the guilty party that destroyed the marriage or who ended marriages for less dramatic reasons such as growing apart from our partner or leaving a loveless relationship to seek happiness? A lot of these folks also carry around feelings of remorse and embarrassment after a failed marriage; but, what did they do wrong?
I was one of these such people. To an extent I still am. I can’t speak for anyone but myself; but I can, perhaps, shed some light on why others feel this way.
I felt like I compromised my values. I was raised to respect marriage as a sacred institution and one to be protected and fought for. By divorcing, I felt as though I had let myself, my family, and everything I was raised to believe down.
I felt like I failed at something very important. Marriage was one of the most significant ventures I would ever enter into in my life. My marriage would become my life, define my life, and be the center of my life- yet, I failed! I was incredibly disappointed in myself that I couldn’t succeed in this.
I felt like a fool for so poorly choosing my spouse. I know now that my ex and I had no business marrying. We didn’t know each other well enough and we weren’t compatible. I was angry with myself for letting myself get into such a complicated mess.
I know that others believe terrible things about me. When I left my husband, he reacted in his own pain at the end of our marriage by saying terrible and untrue things about me. Despite years passing and me hardly ever running into any of the people he said these things to, it still bothers me to know that he convinced others that I was capable of such things.
I know I broke his heart. My ex broke my heart first from years of neglecting me and our marriage. I still live with the remorse of knowing that when I finally did what I know I had to by leaving him, it hurt him; and, for that I am sorry. I never wanted to hurt anyone.
I feel like others look down their noses at and judge divorcees. Plenty of people end their marriages in divorce, but there’s still definitely an unfair stigma against us. I don’t expect others to know everything that went on in my relationship, but I would appreciate if others would trust that I had my reasons and respect my choice without condemnation.
I feel like I let my children down. My children never asked for their parents to divorce or for their lives to be disrupted by living between two homes. They deserve an intact home with two loving parents, and I couldn’t give them that.
There you have it. Guilt. Shame.
So how does one (how did I) come to terms with such feelings? How can crippling guilt and shame transform into acceptance and empowerment?
Divorce was never what I wanted for myself, but I believe I am still a good person and I am confident that I made the decision that was best for me and my family. I can’t expect everyone to understand or accept my choices, but I made peace knowing that the values instilled in me guided my way.
I did fail at my marriage, but it takes two. I own my part at what went wrong in my relationship, but I won’t needlessly punish myself by taking all the blame. With the benefit of hindsight I would do a lot of things differently, but the past is in the past and I won’t torture myself with those thoughts!
I did choose my spouse poorly, but I have gained wisdom through my mistakes. I can use what I have learned from my mistakes to make better choices for the future, including knowing my needs better and recognizing red flags in others.
It hurts that people think bad things about me, but I know that with each day that I live my life as a good woman and mother, I disprove the lies with my actions. It’s not possible to have a 100% approval rating, so I just cannot let it bother me that not everyone will recognize the facts for what they are.
I have forgiven my ex for his misdeeds against me, then I forgave myself for my poor choices and causing pain to myself and others. I have to accept that I am a flawed human, as is he. I am truly sorry for anything wrong I have ever done to him or anyone else. From there, I have to accept the cleansing of forgiveness and let pain escape my life for good!
There will always be those who judge and make others feel badly about themselves. They don’t pay my bills, they don’t have to deal with my issues, and for the most part they’re not even people I associate that closely with or care too much for. Those who know me, respect me, and truly matter will accept me for who I am, and that’s all that matters!
My children no longer have their parents together in the same home, but I can be at peace knowing that they have two stronger parents who are able to function better as people and as parents because we are no longer together. Our divorce gave our kids the gift of less conflict in their lives, and we work hard to give them a happy life despite our marital status.
Guilt and shame are a trap! It’s easy to get pulled into the trap, and even easier to get stuck there. For your own sanity, it’s best to face those demons head on and put them in their place. We all make mistakes, we all do things we wish we could take back, and we all have regrets. Let go of the guilt and send the shame packing out of your life! You can turn all the downsides of divorce into a positive learning experience that will allow you to become a stronger, happier person. Let go!