When you make the decision to get married, you do so with the expectation that you and your partner will remain together forever. Regardless of this fact, 2.7 out of 1,000 people in the United States will get divorced.
Even when it is for the best, choosing to end a marriage can lead to divorce guilt. Here, learn about why divorce guilt occurs, and what you can do to cope.
Divorce guilt and shame in divorce: Why is it so common?
Guilt after divorce occurs for a number of reasons. When you decide to settle down and get married, there is an expectation of loyalty and devotion for the rest of your life. Choosing to separate leads to divorce guilt, because you have broken the promise of, “Til death do us part.”
If you want a divorce but feel guilty, it may be because you know that your partner will not want a divorce. You may have guilt over ending the marriage because your feelings have changed, and you know your partner will be devastated.
Feeling guilty for wanting divorce can also come from concern you have for your children. Even if things at home aren’t great, most people know that a divorce is a significant disruption in a child’s life.
You may also be struggling with getting over the guilt of cheating if your divorce is a result of infidelity. Having an affair is considered such a major taboo, and it is a violation of the trust in a marriage, which will result in you being labeled as the guilty party in the divorce.
Finally, divorce guilt about leaving may arise from religion. If you adhere strongly to traditional religious values, you are likely to see divorce as a sin. If you are religious and have found yourself wrapped up in a marriage-ending affair, your divorce guilt is likely to be especially strong.
The role of guilt in divorce
In many instances, guilt plays a healthy role in divorce, and it is a normal reaction. If you find yourself asking, “Why do I feel guilty for moving on?”
it may be because you are simply a rational, kind person who has empathy and compassion for other people. Even if you wanted the divorce, you might feel some guilt over hurting your spouse, because you care for other people.
Guilt can also be somewhat of a learning experience. Maybe you are having difficulty coping after divorce because you have regret over something you did wrong. Perhaps you didn’t try hard enough to remedy issues in the marriage, or maybe you didn’t communicate well with your spouse.
Or, perhaps you had an affair that led to marriage breakdown. All of these things can teach you what not to do in the future, which ultimately helps you to learn how to have happier relationships moving forward.
Why do I feel guilt after divorce?
Divorce guilt can be challenging to cope with, and you might be asking yourself, “Why do I feel guilty after divorcing my husband or wife?”
Beyond the fact that you may be worried about your kids or sensitive to the reality of hurting your former spouse, you might simply be experiencing guilt as a normal human reaction.
When things don’t go as planned, or we have to break a promise, we tend to experience guilt when we think about what we could have done differently to change the outcome. In the case of cheating or serious financial difficulties, you may feel divorce guilt surrounding the role you played in the marriage ending.
Is it normal to have regret after divorce?
Not everyone experiences regret after divorce, but it is relatively common. A survey of over 2,000 adults found that 32% of them regretted their divorce. While this means that 68% did not regret getting a divorce, the truth is that nearly one-third did.
If you regret divorce years later, this likely isn’t the norm. The same survey found that 67% of people would rather be alone and happy than remain in an unhappy marriage.
This is good news, because it suggests that even if you initially have some divorce guilt and feelings of regret, you should be able to move on from these feelings, especially if your marriage was unhappy. Overcoming a divorce may take some time, but ultimately, you should be able to get past the initial regret.
On the other hand, in some cases, you may look back and regret getting divorced for quite some time, especially if you have guilt over the thought that maybe you could have done something differently to save the marriage.
Is your divorce guilt killing you?
While some feelings of divorce shame and regret may be normal, if you are not able to find healthy ways of dealing with divorce emotions, the guilt may start to consume you.
If you find yourself constantly ruminating over what went wrong in the marriage, or blaming yourself for the split, you may start to experience some significant psychological distress.
Maybe you just can’t stop thinking about what you’ve done to the children by ending your marriage, or maybe you toss and turn at night, worrying about what people think of you for having made the decision to end your marriage.
Whatever the case, when divorce guilt is long lasting and doesn’t seem to subside over time, it’s time to learn ways of coping after divorce.
How to get over divorce: 15 ways of coping with divorce guilt
There is no one best way to cope with divorce, but there are things you can do to ease your pain if you have ongoing guilt. Consider the 15 strategies below, and you might just learn how to move past a divorce:
1. Support your former spouse in co-parenting
If you have kids, divorce guilt is likely to arise because of your worries about the wellbeing of your children. If this is the case for you, make an intentional effort to have a healthy co-parenting relationship with your former spouse.
Things might not be perfect, but if you can set your personal drama aside and get along for the sake of the children, you can reduce the stress in their lives. Over time, you may come to realize that despite the marriage ending, you’re putting your best foot forward for the sake of the kids.
2. Learn from your mistakes
It can be painful to live with the realization that mistakes you made led to the breakdown of your marriage, but eventually you must accept that while you might have done some things wrong, life will go on. It can be helpful to try to find the silver lining in the situation.
While your marriage may not have worked out, you have probably learned valuable lessons about life and relationships, and this knowledge will prevent you from making the same mistakes in the future.
