When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over 19

Marriage guilt can keep you in a relationship you wish had ended long ago. Here are a few tips for wives who feel trapped by guilt in unhappy marriages.

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When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over

Toxic Marriage Guilt

You need to figure out what’s holding you back…and then you need to focus on taking the next steps. Don’t take the leap alone – read books like Escaping Toxic Guilt: Five Proven Steps to Free Yourself From Guilt for Good! by Susan Carrell to learn how other women overcame guilty feelings to leave marriages that they wished were over.

It’s important for women to learn as much as they can about divorce, from free divorce consultations, divorce websites, and even a lawyer or two. You can feel guilty about thinking about leaving your marriage – and you can gather information at the same time. And, remember that dealing with guilty feelings if you’re thinking about divorce is a process that takes time. Give yourself time to find ways to get good relationship advice, and to make the right decision about your marriage.

Read books such as What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody (Rev): Judges, Lawyers, and Therapists Share Winning Strategies on How toKeep the Kids, the Cash, and Your Sanity by Gayle Rosenwald Smith and Sally Abrahms. Even if you weren’t married, you still may have legal entanglements that you’d be better off knowing about.

These tips are inspired by two comments on an article I wrote about leaving a man you once loved: “My relationship was over for three years, but I stayed because I didn’t want to hurt him and it’s hard to leave after an eight year relationship,” says J. on How Do You Leave a Man You’ve Loved for Years?

“So we just kept being miserable, putting on a good show for friends…I found comfort in online chat rooms…met someone and had an online relationship for a year. I wanted it to be over with my fiancé. He found out and I feel so guilty for not dealing with things sooner. I don’t want to hurt him more. He wants to work it out, but we were over a long time ago. Plus I still resent him for the years of misery. My guilt keeps me in this relationship because I don’t want to hurt him more, and I still care about him. What do I do?”

And, here are a few thoughts on leaving your fiancé or husband when you feel guilty…

When Guilt Keeps You Married

Here’s a comment from a wife whose husband deliberately makes her feel guilty for wanting to end their marriage: “I’ve been married for 25 yrs and my marriage has been over for many years,” says S. on the same article. “I do love this man, but I’m not in love with him anymore. Our relationship has been one-sided and I was always trying to please him. My husband only thinks about himself and what makes him happy. I told him I want to leave, but he keeps saying he’ll change and never does. I’ve been trying to leave but he makes me feel so guilty. He keeps telling me to wait until after the holidays and it will be easier for him, but what about me? I know I deserve to be happy, but I can’t shake the guilt. How do you leave? Do you leave while he’s at work, or leave while he’s at home? I’m so confused.”

If it would be easier to leave while he’s at work, then that’s the best time to pack your bags.

Remember that guilt is for people who did something wrong

Guilt is an appropriate emotion for women who did something wrong to their husbands, children, or marriage. Guilt isn’t appropriate for doing something you want to do – something that is healthy and good for you! Granted, having an online relationship with another man isn’t exactly the right thing to do…but what’s done is done. We all make mistakes, and we need to forgive ourselves and move forward.

Why do you feel so guilty? Maybe you don’t need to go there…a counselor once told me not to waste time on negative emotions like guilt, anger, bitterness, misery. Instead, she said, focus on what you want to create in your life. So, instead of focusing on the guilt that keeps you in your marriage, focus on finding the strength to leave a relationship.

If you think getting divorced is too much, read Surviving Divorce – Journaling for Recovery and Rebuilding.

Figure out what’s holding you back – what’s keeping you in the marriage

Women stay in relationships they wish were over for many reasons. Besides guilt, what is keeping you in this marriage? If you don’t know, read  5 Reasons Women Stay in Loveless Marriages. Maybe you’ll find some insight there, maybe you’ll see the reasons you’re trapped in this relationship.

I stayed in bad relationships not out of guilt, but because I didn’t think I could do better. I didn’t want to start dating again, was scared nobody else would love me…the hell I knew was better than a fresh hell that could be worse. In hindsight, I wish I had the strength to leave the men I didn’t like being in relationships with. But when I was in those relationships, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave.

