Are you staying in a marriage because you feel guilty or bad about leaving your husband? Marriage guilt can keep you stuck in an unhappy relationship for a surprisingly long time. Decades, even. The way I see it, you have two choices: stay married and keep feeling guilty, or leave the relationship and feel guilty for different reasons.
Either way, you’re trapped by guilt. How do you get out of the trap? Easy. Do a lot of self-reflection, self-analysis, and hard work! Learn why you’re staying in a marriage you wish was over, and how to deal with the guilt that’s holding you in place.
When I said it’s “easy” to get out of the guilt trap, I meant it’s easy to say. Actually working to discern if your marriage is over is really hard — but it’s worth it. Below, you’ll find a few ideas for coping with guilty feelings that keep you in a relationship you wish is over. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below; writing is the best way to work through your confusion and untangle your feelings. Plus, you’ll show other women who are also struggling with guilt in marriage that they’re not alone…and neither are you.
How long have you been thinking about ending your marriage? Learn as much as you can about the consequences of divorce. Get free divorce consultations, visit divorce websites, talk to a divorce lawyer or two. Don’t let your guilty feelings stop you from taking thoughtful action and learning what your options are. You can feel guilty about thinking about leaving your marriage – and you can gather information at the same time.
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.
When Guilt Keeps You Married
These tips are inspired by a comment on an article I wrote about leaving a man you no longer love:
“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 Marriage because I don’t want to hurt him more, and I still care about him. What do I do?”
Remember that guilt is for women 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 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
“I’ve been married for 25 yrs and my marriage has been over for many years,” says Sara on 6 Ways to Deal With Guilty Feelings When You Move On. “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.”
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
Here’s a 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 Jessie. “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.”
Are you struggling alone? Don’t keep wrestling with your feelings of guilt by yourself. You’re facing a huge crossroads in your life, and you need to get support. Talk to people you trust. Swallow your pride, and admit how things really are going in your life. You won’t regret it. The truth will eventually set you free…but it will hurt first.
Getting help with guilty feelings
In Escaping Toxic Guilt: Five Proven Steps to Free Yourself From Guilt for Good!, Susan Carrell says your life’s journey shouldn’t be a guilt trip.
Are you staying in a marriage because you feel responsible for your husband’s happiness, health, and life? Do you value the feelings of others more than your own? Do you have unrealistic expectations of yourself? Then, she says, you may be trapped by toxic guilt.
Trying to win the approval of others – your parents, husband, colleagues, friends, children, or church – while being trapped by toxic guilt can strain your relationships, drain your energy, and dominate your life.
The five easy-to-follow steps in Escaping Toxic Guilt can liberate you from these self-defeating patterns and put you on the path to living life fully, joyfully, and on your own terms.
Escaping Toxic Guilt will help you:
- Recognize the difference between good guilt and toxic guilt
- Build boundaries around your time and emotions
- Weather the storm of people’s disapproval
- Find freedom through forgiveness and relinquishing control
- Protect your sense of self while still caring for others
Learn the difference between appropriate and inappropriate or toxic guilt. It will save your life!
Another helpful book is DIVORCE: Think Financially, Not Emotionally® Volume I: What Women Need To Know About Securing Their Financial Future Before, During, and After Divorce by Jeffrey Landers.
Landers teaches women everything they need to know to establish a secure financial future for themselves and their children before, during and after a financially complicated divorce. This divorce book guides women on how to focus on vital financial matters and offers specific instruction on a number of key issues vital to securing long-term financial security.
Are you feeling trapped in a marriage because you feel guilty, or even ashamed to leave? Think of one small way to start coping with your guilty feelings today. Maybe you need to examine the roots of your guilt, or the deeper reasons you’re staying in this relationship.
Maybe you’re blaming your reluctance to leave your marriage on your husband, when instead it’s you that’s keeping you trapped.