Yes, it’s possible to live in peace even though you feel responsible or guilty for breaking up your marriage. These thoughts on dealing with guilt will help you cope with a painful separation or divorce. They’re inspired by a reader’s question on an article I recently wrote about divorce.
“I’m struggling to overcome my feelings of guilt when it comes to leaving my marriage,” she said on When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over. “He was diagnosed bipolar after we married. He hurt his back several years ago and rarely goes to 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. When there is a hint of me leaving he brings up the fact that his mother passed and he has no one.”
She asked if her guilt is justified, and if she should break up her marriage.
There are no quick tips or easy answers. In fact, the most important thing you can do is wrestle through the difficult decision of leaving your husband and make a decision that you yourself arrive at. If someone else – even a marriage counselor or divorce lawyer – tells you what to do, you’ll never come to terms with it.
Dealing with guilt is not easy…but it is possible to live in peace.
When You Feel Guilty for Breaking Up Your Marriage
The most important thing is to talk to someone you trust. You don’t necessarily need a counselor or therapist – and you definitely don’t need someone’s opinion on whether it was right to leave your husband!
However, you might need to work through your feelings so you can come to terms with your guilt. And the only way to do that is to face the pain and let it flow through you.
Remember how you coped with guilt in the past
Sometimes we’re our own best guides! Think back on your experiences dealing with guilt, shame, and regret. How did you deal with it? What would you do differently? How have you advised friends and family to deal with their own guilty feelings? What experience do you have with marriages ending, relationships breaking up, and divorce? It can be helpful to reflect on your own past when you’re in emotional pain — especially when you’ve been struggling with guilt for a long time.
Sometimes we don’t get over the grief and guilt of a marriage breaking up, especially if kids and other family members are involved. Sometimes we just have to learn how to live with guilt, regret, and choices we wish we hadn’t made.
If you’re struggling with your divorce, you might find on 7 Ways to Take Care of Yourself Through the Divorce Process helpful.
Know that feeling guilty is normal
Breaking up is hard, even if a marriage is better broken than together. It hurts because it’s not just a couple who is breaking up…it’s so much more. Feeling guilty for leaving your husband or breaking up a family will hurt, especially people who are loving, kind, and caring. You are a kind person, otherwise you wouldn’t be searching for help dealing with guilt for breaking up your marriage.
Instead of fighting how you feel, accept that guilt is part of divorce. Your guilt may ease with time and emotional effort…and it will be lighter and airier if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ. He is a master at dealing with guilty feelings and letting the past go! If you have questions about how God helps with guilt and marriage breakups, ask below.
If you feel guilty even though you know breaking up is better for you and your family than staying married, read How to Break Free From an Emotionally Destructive Relationship.
Accept that you won’t always feel this bad
Mary Oliver said, ““Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Maybe you’re at the stage of looking forward to the new season of your life…or maybe you still need to work through the pain, guilt and grief of your marriage breaking up. Take time to figure out where you are in the journey and what you need. Knowing what you need – and asking for it – will help you cope with the guilt that right now seems crushing.
But you won’t always feel this way.
Learn how to let go of someone you love
In How to Let of Someone You Love: 3 Powerful Secrets (and 75 Tips!) for Healing Your Heart, I share valuable insights and comfort for women who want to emotionally detach from painful feelings after a breakup or divorce.
It’s an ebook, so it’s immediately available. It’s not specifically about dealing with guilty feelings after breaking up a marriage, but it will help you move forward in your life.
If your guilty feelings are overwhelming, you may also find it helpful to read Escaping Toxic Guilt: Five Proven Steps to Free Yourself from Guilt for Good! It’s a book by Susan Carrell, very popular on Amazon.
Your thoughts – big and little – are welcome below. Writing can be one the best ways to deal with guilt, pain, shame and even regret after your marriage ends. Writing forces you to slow down and think. If you need questions to write about – questions that will help you deal with guilt for breaking up your marriage – feel free to ask me in the comments section below.
May you find healing, peace and joy as you move forward into the next season of your life.