Accept that even the “rightest” decisions come with pain and heartache

Sometimes the better a decision is for your life, the harder it is to actually implement. Even healthy, good decisions that are beneficial in the long run (think exercise, eating healthy, going for regular pap smears!) are painful in the short run. So, don’t take your feelings of guilt and pain as a sign that you shouldn’t end your marriage. Your emotions are a normal response to a major life decision – especially if you’ve been in a marriage for 25 years, or even eight years.

Find women who overcame “marriage guilt” and ended their marriages

marriage guilt

“When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over” image by Laurie

Here’s a helpful comment from one of my readers, who was stuck in a bad relationship for three years…

“I realized that this is not how I want to live my life and none of this is OK,” says JE. “Even if he were to change, he has already taken so many years from me…and I am taking the rest of my years for myself. I too still feel immense guilt for ‘doing this to him.’ I sometimes forget what it is that HE did to ME. We are now separated and it is still really hard. But everyday I wake up telling myself that I am worth it. I deserve to be respected and loved. Writing in a journal, getting family/ friend support, and a good therapist are the keys.

I love that she said she’s taking the rest of her years for herself! That’s how women should live: for themselves. We deserve to be loved and respected – but love and respect won’t be ours unless we demand it.

For more tips, read Thinking About Divorce? 4 Options for Unhappy Married Couples.

Is guilt keeping you in a marriage you wish was over? What small step can you take to start overcoming your guilty feelings for leaving? I welcome your thoughts below. I don’t give relationship advice, but you may find that writing about your feelings of guilt may bring relief and insight.

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19 thoughts on “When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over

  • Kim

    I’ve been in a relationship with a man for 15 years. He is not the biological father of my teenager, but is the only dad she knows. He has been on disability all this time and I’ve been the breadwinner. Years of arguing and dealing with his criticism and contempt and me turning into a person I’m not proud of when we argue, plus his undiagnosed OCD issues – left me finally wanting to leave in Oct 2015. He is very private and estranged from his family and has few friends or any social network and has guilted me this entire time telling me that not only am I destroying our daughter’s life by doing this, but he will die without me because he has no one else and is nearly 50. I moved out in July 2016 (delay due to financial reasons) – now here I am in April 2017 and I’m still spending every day at his place because our daughter wouldn’t move in with me out of guilt and I didn’t force her. She is now struggling with her grades and behavior and I’m trying to be present and supportive. I’m also out of money due to a recent neck surgery and am in severe financial distress. He is trying to get me to move back in. I love him, but have too many resentments from the past. I just want to move on and I want him to let me go. I’m scared and don’t know what keeps me from completely moving on other than the guilt that he will be homeless at 50 or might hurt himself.

  • Elisabeth

    I am 100 percent sure that I am ready to leave. My husband and I have stayed married. We have separate friends. Separate vacations. No common interests. He drinks and is a dark moody person when he comes home. I do my own things and he doesn’t care. I have reached the end and met the love of my life. I plan on telling my husband on the phone Monday night. He is on Florida playing with the boys. I am agonizing over telling him but it has to be done. I hope I can do it. So scared. He is going to freak. How do I call myself down?

  • Nicki

    I’m in such a weird place right now. I genuinely feel in my heart that I don’t have intimate feelings for my husband. He drinks heavily on a regular basis, but says he does not have a problem because he doesn’t drink when he is on shift for work, however, he will drink a whole bottle of crown in one night or go through a six pack of heavy beers. Last month, we went wine tasting with our friends. He proceeded to get black out drunk and when I told him I was going back to our friends house to call it a night he said “Well I’m just going to sleep with her then” (this was a woman of one of our mutual friends). I didn’t know what to say and stood outside the bar to wait for my ride. This isn’t the first time of his black out drinking in public. When he woke up, he didn’t realize what he had said. I think I would divorce him immediately if we didn’t have a daughter together. Shes 3 1/2 and I couldn’t imagine putting her through this. Breaks my heart just to think about it. He’s always drank heavily and told me if I can’t accept it than I should break up with him (this was before we were married). He has agreed to see a marriage therapist which we have not done yet, in contrast, I don’t know if my feelings will change. I’m scared to even go down the road of divorce, but have heavily considered it the last two years. It also feels like he looks at the negative side of things, he will say “well you haven’t taken care of this around the yard, etc.” he nitpicks at everything! He is so uptight and anal about everything it is difficult to go out and have a good time (that is, unless he’s had a couple of beers then he is more relaxed).

