When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over

Marriage guilt can keep you in a relationship you wish had ended long ago. Here are a few tips for wives who feel trapped by guilt in unhappy marriages.

When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over

Toxic Marriage Guilt

You need to figure out what’s holding you back…and then you need to focus on taking the next steps. Don’t take the leap alone – read books like Escaping Toxic Guilt: Five Proven Steps to Free Yourself From Guilt for Good! by Susan Carrell to learn how other women overcame guilty feelings to leave marriages that they wished were over.

It’s important for women to learn as much as they can about divorce, from free divorce consultations, divorce websites, and even a lawyer or two. You can feel guilty about thinking about leaving your marriage – and you can gather information at the same time.

Read books such as What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody (Rev): Judges, Lawyers, and Therapists Share Winning Strategies on How toKeep the Kids, the Cash, and Your Sanity by Gayle Rosenwald Smith and Sally Abrahms. Even if you weren’t married, you still may have legal entanglements that you’d be better off knowing about.

These tips are inspired by two comments on an article I wrote about leaving a man you once loved: “My relationship was over for three years, but I stayed because I didn’t want to hurt him and it’s hard to leave after an eight year relationship,” says J. on How Do You Leave a Man You’ve Loved for Years? “So we just kept being miserable, putting on a good show for friends…I found comfort in online chat rooms…met someone and had an online relationship for a year. I wanted it to be over with my fiancé. He found out and I feel so guilty for not dealing with things sooner. I don’t want to hurt him more. He wants to work it out, but we were over a long time ago. Plus I still resent him for the years of misery. My guilt keeps me in this relationship because I don’t want to hurt him more, and I still care about him. What do I do?”

And, here are a few thoughts on leaving your fiancé or husband when you feel guilty…

When Guilt Keeps You Married

Here’s a comment from a wife whose husband deliberately makes her feel guilty for wanting to end their marriage: “I’ve been married for 25 yrs and my marriage has been over for many years,” says S. on the same article. “I do love this man, but I’m not in love with him anymore. Our relationship has been one-sided and I was always trying to please him. My husband only thinks about himself and what makes him happy. I told him I want to leave, but he keeps saying he’ll change and never does. I’ve been trying to leave but he makes me feel so guilty. He keeps telling me to wait until after the holidays and it will be easier for him, but what about me? I know I deserve to be happy, but I can’t shake the guilt. How do you leave? Do you leave while he’s at work, or leave while he’s at home? I’m so confused.”

If it would be easier to leave while he’s at work, then that’s the best time to pack your bags.

Remember that guilt is for people who did something wrong. Guilt is an appropriate emotion for women who did something wrong to their husbands, children, or marriage. Guilt isn’t appropriate for doing something you want to do – something that is healthy and good for you! Granted, having an online relationship with another man isn’t exactly the right thing to do…but what’s done is done. We all make mistakes, and we need to forgive ourselves and move forward.

Why do you feel so guilty? Maybe you don’t need to go there…a counselor once told me not to waste time on negative emotions like guilt, anger, bitterness, misery. Instead, she said, focus on what you want to create in your life. So, instead of focusing on the guilt that keeps you in your marriage, focus on finding the strength to leave a relationship.

Figure out what’s holding you back – what’s keeping you in the marriage. Women stay in relationships they wish were over for many reasons. Besides guilt, what is keeping you in this marriage? If you don’t know, read  5 Reasons Women Stay in Loveless Marriages. Maybe you’ll find some insight there, maybe you’ll see the reasons you’re trapped in this relationship.

I stayed in bad relationships not out of guilt, but because I didn’t think I could do better. I didn’t want to start dating again, was scared nobody else would love me…the hell I knew was better than a fresh hell that could be worse. In hindsight, I wish I had the strength to leave the men I didn’t like being in relationships with. But when I was in those relationships, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave.

