How To Overcome Divorce Guilt And Self-Blame

It is easy to become overwhelmed with divorce guilt and self-blame. Here’s how to turn these emotions into something positive.

When it comes to divorce, there can be two types of partners. Those that refuse to take any responsibility, and others who wrap themselves in self-blame and guilt. It is easy to become overwhelmed with divorce guilt and self-blame.

Drowning in Self-Blame

Those who shoulder all the blame for a marriage upheaval feel responsible for not having fixed the problem and for having caused it in the first place. This mindset can easily take a turn for the worst when the person becomes convinced that he or she is unlovable and unworthy of a life partner.

The solution in their mind is to become perfect. They failed at marriage; any other failure would be unbearable. As a consequence, divorcees who suffer from guilt and self-blame struggle to make their new life as perfect as possible. Another failure is not an option.

Unfortunately, when we cling to perfectionism, we find ourselves on a slippery downward spiral.

Problems Have A Variety Of Causes

Taking on the entire blame for a failed marriage imbues a person with power that simply doesn’t exist. Every action we take has a cause – whether it is a grouchy boss, an irritating friend, or a world of other things. No problem has just one cause. We enter marriage, at best, it gets very complicated.

Blame and avoidance of responsibility are extremes in black and white. Life, however, is colored with every shade of gray. From the weather to our financial situation to our children’s report card to a forgotten birthday, the shadows keep shifting and coming. That isn’t even taking the broken-down car and the impending visit from the in-laws into account.

When We Are Not Being Our Best Selves – And What To Do About It

When we are overwrought with guilt and blame, we are not being our best selves. This is the time to elevate our mindset to more positive thinking. It is easy to forget that we, as humans, were meant to thrive, not struggle. Like flora, we need to bloom instead of wilt. Guilt and blame can help destroy us on the vine.

Sometimes, it is time to refuel. Enjoy a relaxing bubble bath. Get a massage, a manicure, a pedicure. Self-care is not a foolish luxury. It can help us become stronger and more resilient. It will help you see that you are not the sole cause of the dissolution of your marriage. By taking on blame and guilt, you are depriving yourself of the potential to grow and start over.

What Causes Use To Feel Unearned Guilt?

There are several reasons we may grasp at guilt.

  1. Marriage involves sacred vows. When a marriage fails, we can feel guilty about breaking a holy pledge. Even if the fault obviously lies with the infidelity or destructive habits of our partner, we can still blame ourselves for not helping enough and not doing enough to keep our promise. This is when we can indulge in a morbid game of “what if.” What if I’d been more intimate? What if I’d been more there for him/her to keep him/her from drinking … gambling … drugging ….
  2. Many of us are taught in childhood that guilt is a good thing. When we misbehaved, parents frequently relied on guilt to guide us toward better behavior. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself ….” The lesson we absorb is that when we feel guilt, we are better people. Sometimes, guilt can keep us from committing a bad act. That is good guilt. But when we cling to guilt, it becomes irrational and unhealthy. It is us turning against ourselves in a kind of emotional suicide. We certainly can and do make mistakes. But those are learning experiences, not the time for wallowing.
  3. If you are still overwhelmed by the entire divorce process, you are likely still processing your emotions. Give yourself time. If needed, a counselor may help.

How To Move On From Guilt

No one can tell you how to feel following the dissolution of your marriage. Feelings are neither right nor wrong; they simply are. But your goal should be to move through the wall of guilt and self-blame. Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Begin the journey by forgiving yourself. Mistakes were made all-around. Accept that and learn from them instead of allowing yourself to become overwhelmed.
  2. Accept that people and relationships change. It was not your fault.
  3. Understand that guilt and blame will not affect what happened. It won’t change things.
  4. Guilt keeps you chained to the past at a time you desperately need to move forward.
  5. Some people find writing about their feelings helps them cope.
  6. If you continue to blame yourself for your divorce, a counselor may be able to help you.

Overcompensating With Children

Divorce is hard on children, and both parents should work together to help them adjust. As a parent, you may feel guilty for breaking up the family. Many parents overcompensate with material things and buy their children anything they may want while hoping that this will assuage the children’s pain. They may also become competitive in retaining the children’s affection with gifts and special treats.

This will likely backfire when you stop showering them with presents and they come to resent you for cutting them off. Give your children what they really need at a time like this: an overabundance of your presence, security, and your unconditional love. Here is how to help your children deal with your divorce:

  1. When you first tell your children about the divorce, you do so with the understanding that you are upending their world. It is normal to feel guilty about causing them so much pain.
  2. Write about what you are going through emotionally. This is much better than to allow yourself to become overwhelmed with guilt and blame.
  3. You will have to deal with the guilt but do so away from the children. They have enough to deal with at this time; don’t force them to deal with your negative emotions, as well. They should not be exposed to your depression and anxiety. Do be honest and acknowledge the pain, then move on, at least as far as they are concerned.
  4. Find a friend or family member with whom you can share and talk about the guilt you are feeling. Holding these emotions inside will surely exacerbate them. Talking about them can help release them.


Guilt and self-blame can be a means to keep you from taking full responsibility for your divorce and forging a new beginning. If divorce guilt and self-blame are holding you back, retake control of your life. If you don’t, who will?

The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.

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