When we think of the word “divorce” immediately we have an opinion, or at least I had one, prior to getting a divorce that is. The truth is, well the truth is sad actually; we tend to feel sorry for “those people,” especially sorry for the women.
But, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, the lifelong probability of a marriage ending in divorce is 40% to 50% (2018). In a survey of over 2,000 heterosexual couples, it was discovered that women initiate nearly 70% of all divorces. So, with divorce rates increasing, and the majority of divorces initiated by women, why aren’t we celebrating our newfound freedom and feeling proud, instead of feeling judged by others and most likely ourselves. Why, instead of pride, do many of us tend to feel shame as if we’re broken beyond repair, and how do we change that narrative?
In order to change anything, it’s important to recognize, talk about, and explore why it’s there in the first place. Talking about shame is the first step in ridding ourselves of the dark cloak that covers it up and makes it worse.
The Roots of the Shame and Guilt of Divorce
- Society’s Values. One of the breeding grounds for judgment is within society itself. Society is “pro-relationship” and certainly not “pro-divorce.” When you’re single, every married friend wants to “couple you up,” at least when you’re a woman. And when you’re married, your vows reinforce the belief that that union is until death do you part. Society doesn’t like divorce, it represents being broken, and it’s hard to not take that personally.
- Feeling like a failure. Divorce is perceived as a failed marriage, when in truth, at least according to comedian Lewis Black, “No good marriage ends in divorce.” And who says every relationship is meant to last forever? Well, apparently those vows do, and when they’re broken, we can feel like we failed, didn’t try enough, weren’t good enough, and those feelings, thoughts, beliefs, can be devastating.
- We’re just not good enough, should’ve recognized the problems sooner, stayed too long, or shouldn’t have married the wrong person. All of those messages, each one contradicting the other, and lacking any foundation in reality, still add fuel to the fire of guilt and shame. Whether someone points a finger at you, or whether it’s the voice of your own inner critic, the judgment can be thick, and the guilt based on perceived wrong choices can be relentless.
So how can we rid ourselves of the shame and guilt of divorce, and not allow those damaging feelings to take up more space than they deserve?
How to Get Rid of The Shame and Guilt of Divorce
As women, we often take on much more responsibility than we should, in everything. That burden, especially when mistakes are made, can be daunting. But it’s important to remember that if you take the blame, then you should also take the credit.
I don’t think I’m alone in admitting that taking the credit isn’t something I’m great at, but taking the blame, well I tend to nail that one more easily. But neither the blame nor the credit is owned by us. A marriage involves two people, two responsible adults who make choices, and we’re all responsible for our own choices. The burden of someone else’s choices isn’t designed for us to bear. It’s important to let go of the responsibilities of others.
Start forgiving yourself, for everything.
We tend to focus on the forgiveness of others more easily than the forgiveness of ourselves. We tend to take ourselves for granted while staying angry with ourselves unknowingly.
Take care of yourself and treat yourself like you have value because you do.
Treat yourself as well as you treat others, with kindness, patience, and understanding. When you fall, when you make mistakes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, give yourself a hug, and love yourself unconditionally. Remind yourself that mistakes are a necessary part of growth, and the love you have for yourself is not conditional based on being perfect. In fact, we don’t really like those “perfect” people anyway, they’re so irritating.
Talk to someone, anyone.
A friend, a family member, or a professional, anyone. Talk about your feelings with someone safe who won’t judge you and someone who will listen. Someone you trust with your feelings.
And most importantly, give yourself time to heal.
Healing takes time and patience, and feelings are just that, feelings. Just because you “feel” something doesn’t mean it’s reality, and it also means that it will pass. Even the good feelings go away eventually, unfortunately.
Remember the choices you made, and still make, all of them, are neither bad nor good, they’re just choices and we all make them. The outcome may not be something we like, but that doesn’t mean we made the wrong choice. Our decisions don’t define who we are. Try to be your best ally, you need you on your side.