By Robert L. Mues   |   January 10th, 2009

guilt.jpgNo doubt, guilt is a big issue for many people going through a divorce.  I came across an interesting article on the subject at Divorce Transitions.  The author has opined that there are two separate stages:

Shock

We tend to think of “shock” as being sudden.  But the dictionary tells us it can be “a disturbance in the equilibrium or permanence of something” or “a sudden or violent mental or emotional disturbance.”  Therapists confirm that shock need not have the suddenness of a lightning bolt.  You may have known for some time that your marriage was in trouble, but the final realization of the loss may still create a sense of shock.

Among the most common symptoms are extreme disorientation, numbness, difficulty with short-term memory, physical distress, and/or confusion.  As part of denial, the divorce-bound person may seek refuge in fantasy.  “He’s going to come in the front door this evening, and everything will be just like its always been.”  There’s comfort in the familiar. Denial provides a necessary buffer zone in which the unconscious prepares itself for the massive change ahead.

Guilt

Although both spouses may experience feelings of guilt, they do so at somewhat different times.  The Leaver can feel guilt over leaving the marriage, no matter how unhealthy.  In fact, the longer the co-dependent marriage goes on, the more each party is locked into their giving-receiving role.  The giver became accustomed to always putting others’ desires and interests before his or hers.  It may be agonizing for that person to suddenly put their mental well-being ahead of doing for others.

On the other hand, the Left may do a lot of hand wringing over various “if only” issues.  If only I had been a better provider, lover, caregiver, companion, the Leaver wouldn’t have gone.

The shock becomes less numbing with time as the sufferer is better able to accept the fact of the major life change they now face.  Both aspects of guilt can be addressed in joint counseling, or counseling for closure.

Overcoming the feelings of guilt is necessary to start healing from a divorce.  Guilt may be the strongest where it involves your children, according to psychologists.  Dr. Paul Wanio, a psychologist in Florida, makes the following observations and suggestions:

  • You’re not perfect, and that’s OK.
  • You will make mistakes even when doing your best.
  • Divorce is like death and sometimes the only thing that you can do is to just be there for your child and understand.  That’s all.
  • Your child’s negative comments may simply be an expression of distress and not criticism.
  • Your child’s blaming of you may be a defense against feeling overwhelmed and not meant against you personally – it is merely a young child’s way of coping.
  • Change never happens as quickly as any of us want.  Acceptance and patience will do much to help you through this time.
  • Distress is less traumatic when met with love.

To read Dr. Wanio’s entire article, click here.

The importance of obtaining counseling in the divorce transition process cannot be overstated.  A good psychologist can be invaluable.  Talk with your lawyer about recommendations.  There are many excellent resources available online including www.divorcewithoutdishonor.com, and www.firstwivesworld.com.

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Robert L. MuesAbout The Author: Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.

Feeling Guilty About Your Divorce?

4 thoughts on “Feeling Guilty About Your Divorce?

  • February 11, 2009 at 8:37 pm
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    Most people know that guilt comes with the territory of divorce, especially if there are children involved. A book written by Susan Carrell,”Escaping Toxic Guilt”, helped me understand this guilt and work through it.
    Susan Carrell is amazing. I’m so glad I bought her book.

  • July 9, 2009 at 5:58 pm
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    Divorces rarely end pretty and its always toughest on the kids and father. It’s best to avoid it at almost all costs, and by that I mean making choosing a spouse extremely carefully :/
    -Jack

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