  • Kym

    I have been married for almost 28 years. The 1st three yrs weren’t too bad. Fast forward 10 years, our relationship was rocky, he would blame me for having to selling things, we had different interests and he loved to spend money. A year later he retired from the Military and became a contractor. I found out that I was pregnant again a month later-which was a shock. After he had been at the job for 6 mths, he told me how much he hated it and broke down-I told him that if that he should quit if it was making him that miserable. So he did and stayed at home to take care of our son. Money was SUPER tight, we were sinking further and further in debt. So we decided to move to where his family was from so we could be closer and have some help-I found a job before we moved so we would still have income. He stayed back to sell the house and I took the kids with me so they could start school. I ended up having to work from home-with 4 kids and my husband, I was very nervous. He was the worst though, he was loud when I was on the phone, cussed and totally did not take into consideration that my job was how were able to live. There were a lot of bad things said to each other-I lost trust, completely fell out of love-actually I really didn’t like him at all. We have had a lot of issues financially-to the point of bankruptcy and emotionally. I just thought that being miserable at home was part of life. I finally got the nerve to ask him for a divorce-he said that he knew it was going to happen and that I hadn’t been happy for at least 15 years. I met a guy that actually made me feel good about myself and it was wonderful–it didn’t work out, but I had gotten a taste of happiness and it was great. Then my husband (because we were only separated) started telling me how he wished he would have done this-that differently. We decided that we would try it again…The thing is that I do love him and probably always will-I just don’t want to be with him anymore and I DO feel guilty because I know he doesn’t make enough in retirement to make it on his own and I DON’T want him to feel bad…but I am tired of trying to fulfill his dreams and put mine to the side while I work 50 hours a week and he doesn’t do anything to help finance his wants.

  • Laurie Post author

    I don’t think you can end any relationship without hurting someone.

    I suppose it’s a question of “what’s worse?” Is it more harmful for you (and your husband) to stay in a marriage held together by guilt, or is it worse to be honest and end the marriage? Staying in a guilt-ridden marriage may be more harmful in the long run….and ending the marriage may be painful in the short/medium run.

  • Ashley

    Ive been with my husband for 10 years. Married for almost 6 years. We started dating when I was 17 and became pregnant 3 months later. Ive always had a feeling of doubt and that I was stuck. I just dont know how to get out without hurting him. Ive always had a feeling something was missing. Im not physically attracted to him anymore or emotionally connected either. I recently started talking to an old crush and we connect in so many ways. But the guilt is overtaking my mind and he also keeps threatening to take my kids because I dont have a job right now. So the reasons Im still here are because of guilt and fear.

  • Michele

    I have been married for 11 years. He has two children and I have one. Our blended family has worked out so well and was so blessed for the first 5 1/2 years!! Our kids love each other so much. Our marriage started out with God as the center. But a few years later my husband stepped away from his faith. Infidelity then began with online stuff and then full blown multiple affairs with multiple women for the last 4 years. He has lied to me so much. And promised to stop and to get help but never did. This last affair that I just caught him in 5 months ago I told him I wanted a divorce. But he begged me to stay and said he’d get help. Again, never did. He has been mean and degrading to me during sex and cold with communication and blames me for our marriage problems, communication problems and has even said he lost some of his desire for me because I’ve gained a bit of weight. He has become selfish and self centered. Just a few days ago I realized I am not in love with him anymore and told him I want a divorce. And now that he has beaten this horse to death, now he wants to revive it! Now that I am serious about walking away he has started counseling and going to church with me. To be honest, he can get all the help he wants and should so that he can change his ways and become a better man. But I honestly don’t know, even if he does change, if I will ever be able to trust him again. He tells me I am giving up on us. He doesn’t realize that he is the one that gave up on us. He keeps trying to date me and reconnect with me. But I am so wounded I just don’t even want to be around him. Why would I want to reconnect with someone I can’t trust anymore? He makes me feel guilty for the lost love I have and for wanting out of this marriage. I stay because I have a hard time letting go of what we used to be. And the pain our kids will bear from the divorce. They are all grown and are in college. But being a mom, I’m still gonna carry my pain and my daughters cause that’s what we do. I will be hurting for two people. And even for his kids because I love them too. This is so hard:(

