It's natural to feel badly about leaving a marriage, but feelings of guilt that are not kept under control can have an adverse effect on your personal relationships and your self-esteem. Everybody has regrets and makes some decisions that may cause hurt to another person. Face up to your guilt, but give yourself permission to leave it behind you.
Rational vs Irrational Guilt
The purpose of guilt is to alert you to the fact that you have done something wrong, says psychologist John M. Grohol, in his Psych Central article, "5 Tips for Dealing with Guilt." According to Grohol, two types of guilt exist: appropriate or rational guilt and inappropriate or irrational guilt. Identify the type of guilt you are feeling about leaving your marriage. If you cheated on your spouse or treated him unfairly, your guilt is appropriate because you have acted in the wrong. However, if you left your marriage because your spouse mistreated or cheated on you or because you did not love each other any more, you have nothing to feel guilty about.
Accept Your Guilt
Accepting your guilt as a normal response to a marriage breakdown will help you turn it into a positive, advises the HelpGuide.org article, "Coping with a Breakup or Divorce." If your guilt is rational, make amends. Apologize to your spouse for your bad behavior. Learn from your mistakes in order to make better decisions in future relationships. If your guilt is irrational, acknowledge your feelings, but make an effort to be kind to yourself. Don't beat yourself up for leaving your marriage.
Focus on Your Children
Staying in your marriage for the sake of your children may have crossed your mind and perhaps you feel guilty for breaking up the family unit. This is a natural reaction, but while separation may be upsetting for your children in the short term, it is preferable to living in a unhappy environment, says author Rosalind Sedacca in her Huffington Post article, "Divorce Or Stay? Parents Must Put Kids First Either Way." If you know that your marriage is definitely over, staying for the sake of your children is likely to lead to more hurt and misery. Talk to your children about what's happening and focus on creating a happy future for them.
Obsessing about your guilt only increases your negative feelings and does nothing to help you move on. Even if you behaved in an inappropriate or hurtful way toward your spouse, you have to let it go. You can do nothing to change the past, but you have the power to shape your future says psychotherapist Maud Purcell in the Psych Central article, "Guilt: The Cripping Emotion." Your guilt will pass, and by recognizing what elements of your behavior you need to change, you can reduce the likelihood of feeling guilty for the same reason in the future.
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C. Giles is a writer with an MA (Hons) in English literature and a post-graduate diploma in law. Her work has been published in several publications, both online and offline, including "The Herald," "The Big Issue" and "Daily Record."