Divorce guilt comes in all sorts of mutating forms. It is normal for many of us to feel like we are somehow to blame for the divorce.
Culturally, we are taught that keeping the household and marriage successful was our responsibility, without so much a thought that it takes two people in a partnership. And naturally, because there was a lot of pressure on us to be perfect, when the marriage unraveled, our reaction was to blame ourselves for it.
It is time to knock it off. In order to overcome guilt, you must forgive yourself.
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. It’s a gift that we are usually generous in giving others, yet for some reason, we don’t give ourselves the same luxury. For some reason we think our actions, especially divorce-related ones, are somehow reprehensible and we feel like the worst people in the world for letting everybody down.
Accepting responsibility and working to avoid mistakes in the future is one thing. But constantly blaming yourself for things in the past is neither helpful nor healthy. So why not put that energy you spend on feeling bad about the past into something better, like creating the good life you deserve?
Forgiving yourself is challenging right now because you are looking at the divorce with warped vision. Right now, you are looking at it with 20/20 hindsight, where you have the luxury of picking your past self to pieces. And that’s just not fair.
Sure, you have made mistakes in the past. But who hasn’t? Remember that it takes two to tango in a marriage. You must accept that you did everything within your power at the time to make the marriage work. And even if you, for some reason, have still convinced yourself that you didn’t, the past cannot be changed anyway.
When a wave of guilt hits you, remember that guilt is a gray, looming fortress (like the Tower of London) where you feel trapped. Here is the crazy part, though: all the doors are unlocked, there are no guards, and there’s no reason for you to stay there. So why not leave?
The next time you are feeling guilty and are unsure of how to forgive yourself, ask yourself this one question: “How will this guilt serve me in the future?” If you are coming up with a blank, that’s the point. Guilt does not serve you, so you must forgive yourself and let go.
Guilt speaks the language of “maybe, should have, would have.” These are not action words. They are passive words that your guilt is using to make you create a false past reality that doesn’t exist. The next time you find yourself with those thoughts, nip it in the bud with compassion for yourself. Take a look at the following example.
Guilt thought: I feel guilty because maybe I should have suggested we go to couples therapy sooner.
The forgiveness mindset: We went to couples therapy when we thought we needed it, and did everything in our power at the time to fix it. You were brave to try it, and should not feel bad about any of that.
Guilt thought: I feel guilty because maybe I should have brought up the fact that we weren’t communicating anymore.
The forgiveness mindset: It takes two people for a marriage to work and you were not responsible for both of you. You did what you could with the strength you had at the time. Be proud of yourself for that.
Now it’s your turn. Write down the specific things that are making you feel guilty, then neutralize them with the compassion you deserve. Do this whenever the guilt sneaks up on you. As long as you are mindful and consistent with this practice, you can keep the guilt monster at bay.
The road to forgiving yourself and overcoming divorce guilt can be a long one, but showing yourself much-deserved compassion will ease that journey.