A few months ago, my client “Tom” phoned me to discuss how his meeting with his soon-to-be ex-wife went. She had phoned him numerous times and each time laying a guilt trip on him. What was ironic is that she had filed for divorce yet was relentless in getting him to feel guilty about the divorce. During this meeting, my client was so overcome with guilt, he not only lost his composure but wound up making very poor decisions. Thankfully, he had not signed any paperwork since this was an informal meeting, and he phoned me immediately to rectify the situation and work on the guilt he was overcome with.
So often I see clients in distress because they feel guilty about their pending divorce due to factors such as being the spouse who initiated the divorce, the role they played in the breakdown of the marriage, or the fact that their marriage ending is creating significant life changes for their kids. Yet, if you allow the guilt to take control of your divorce, it can have unintended consequences.
In my divorce coaching practice, I help clients get to the root of why they are making certain choices and mindfully decide how they want to handle their divorce, so they don’t look back and realize guilt got in the way of their goals.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure you don’t get stuck in an endless cycle of divorce guilt:
- Forgive yourself. Whether or not you did anything wrong, to heal from guilt, the first step is to forgive yourself. The first step is realizing you cannot change the past, but you can prevent yourself from repeating the same mistakes in the future. Another way to do this is to realize that some relationships simply reach a point where it’s time for them to end. People, priorities, circumstances and even you change over time. Some things in life were just meant to end, despite what we may want.
- Accept that feeling guilty won’t change a thing. Unfortunately, something went wrong for the marriage to end. As much as you may regret any actions you took or wish to have a chance to fix the things that caused your marriage to fail, feeling guilty won’t allow you to change the past. Guilt is a product of living in the past, and this will hold you back from moving forward and healing. Looking forward is key, not focusing on looking backward, otherwise, the guilt will hold you, prisoner, in your past.
- Don’t accept guilt from others. When your spouse is laying guilt on you by harsh, blameful comments or trying to get you to stay in a bad marriage will only make matters worse for your state of mind. You have enough going on in your mind right now, don’t allow others to add more to your load. If someone is looking to lay guilt on you, don’t engage since this will most likely lead to an unproductive debate that will not change their mind, but possibly get into yours. I recommend disengaging with those individuals.
- Don’t overcompensate. Are you thinking about buying your 17-year-old a new car or taking your kids on a high-end vacation while you’re struggling to make ends meet? Overcompensation is a classic response to guilt. When negotiating your division of assets with your spouse, if you’re feeling guilty, there’s a chance you may be tempted to accept an inequitable financial settlement or worse, give up too much time in a parenting plan for no good reason other than feeling guilty. So many mistakes are made in the divorce process due to feelings of guilt. Try to remain clear-headed and realize that even more than material things, what your children need from you more than ever is stability and unconditional love.
- Seek professional help. I’m always telling clients there is NO stigma or shame in seeking out a therapist or coach to work through your issues related to divorce, including guilt. They can give you exercises that will help you move forward and make sound rational decisions during your divorce process. If you’re feeling guilty or experiencing a host of negative emotions, having a support system is priceless. The hardest part is admitting you need help, but once you take that first step, I guarantee you will start to feel better. I always say, “Seeking help is an act of bravery!”
Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach for Men