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Exploring the dilemma of “divorce guilt”

On Behalf of | May 4, 2020 | Divorce |

A divorce can involve a wide range of complicated emotions. Individuals often experience anger or grief when they think about the past, and anxiety when they think about the future after the divorce, but one of the most common emotions that spouses feel when they pursue a divorce is guilt.

It is so common that the term “divorce guilt” has become a well-known term and a frequent issue divorcing spouses face.

Where does “divorce guilt” come from?

Guilt usually occurs when individuals feel they did something wrong. Deciding to end an unhappy, unfulfilling or unhealthy marriage is not wrong. On the contrary, it is often in the best interests of the family in the long run, even if it is stressful in the present.

However, it is common for the whole family to experience guilt, for very different reasons, and it manifests in very different ways for each family member. For example:

  • Spouses: No one enters a marriage expecting to divorce. Spouses make vows of a lifelong commitment to each other in marriage, and they might feel guilty when they decide to end that commitment. Even if there is nothing to be “at fault for” in the divorce and spouses agree to end the marriage, they often feel guilty when they think about “what might have been.”
  • Parents: When married couples have children, they suddenly have two identities: spouse and parent. Parents often feel a certain level of guilt when they decide to divorce and worry about the impact a divorce could have on their kids.
  • Children: Young children often feel that, somehow, they are the reason for their parents’ divorce. It may be irrational, but children often worry that if they behaved better, or did something different, then their parents would not divorce. This worry can lead children to feel guilty about the divorce as well.

While feeling guilty may be common during a divorce, individuals must remember that emotions are not necessarily the truth. They are very real – and therefore stressful to deal with – but dwelling on guilt is not helpful nor healthy for individuals or their families.

Tips to manage “divorce guilt”

Guilt can get in the way of one’s mental health, but it can also influence the divorce proceedings and the family’s future if it gets out of hand. So, how can individuals manage feelings of guilt?

It is helpful if North Carolina spouses:

  • Focus on forgiving themselves – as well as their spouse;
  • Talk about their emotions with trusted friends and family; and
  • Reassure their children that they still love them, and a divorce will not change that.

Emotions – like guilt – are temporary. It is important that individuals recognize that as they move forward.