  • Laurie Post author

    If it’s just guilt that’s keeping you in a marriage you wish was over, maybe the short-term pain of divorce is better than the long-term pain of staying when neither of you are happy.

    Or, maybe it would be worth the effort to save your marriage. Maybe you’re both trapped in a downward spiral, and you need each other to get out of it. One of you can’t save your marriage…but together, you can be happy.

    Who will make the first move towards divorce or more effort to save your relationship?

  • Kate

    I have only been married for three years, we had only been together a year when we got married, it was a spur of the moment thing, and stupidly didn’t really think about it (I am very impulsive due to having borderline personality disorder) I have already left him twice. He is lazy and doesn’t seem to care about anything other than sitting watching TV. He doesn’t shower, doesn’t make any effort in the relationship and If I try to talk to him he walks out of the room and gets in a mood and then there is an atmosphere for days. He told me last week that he worries in case I leave him again, but to be honest, he doesn’t seem very happy to me, and is always miserable and moody. I know I am not happy, and regret going back last time, but feel guilty about leaving him as he has no one else. He never had kids and doesn’t have any family locally and the ones he does have who live miles away he doesn’t have any contact with. I am in my mid fifties and really don’t want to spend the next twenty years with this man, feeling this way. I don’t feel like I am living, just existing. I am thinking of writing him a letter saying how I feel, because I know that if I try to talk to him he will just walk out of the room. I do love him, and I know that if he made an effort in the relationship it could work, but I make all the effort and he just sits watching TV. I know love is not enough if the relationship is unhappy, we don’t go out because HE doesn’t drink. we don’t have a sex life because HE has a low sex drive, and life consists of going to work and then coming home watching TV. How much longer can I go on like this, I don’t know. Feeling really low.

  • Ivorydragon

    Hi. I’ve been in a 4.5 long distance relationship that turned into 11 years of marriage this month. It’s been an insane, mutually abusive struggle to grow up, grow at all. I’ve recently become I’ll and have been out of work. I don’t earn the money, so I get nothing but food and the shelter he provides for me, since he provides all and I’m nothing. I ‘ve finally fallen out of love with him. He’s fairly high on narcissistic tendancies, refuses dic, though in 2010 we went to a psychiatrist and he got better…then spent thousands of dollars behind my back or even if I said no. I’m not allowed to leave to go foe a walk, or get out of his rages. He follows me from room to room lawyer arguing until I scream. I’ve been suicidally depressed. Sick, no real saving of my oen, no escape. I talked with a friend online about the abuse and he just kept saying you’re human, you deserve to be happy. You’re beautiful (spouse said no one would ever want me again). I of course really felt this and things progressed to video chat. I tried to transfer these new steamy feeling to my marriage, and it worked, but now Internet guy say he loves me. *sigh* I’m hurting them all with my selfish need for validation. Don’t know what to do now.

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Peter,

    Thank you for being here, and sharing your experience. Yes, marriage guilt definitely applies to men, too!

    I don’t think killing yourself — or her — is a healthy option that will bring long-term happiness and peace in your life. I know it seems like there is no other solution….but it only SEEMS like there is no other solution.

    What are three other ways you can take control of your life?

