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Helping Northern Westchester Families

Jun 12, 2017BY:
IN: Dealing with Divorce

Uninviting Divorce’s Third Party: Guilt

Whether you’re initiating divorce, it’s being initiated by your partner, or it’s a mutual decision, it comes with a whole host of feelings including anger, anxiety, sadness, and guilt. Guilt can be profound, and can impact our relationship with our children, our ex spouse, and even ourselves.

Guilt can weave its way into our psyches from many perspectives. For example, divorce may cause children to feel confusion, sadness, and anger. It can be hard to look at our kids and see that the decisions we make impact them in a way that is upsetting.

There can also be guilt over the impact of the divorce on the other spouse. Even though your marriage no longer works for you, your love and care for your spouse may still be intact, so seeing them hurt as a result of your decision can be painful in its own right. The initiating party may begin to doubt himself or herself and ask:

  • Do I have the right to take care of myself?
  • Do I have the right to leave?
  • Do I have the right to hurt the people that love me?

Even if you are not initiating the divorce, guilt can play a role. You may question your own contributions to the failing marriage and ask, “Why couldn’t I fix this?” or “Why couldn’t I be more of what my partner wanted?”

For adults whose parents divorced when they were children, there can also be significant feelings of guilt surrounding their own actions as they face their own divorce. They may ask themselves, “How have I betrayed my commitment to this marriage? How can I break the promise I made to myself to never get a divorce?”Somebody who’s feeling a lot of guilt may agree to things that are unsustainable in an effort to “make it right.”

There can even be guilt about staying so long in a marriage that was ending:

  • Maybe I should not have stayed and tried so hard, because the marriage ended anyway.
  • Why did I put up with this for so long?
  • I feel bad about what I have done to my children—if I had left sooner, it would have been easier.

There is some debate among professionals about whether guilt is a useful emotion or not. Some believe guilt can be useful if it helps us avoid violating our core values. In a divorce, though, people may not have violated their core values; things may have just happened in a way they didn’t intend.

Sometimes when people focus on one core value, such as emotional survival, it can compete against the value of staying in a marriage because the person vowed to stay. If we give ourselves room to hold multiple core values, then maybe we can let go of some of the guilt and simply say, “This is one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I needed to make it. It does NOT mean I’m a bad person.”

If you are the spouse who initiated divorce proceedings, or if you are on the receiving end, any guilt you may feel can impact your relationships going forward, if not dealt with appropriately. Contact our offices today to begin putting it all in perspective.

The author, Jeff Zimmerman, is a member of Northern Westchester Collaborative Divorce Professionals which is an association of lawyers, mental health professionals, and financial professionals specializing in the collaborative divorce process. If you have questions about collaborative divorce and how this alternative to courtroom litigation can work for you, please contact Jeff Zimmerman. Contact information can be found by clicking/tapping the author image or the "View Profile" link on this page.

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