Were you the one who pulled the trigger on your divorce? If so, my guess is that you have probably asked yourself one (or more) of these questions a thousand times: "Are things really that bad?", "Am I giving up too soon?", "How can I do this to my kids?", and "Am I going to regret this later?" If these questions are rattling around in your head, chances are you are on a divorce guilt trip.
As someone who was born and raised with guilt (I'm Catholic), I can tell you from firsthand experience how devastating guilt can be. It destroys your sense of self-worth. It makes you feel small. It strips your power away from you faster than a vacuum cleaner sucks dirt from your carpet. But just what is this one simple emotion that has such incredible power?
"Guilt" has been defined as "a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong." The two key words in that definition are "bad" and "wrong." When you are feeling guilty about something (like your decision to get divorced), what you are really saying to yourself is that you are "bad" and "wrong" for having made the decision to end your marriage.
Is It True?
If you are like most people, you took your marriage vows seriously. You honestly believed that you were going to be married "till death did you part." But then something changed. You found out that the person you were married to was different than the person you walked down the aisle with. Or one of you had an affair. Or maybe you just became unhappy. That's almost the worst.
The guilt you feel when nothing was technically "wrong" in your marriage but you want a divorce anyway can be crippling! You feel like something must be wrong with you, because nothing seems to be wrong with your marriage and you still can't stand to be in it any more. You are miserable -- totally, completely, physically, mentally and emotionally miserable.
No matter what the circumstances surrounding the end of your marriage, there is only one reason you are feeling guilty about it: You believe (somewhere deep down) that you are bad or wrong for wanting to divorce.
Your Divorce Guilt Trip
What makes divorce guilt so devastating is that it doesn't make you feel that your decision to divorce is bad or wrong. Guilt makes you feel that you, as a person, are bad and wrong because you decided to divorce.
Guilt doesn't care whether you twisted over the decision to divorce for weeks, months or even years. Guilt doesn't give you a pass even if you based your decision on the best information you could. Guilt doesn't take into account your intentions, or the amount of courage it may have taken you to finally decide to divorce yourself from a marriage that had been already been dead for years. Guilt makes you feel bad no matter what.
But guilt is not the truth.
The truth is that you are more than your divorce. The truth is that you are an amazing and wonderful human being, whether you are divorced or not. The truth is that you are loved and you deserve to be loved -- just because you are human. Period.
The truth is also that part of the reason you feel guilty is because you have been sold a bill of goods all your life. You were told since childhood that someday you would find your true love and that, when you did, you would get married and live happily ever after. You were also told that, once you were married, you were supposed to stay married forever, no matter what -- even if that person changed, you changed, you discovered you were not in love anymore, and even if you were about as far from happily ever after as it was possible to get.
So which is it? Are you supposed to have true love and live happily ever after? Or are you supposed to abandon all hope of having true love and living happily ever after once you are married?
Changing Your View
Guilt is a feeling. It comes from your heart, not your head. But it starts when your head tells your heart that you have done something bad or wrong. Getting divorced is not necessarily bad or wrong. It is also not necessarily good or right either. The truth is that divorce is whatever you make of it.
If you honestly believe, in your heart, that getting divorced is the best decision for you and for your family, then embrace that decision and be at peace with it. If you don't believe in divorce, or never wanted a divorce, but your spouse wants a divorce and won't change his/her mind, then give yourself a break and stop beating yourself up for something you can't control.
On the other hand, if you have in fact caused the breakdown of your marriage and you feel guilty about that, then take responsibility for what you did, do your best to make whatever amends you can make and move on. Accept that you are human and that everyone does things from time to time that they wish they had not done.
No matter what, do your best to let go of your guilt. It is not helping you. It is not helping your family. It serves no purpose other than to make you feel bad. If you are going through a divorce, you already feel bad enough as it is. You don't need anything else to bring you down.
So, when you find that your divorce guilt is taking you on a trip to a place you don't want to go, do yourself a favor -- don't go along for the ride.