  • Peter

    Can the above article “When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over”
    Apply to a man. I want to leave a unhappy marriage 39 years,
    My wife will not let me do anything [I don’t mean sex] but take up outside interests. Even to going for a walk or make use of my bus pass.
    I am rapidly arriving at the end of my tether. I can;
    a] Kill my self, but why should I.
    b] Kill her, but that would only lead to prison. [I feel I am there now]
    c] Simply walk out, rent a cheap flat on one of the Spanish Costas and see what happens.

  • edwella

    I have been married to my husband for 7 years now. Shortly after our marriage, i realized how emotionally detached we were. It was a night mare. I never had the chance to be with my husband and feel loved. I began to think if we had children, he will come home more, love me more and be emotional. We coukd not have kids. We could notcommunictae effectively with one another. I began seeking mediacl help, went to several specialist who told me i was alright. My husband went for a test and he was diagnosed with very low sperm count. He argued with the doctors and told me how he had impregnated several of his girlfriends. I felt guilty and resdponsible for our childlessness. After 3 years, in the course of my grief, i met as guy who listened to me and talked with me ofte. I felt some relieve. We were friends. Some day, i decided to give him a try. We had sex, one time and i was pregnant. From the moment i realized i could be pregnant, i began to dislike and feel so decieved by my husband. If only he admitted his problem, we would have sought better solutions to our problems. Now i have t deal with having another man’s child in my husband’s house. We lack any emotion or even passion to have an effective communication, always raising our voices and fighting in the presence of our son.
    We moved to Texas in 2011 and my son was two yrs old. He statred accusing me again of not wanting to have more kids for him. Then i told him to go get checked. He went but kept lieing to me. At that point, i told him that he was not the father of out son.
    Since then, i feel so guilty, and i can not stay in the marriage any more. Our son is 4 yrs now and i want to leave. He says I want to leave him beacuse he cannot get me pregnant. He makes me feel guilty for his predicaments which i feel if he had accepted the doctor’s advice, we could have salvaged some of his sperm.

  • Laurie

    Dear Candace,

    Thank you for bravely sharing your experience. It takes alot of courage to be honest about what you’re going through in your marriage – especially when you’re dealing with guilt that is keeping you in a relationship you wish was over.

    Have you talked to a counselor? You are going through so many emotions and experiences, and it’s very difficult to sort through and process them on your own. You have made an amazing first step in writing everything out and getting it off your chest! But you need to sit down with someone in person, and talk everything through.

    There are certain things that need to be worked out in your heart, mind and soul. I believe that the best way to figure out what to do and how to proceed is to take a deep breath, find a counselor that you connect with, and start with the emotions that are overwhelming you.

    You will never find an article online that can meet your exact needs. That’s why I encourage readers to use online resources for love and relationships as a starting point, and then go deeper in person with a counselor.

    My prayer for you is that you find peace. Whether you separate or divorce, stay together or go to marriage counseling — I pray you find what you need in your life. May you be filled with emotional freedom, acceptance, forgiveness, and strength as you move forward in your life. May you find the right people to help guide and lead you. Above all, may you hear the voice of God. He loves you and wants you to be happy and healthy. No more suffering is what He wants for you! May you reach out and grasp His hand, open the door, for He is knocking. Amen.


