Feeling Guilty about ending your Marriage? Secret Tips to Let Go of Guilt
Guilt is a painful, uncomfortable and often lingering emotion that many individuals I work with suffer from. You will learn about John and Dana’s experience today, and at the end are my 3 secret tips to letting go of guilt.
Take John’s case, after many years of endless agonizing and indecision, he recently left his marriage of 23 years, to a woman that adored him. He wasn’t seeing anyone else. He loved and cared for her but no longer wanted to be with her. They had nothing to talk about or in common and being around her and their home made him feel trapped and depressed.
He is so relieved to have his own space, but feeling guilty about it. He said to me Nicola, my wife has done nothing wrong and begs me back. She keeps asking me when I will come home again and suggesting holidays or weekend breaks we can take, to try to entice me back, I feel terrible with this guilt. What should I do? John has no real reason to give her and that hurts him. He also called me to ask whether he should tell her the truth about his intention to divorce or break it to her gently over time. He felt evil, selfish, and guilty, which was keeping him up at night. His sons are 19 and 21 and he also has guilt around them, although he said they took it well. He booked a VIP day with me, to deal with these difficult feelings and we came up with actions he could take to move past guilt. Below is a summary of what I said or you may want to skip to the below for my 3 Secret Tips to Let Go of Guilt.
Divorce coach said
Firstly, unless your wife is blind to the past 5 years you said you were agonizing, deep down she knows the truth. She may not want to admit it, but she will have felt the withdrawal. It is likely that her asking you back and her comments about the split being only temporary, is her way of coping. She is more than likely trying not to face reality, by pretending not to recognize the end.
She is hurt, of course and why not? Any romantic break up is horribly painful, let alone a marriage of 23 years. But if you continue to be extra kind and nice out of pity, you are giving mixed messages. This is worst for her as confusing. To make a complete emotional separation and avoid hurting her further you need to be kind, firm and limit or sever contact.
John you’ve taken action, and have made a brave step. You said you felt relieved; this is because you are listening to your true desires and have stopped lying to yourself. Guilt can be overwhelming but we can work through these feelings and let them go (see my secrets below). The voice that says How dare you put yourself first, she needs you and you must go and take care of her, needs to be challenged. Listening to this voice would be a mistake, as you would be lying to yourself and her.
It also doesn’t matter whether she has or hasn’t done something wrong. The end of love is not right or wrong. It is simply the end of love. You are not an evil, selfish man. You are realizing the truth, that we can only ever be responsible for our own happiness, no one else’s. You therefore have to focus on your own happiness. It does not mean you don’t love them. You are trying to be honest, which is essential in life.
Then I said to John Ask yourself, is it your wife that wants to be gently let down or is it that you will feel better by doing it gradually? Often when we can’t stand our own feelings, we avoid them by displacing them onto other people. We think (and hope) that by making them feel better, we can make ourselves feel better. Forgive me for saying this again, but you have to be responsible for your own feelings and ask her to do the same. Facing uncomfortable feelings hurts but is necessary. By telling the truth you are putting yourself first, which we all deserve. Where’s the morality in lying, in pretending to have feelings you do not have? Long-term the lies will resurface causing even more damage.
Dana was another lady I worked with, she was also carrying a tremendous amount of guilt. She left her marriage after 2 years, with their one year old son. Her husband was emotionally abusive, it started as soon as they got married. His attitude changed towards her and he began constantly criticizing everything she did, said and wore. During the first few months of marriage, she had two miscarriages. This was an extremely painful experience. She needed his love and support more than anything else, but instead he blamed her and became more aggressive and angry. From this point on, she felt trapped. She hoped when their son was born, he would change, and be more loving. But the opposite was true, he became even more irritable and demanding. What upset her the most was his lack of interest in their son and his angry out bursts when things didn’t go his way. He was never violent, but his moods were intolerable. She decided enough was enough, when he was out one day she packed her bags and left.
Dana was feeling so guilty because when he found out that she had left, he broke down, begged for her forgiveness and said he was sorry. He was calling and emailing frequently trying to get her back one minute, saying she has ruined his and their sons life and the only decent thing to do is to come back. Then the next minute he calls her names saying she has destroyed the family name and brought shame on him, and both families. Dana knew inside, that she had done what she needed to, but the guilt was keeping her up all night, she felt drained and depressed.
If any of this is resonating with you, my heart goes out to you. If you are feeling guilty right now, take comfort that you are not alone, it is amazingly common. I have developed many techniques to help people deal with, and move on from guilt. Most of them we need to be in dialogue for them to work, but below are 3 of my secret tips to support you now.
Nicola’s secret letting go of guilt tip No1 – Distinguish between need and love when ending a relationship
Guilt when ending your relationship shows your caring and sensitive side, but we must distinguish between need and love. As we often we confuse the two. Does your partner need or love you? Need makes us feel worthwhile, when someone needs us and depends on us, it makes us feel important. But many would rather someone love us for our true flawed selves than for what we can do for them, do you agree? Is it that they NEED your financial, emotional, domestic support? In all honesty needs overtime can seem overwhelming and demanding. So if you are considering staying in a deeply unhappy marriage because your spouse needs you, it could be a sign that you also need to your own needs, as opposed to just your partners.
Nicola’s secret letting go of guilt tip No2 – Did you do it on Purpose? What does the word Guilt mean?
I always share in my one to one sessions that guilt is an often misunderstood and misused label we give ourselves. Did you know that according to the English dictionary definition of guilt, guilt means the intent to harm? Did you deliberately set out to cause harm to your children or spouse? Another online definition states guilt is the fact of having committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong. So far, with the exception of one person, all those I have had the pleasure to work with have not committed a crime or wanted to destroy anything or anyone. Perhaps a better description of how you feel is, upset and concern because of your care for the other person(s) involved. If you are dealing with the end of your marriage and / or going through a divorce, the chances are you already have enough on your plate without labelling yourself with an unhelpful word. Ending a relationship that no longer serves you, your spouse or your family does not make you a bad person. And my guess is you didn’t do it on purpose.
Nicola’s secret letting go of guilt tip No3 – Who Benefits?
When you feel guilty ask yourself who is hurting and who is benefiting? So, let’s say you stay up all night worrying, feeling sick and guilty about something, who suffers? Yes you suffer. Is this helping your ex-spouse? your children? Is this benefiting anyone? No, in truth all you are doing is punishing yourself, punishing yourself affects your health and ability to care for yourself and others. So it’s pointless. It serves no one.
To let go of guilt ask yourself these questions: 1, Is there any action I can take that will help me let this feeling go? Is there anything I can do in my power now, to make the situation better or for me feel more comfortable? If yes, take action, whether it’s an apology, a gesture of good will, a plan to help your child adjust, an action for your ex. If no, thank your mind for bringing the feeling to your attention. Ask it to show you any action or amends you can take in the future. Then just be at peace that there is nothing you can do, let the painful thoughts leave, knowing they are helping no one. Lastly, remind yourself guilt is just your loving side coming out and that you deserve your own love. Give yourself love today, by letting the guilt go.
Keep in mind that if you have or are currently ending your marriage it’s understandable you feel responsible for their unhappiness. But the truth is if you stayed in the marriage you would be miserable and they would be happy. So in a nutshell: either you be miserable for a long time staying, or they be miserable until they accept and move on from it. As mentioned earlier everyone is responsible for their own happiness. You and you alone are responsible for yours.
As always, I hope you found something useful in today’s article.
From my heart to yours Nicola