3. Focus on self-improvement
Learning from mistakes that led to divorce guilt is helpful, but it’s also important to put those lessons into action. If your divorce stemmed from your own communication issues, unhealed trauma, or infidelity, now is the time to make some positive changes.
Maybe you need to seek out counseling, or make a legitimate effort to be a more effective communicator. Whatever the case, self-improvement can go a long way.
4. Journal your thoughts
Writing about your divorce guilt can be therapeutic. Maybe you’re not comfortable discussing your thoughts with anyone, but you might be able to release some of your guilt if you put your thoughts into writing.
Some people simply process better when journaling their thoughts, as opposed to discussing them aloud.
Check out these tips on journaling:
5. Reach out for support
Maybe you’re not a writer, but you’re someone who needs a supportive friend to help you process difficult situations. Think about that one friend who you can tell anything to, and reach out to have a conversation. They may be able to reframe your divorce guilt in a more positive manner.
For example, if you’ve convinced yourself that you were 100% to blame, your friend may help you to see the situation more rationally and take a look at the shared blame between you and your former spouse.
6. Keep in mind that kids want their parents to be happy
Concerns about kids are a common reason for guilt after divorce, but it’s important to look on the bright side. If you were in an unhealthy marriage, and there was a significant amount of conflict, your children probably picked up on the tension and unhappiness at home.
If getting a divorce leads you to be happier, your kids will notice this as well, and in the long run, they’ll be better for it. Keeping this in mind may help to alleviate some of your divorce guilt.
7. Forgive yourself, just as you would forgive others
Everyone makes mistakes, and forgiving others for their mistakes is a part of life. Maybe you’d had a friend or relative who has hurt you, but you’ve forgiven them after a genuine apology.
Now is the time to forgive yourself in the same way. Realize that you might have made some mistakes in your marriage, but you can do better and avoid repeating these mistakes.
8. Try to view yourself in a positive life
When you’re living with divorce guilt, you can become wrapped up in negative emotions and thoughts of what you did wrong. Instead of focusing solely on the negative, try to view yourself positively.
Think about your positive qualities, such as your success at work, the kindness you show to other people, and ways you have given back to your community. Thinking about these positives can help you to see yourself in a more balanced light, so that the negative feelings surrounding guilt after divorce do not consume you.
9. Ignore divorce stigma
Part of the reason people feel so guilty about divorce is that ending a marriage is seen as a failure. Cultural stigmas have painted divorce as being unacceptable and immoral.
Try to push aside negative stigmas, even if they come from family and friends. The truth is that sometimes marriages end, and you can still lead a meaningful life and do good things, even if you’re divorced.
10. Remain amicable with the in-laws
Ending a marriage doesn’t only mean the loss of the relationship with your spouse; it also involves changing the relationship you had with your in-laws. If you were close to your in-laws, you may have some additional guilt, because you might feel as if you let them down or abandoned them.
Try to maintain an amicable relationship with in-laws. If you have children, this can mean arranging visits between the children and your in-laws, or keeping them updated on your children’s lives.
11. Attend a support group
Attending a divorce support group can help you to get over divorce. In a support group, you can hear about the experiences of other people who have gone through divorce, and learn some new tools for coping. You can also receive nonjudgmental support, so a support group can be a safe place for processing your emotions.
12. Don’t blame yourself for someone else’s behavior
Divorce guilt is common among people who think they are 100% to blame for the marriage ending. In reality, relationships involve two people, and both parties play a role in the relationship breaking down.
Stop placing all of the blame on yourself, and definitely don’t tell yourself that you’re to blame for your former spouse’s bad behavior within the marriage.
13. Reassure yourself that it was the right decision
When you’re dealing with divorce emotions, you can get caught up in what you did wrong, but it’s helpful to reassure yourself that the divorce was the right decision.
Think about the reasons for the divorce, and remind yourself that there were legitimate reasons the marriage ended. This allows you to release your guilt and move on to living the new life for which you left your marriage.
14. Practice self-care
When you’re constantly ruminating over thoughts of, “Why do I feel guilt after divorce?” you may tell yourself that you don’t deserve good things. You may have begun to neglect yourself because of your guilt and shame.
Instead of falling into this trap, make an effort to care for yourself. Set aside time to practice self-care by exercising, doing an activity you enjoy, and preparing healthy meals. All of this can improve your health and wellbeing after divorce.
15. Seek professional intervention
Going through a divorce can be devastating and distressing, and sometimes, professional intervention is needed. There is no shame in reaching out to a therapist, who can help you to work through your emotions and change your thought patterns in order to help you get over divorce.
Divorce guilt is common. It can stem from feelings of failure, concerns over hurting your children, or regret over mistakes made during the marriage. Coping with these feelings can be difficult, and getting over the guilt of cheating can be especially challenging.
If you’re living with guilt after divorce, there are things you can do to cope, ranging from forgiving yourself to reaching out to a friend for support. Ultimately, divorce can take a psychological toll, and you may benefit from working with a therapist to learn healthy ways to cope.