Accept that even the “rightest” decisions come with pain and heartache. Sometimes the better a decision is for your life, the harder it is to actually implement. Even healthy, good decisions that are beneficial in the long run (think exercise, eating healthy, going for regular pap smears!) are painful in the short run. So, don’t take your feelings of guilt and pain as a sign that you shouldn’t end your marriage. Your emotions are a normal response to a major life decision – especially if you’ve been in a marriage for 25 years, or even eight years.

marriage guilt

“When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over” image by Laurie

Find women who overcame “marriage guilt” and ended their marriages. Here’s a helpful comment from one of my readers, who was stuck in a bad relationship for three years…“I realized that this is not how I want to live my life and none of this is OK,” says JE. “Even if he were to change, he has already taken so many years from me…and I am taking the rest of my years for myself. I too still feel immense guilt for ‘doing this to him.’ I sometimes forget what it is that HE did to ME. We are now separated and it is still really hard. But everyday I wake up telling myself that I am worth it. I deserve to be respected and loved. Writing in a journal, getting family/ friend support, and a good therapist are the keys.

I love that she said she’s taking the rest of her years for herself! That’s how women should live: for themselves. We deserve to be loved and respected – but love and respect won’t be ours unless we demand it.

For more tips, read Thinking About Divorce? 4 Options for Unhappy Married Couples.

Fix Your Marriage

Is guilt keeping you in a marriage you wish was over? What small step can you take to start overcoming your guilty feelings for leaving?

Before You Go...

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
I'm a full-time freelance writer and blogger in Vancouver, BC. I created the "Quips and Tips" blog series; my degrees are in Education, Psychology, and Social Work. I welcome your comments below, but I don't give advice. I can offer you a prayer and a blessing, though! You'd be surprised how helpful a prayer can be....

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4 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    Dear Candace,

    Thank you for bravely sharing your experience. It takes alot of courage to be honest about what you’re going through in your marriage – especially when you’re dealing with guilt that is keeping you in a relationship you wish was over.

    Have you talked to a counselor? You are going through so many emotions and experiences, and it’s very difficult to sort through and process them on your own. You have made an amazing first step in writing everything out and getting it off your chest! But you need to sit down with someone in person, and talk everything through.

    There are certain things that need to be worked out in your heart, mind and soul. I believe that the best way to figure out what to do and how to proceed is to take a deep breath, find a counselor that you connect with, and start with the emotions that are overwhelming you.

    You will never find an article online that can meet your exact needs. That’s why I encourage readers to use online resources for love and relationships as a starting point, and then go deeper in person with a counselor.

    My prayer for you is that you find peace. Whether you separate or divorce, stay together or go to marriage counseling — I pray you find what you need in your life. May you be filled with emotional freedom, acceptance, forgiveness, and strength as you move forward in your life. May you find the right people to help guide and lead you. Above all, may you hear the voice of God. He loves you and wants you to be happy and healthy. No more suffering is what He wants for you! May you reach out and grasp His hand, open the door, for He is knocking. Amen.


