Aug 092011
marriage guilt

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

“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.

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?”

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 Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life to learn how other women overcame guilty feelings to leave marriages that they wished were over.

And, 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. Books like What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody: Judges, Lawyers, and Therapists Share Winning Strategies on How to Keep the Kids, the Cash, and Your Sanity. Even if you weren’t married, you still may have legal entanglements that you’d be better off knowing about.

Is your marriage in trouble? Get a free marriage assessment and relationship advice.

If you're dealing with a breakup, read How to Let Go of Someone You Love

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

When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage That You Wish Was Over

Here’s a similar 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.

If you feel guilty because you treat your husband poorly, read Why Are You Mean to the One You Love?

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.

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.

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?

About Me

quips tips love relationshipsI'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.

  2 Responses to “When Guilt Keeps You in a Marriage You Wish Was Over”

  1. 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.


  2. 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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