  • Candace

    I need help.
    I don’t know what to do. I have read sssoo many of your articles and I want to thank you for the help that they have given me. Yet in all my readings, I can’t find a article that can relate to my situation. So any articles that I read talk about a husband, who is no longer the man they married. Their husband is cruel, or lazy, or broke or cheating. My husband has done none of those things. He’s never cheated on me. Supports me through all my choices. He’s a good man.
    Why do I want out of this marriage… ?
    It’s exhausting. We have always had a relationship where we are away from each other for long periods of time. Since we got together I have cheated on him 4 times. One of which he knows of. And every time we argue it is brought up about how at least he’s not the one that cheated. I feel so guilty, I hate myself. I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life with a girl who at so many times in our marriage saw him as replacablr. He deserves so much better. I didn’t take his name for a year and a half of our marriage (we’ve been married two). Simply because I didn’t want to. Not because I didn’t love him but because I was so attached to my old one. I’m selfish. It’s disgusting.
    But yet, I love him. There’s nothing better than just being around him. I love his company, the way we spend time. I adore the way we joke and laugh with one another. He’s sweet. When things get bad, and our arguments spiral outta control, he is raged. Yells and screams, curses, calls me names, hes never hit me. The out burst bother me. But I feel entitled to them, after everything I’ve done that he doesn’t know about. He’s controlling though. But in a way I don’t notice. Everyone else says it though.
    I know he has issues of his own. When we first got together I had a little dog. He absused it viciously until I decided to give it to my mom because of the guilt I felt. Fast forward a year. We move to Texas, 16 hours away from my family. We take the dog. And three months later I’m forced to get rid of it. Or else it had to live in the basement.
    Of course that lead to my parents. Furious over my decision. To get rid of the dog and not leave the man. My parents have never liked him. After finding out about the dog, they must of thought one day he would release that rage on me one day. Like I said he never has. My parents forbid us to get married. Said they wouldn’t allow it. Not till I was outta college. We didn’t listen. We married in a courthouse 5 months later. We’ve been married for two years. It really really deeply and truly bothers me, that I have a husband who my parents refuse to be around. Hes not welcome in my parents home. Only me. The tension that creates between my husband and I is immense. My parents and my husband each want me to choice one and not the other. I can’t. I won’t. I need both. Its so hard. I know I should’ve thought about
    That when I got married. But I didn’t. I didn’t think about much of anything besides what my husband wanted. HE wanted to marry me. HE wanted to be with me forever. I wasn’t thinking. About how truly serious a marriage was. Even though he had asked me no less than twenty times before hand if I knew waso was getting myself into. Sigh… I thought I did.

    My marriage has been a lie. Both from choices I’ve made, and from things I’ve had to hide from my family and friends in hope that they would approve of the man I married. After being married for two years I’m realizing how long forever is. Forever is so long. Forever isn’t something that can be built on what our marriage already has. I can never look at my children when they ask me if I’ve ever been with anyone besides their daddy and truthfully answer yes. I guess thank goodness we have no kids. I cannot be 80 and married to a man, my parents never got to meet because they despised our decision.
    I want a divorce. Not even a divorce. A separation. He’s done nothing to cause this. I mean in a snowball effect he has. But I can deal with that. I need a divorce for me. I’m a monster, yet I STILL FEEL LIKE LRSVING IS JUST AS BAD. If I stay I’m a terrible person because of everything I’ve stated. If I leave, I abandon him. I break his heart. He believes he will spend the rest of our lives together. I don’t know if hes imagined and alternative. The guilt it’s so overwhelming no matter what. I don’t know what to do. Obviously you can’t tell me no one can. But is there any insight, similar experiences. Anything you can help me with. I hope you see this comment…

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Lookingfordirection,

    Thank you for being here! My answer to both your questions is “Yes.” Yes, your guilt is justified because you want to make a choice that will cause your husband pain. You feel like you’re doing something wrong/painful/hurtful, so you feel guilty. This normal. This means you are a loving, warm, caring, compassionate human being. Guilt is part of the package you’ll create when/if you leave your marriage.

    But does guilt mean you have to stay married to a man who makes you unhappy? I don’t think so.

    I wrote this for you:


    I welcome your thoughts.


  • Lookingfordirection

    I am having a problem overcoming my feeling of guilt when it comes to leaving my husband and am at a loss as to how to overcome it. I am in therapy, but it hasn’t helped my strong feeling. My husband was diagnosed bipolar after we married he hurt his back several years ago and rarely attends work. He is mean to me and the kids and is extremely selfish. He has no regard for the finances or any of the things that are adult/parent responsibilities. He has alienated all of his friends and he doesn’t have much family. Whenever we get in a fight where there is a hint of leaving he brings up the fact that his mother passed and he has no one he also makes the comment that he “almost died” from a seizure he had several years ago. Is my guilt justified? Is it okay to leave someone who has medical conditions?