  2. Candace says:

    I need help.
    I don’t know what to do. I have read sssoo many of your articles and I want to thank you for the help that they have given me. Yet in all my readings, I can’t find a article that can relate to my situation. So any articles that I read talk about a husband, who is no longer the man they married. Their husband is cruel, or lazy, or broke or cheating. My husband has done none of those things. He’s never cheated on me. Supports me through all my choices. He’s a good man.
    Why do I want out of this marriage… ?
    It’s exhausting. We have always had a relationship where we are away from each other for long periods of time. Since we got together I have cheated on him 4 times. One of which he knows of. And every time we argue it is brought up about how at least he’s not the one that cheated. I feel so guilty, I hate myself. I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life with a girl who at so many times in our marriage saw him as replacablr. He deserves so much better. I didn’t take his name for a year and a half of our marriage (we’ve been married two). Simply because I didn’t want to. Not because I didn’t love him but because I was so attached to my old one. I’m selfish. It’s disgusting.
    But yet, I love him. There’s nothing better than just being around him. I love his company, the way we spend time. I adore the way we joke and laugh with one another. He’s sweet. When things get bad, and our arguments spiral outta control, he is raged. Yells and screams, curses, calls me names, hes never hit me. The out burst bother me. But I feel entitled to them, after everything I’ve done that he doesn’t know about. He’s controlling though. But in a way I don’t notice. Everyone else says it though.
    I know he has issues of his own. When we first got together I had a little dog. He absused it viciously until I decided to give it to my mom because of the guilt I felt. Fast forward a year. We move to Texas, 16 hours away from my family. We take the dog. And three months later I’m forced to get rid of it. Or else it had to live in the basement.
    Of course that lead to my parents. Furious over my decision. To get rid of the dog and not leave the man. My parents have never liked him. After finding out about the dog, they must of thought one day he would release that rage on me one day. Like I said he never has. My parents forbid us to get married. Said they wouldn’t allow it. Not till I was outta college. We didn’t listen. We married in a courthouse 5 months later. We’ve been married for two years. It really really deeply and truly bothers me, that I have a husband who my parents refuse to be around. Hes not welcome in my parents home. Only me. The tension that creates between my husband and I is immense. My parents and my husband each want me to choice one and not the other. I can’t. I won’t. I need both. Its so hard. I know I should’ve thought about
    That when I got married. But I didn’t. I didn’t think about much of anything besides what my husband wanted. HE wanted to marry me. HE wanted to be with me forever. I wasn’t thinking. About how truly serious a marriage was. Even though he had asked me no less than twenty times before hand if I knew waso was getting myself into. Sigh… I thought I did.

    My marriage has been a lie. Both from choices I’ve made, and from things I’ve had to hide from my family and friends in hope that they would approve of the man I married. After being married for two years I’m realizing how long forever is. Forever is so long. Forever isn’t something that can be built on what our marriage already has. I can never look at my children when they ask me if I’ve ever been with anyone besides their daddy and truthfully answer yes. I guess thank goodness we have no kids. I cannot be 80 and married to a man, my parents never got to meet because they despised our decision.
    I want a divorce. Not even a divorce. A separation. He’s done nothing to cause this. I mean in a snowball effect he has. But I can deal with that. I need a divorce for me. I’m a monster, yet I STILL FEEL LIKE LRSVING IS JUST AS BAD. If I stay I’m a terrible person because of everything I’ve stated. If I leave, I abandon him. I break his heart. He believes he will spend the rest of our lives together. I don’t know if hes imagined and alternative. The guilt it’s so overwhelming no matter what. I don’t know what to do. Obviously you can’t tell me no one can. But is there any insight, similar experiences. Anything you can help me with. I hope you see this comment…

  3. Laurie says:

    Dear Lookingfordirection,

    Thank you for being here! My answer to both your questions is “Yes.” Yes, your guilt is justified because you want to make a choice that will cause your husband pain. You feel like you’re doing something wrong/painful/hurtful, so you feel guilty. This normal. This means you are a loving, warm, caring, compassionate human being. Guilt is part of the package you’ll create when/if you leave your marriage.

    But does guilt mean you have to stay married to a man who makes you unhappy? I don’t think so.

    I wrote this for you:


    I welcome your thoughts.


  4. Lookingfordirection says:

    I am having a problem overcoming my feeling of guilt when it comes to leaving my husband and am at a loss as to how to overcome it. I am in therapy, but it hasn’t helped my strong feeling. My husband was diagnosed bipolar after we married he hurt his back several years ago and rarely attends work. He is mean to me and the kids and is extremely selfish. He has no regard for the finances or any of the things that are adult/parent responsibilities. He has alienated all of his friends and he doesn’t have much family. Whenever we get in a fight where there is a hint of leaving he brings up the fact that his mother passed and he has no one he also makes the comment that he “almost died” from a seizure he had several years ago. Is my guilt justified? Is it okay to leave someone who has medical conditions?

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