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5 Ways To Manage Your Divorce Guilt

Mardi Winder Adams Images September 2022

Divorce and Transitions: Mardi Winder-Adams

In the USA, approximately 46% of all marriages end in divorce.

With 43% of first marriages ending in divorce, 60% of second marriages, and about 73% of third or subsequent marriages. 

“The reality is that you are only half of the partnership.”

Today, women initiate about 70% of all divorces. In addition, women with college degrees initiate divorce in about 90% of filings. However, just because women file for divorce doesn’t mean the guilt and pressure to “fix” the relationship are not very real things to deal with in the weeks, months, and even years to follow. 

Taking a look at the types of guilt helps us to understand why we feel this way even if we choose to file for divorce. 

The Guilt of Not Trying Everything Possible:

One of the significant causes of guilt during separation and divorce is the sense there was something you should have done or could have done. There is a feeling that if you could have just found this “something,” it would have changed the whole relationship and created the ideal partnership you always wanted. 

The reality is that you are only half of the partnership. If the other person does not want to change or is unable to see the problem, there is nothing you can do to bring about this transition from dysfunctional to happily ever after.  

Even if couples go to marriage and family therapy, both people have to be engaged in the process. This means they are willing to reflect on issues, take responsibility for their actions, and make changes going forward. Marriage therapy is only effective if both people want to go through the process, not just sit in on the sessions. 

“You have the right to be in a happy, healthy relationship..”

The Guilt Of It’s My Fault:

How often have you heard comments that when a spouse cheats, leaves, lies, or has an addiction, it is somehow the partner’s fault? These messages can include statements like, “He wouldn’t cheat if he were happy and satisfied with sex in the marriage.” or “If she spent more time with her husband than at work, they could have a happy relationship.” 

Taking on responsibility for the other person’s responses and behaviors creates feelings of guilt. It can also leave you questioning your motives for the divorce, which only adds to feelings of second-guessing your decision. In reality, you can only be responsible for your actions. You have the right to be in a happy, healthy relationship and not be stuck in one where you are blamed for everything going wrong in your spouse’s life. 

The Guilt That Divorce Hurts Children:

It can be challenging for parents to deal with the guilt of divorce if they believe divorce is harmful and hurtful to children. While children would rather have parents stay together in a healthy, loving family, staying in a family with constant verbal disagreements and discord or passive-aggressive behavior is also unhealthy for children. 

Kids can and do learn how to be successful in life when parents are effective in their coparenting roles. Staying in a destructive, abusive, or unhappy relationship is not a solution that benefits your emotional and mental health or that of your children. 

Managing Divorce Guilt:

In a survey completed by AVVO in 2016, approximately 32% of the 2000 participants reported feeling guilt and regret after the divorce. These feelings of guilt and regret can become barriers to moving through the divorce and moving forward with your life post-divorce. 

“Develop ways to build enjoyment into your life.”

If you are experiencing separation or divorce guilt, the following five strategies can help you to work through these genuine emotions:

  1. Talk to a therapist – therapy can help you to see patterns in your emotions and behaviors that may be keeping you stuck in the situation. 
  2. Divorce coaching – not therapy, but focused on assisting you in moving through the practical aspects of the divorce and concentrating on your self-care. 
  3. Journaling – journaling helps you to explore these feelings and to work through some thought distortions you may experience. 
  4. Self-forgiveness – relationships do not always last. This statement is true for colleagues, friendships, and marriages. Learning to forgive yourself for mistakes you made in the relationship allows you to stop blaming yourself for real or perceived transgressions. 
  5. Use gratitude – looking for the good in your daily life and focusing on things to be grateful for moves us from dwelling on the past to living in the present. 

Build Enjoyment:

Develop ways to build enjoyment into your life. Find things to do that make you smile, help you to relax, and to prioritize care for your health and wellbeing before, during, and after the divorce.

While divorce guilt is real, it does not have to negatively impact your future or prevent you from achieving relationship goals in the future. 

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Mardi Winder-Adams

About the Author:

Mardi Winder-Adams is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Certified Divorce Transition Coach, and a Credentialed Distinguished Mediator in Texas. She has experienced her own divorce, moved to a new country and started her own business, and worked through the challenges of being a caregiver and managing the loss of a spouse.

Handling life transitions and pivots is her specialty! In her professional role as a divorce coach, Mardi has helped hundreds of women before, during, and after divorce to reduce the emotional and financial costs of the process. She is the founder of Positive Communication Systems, LLC.