I wanted a divorce for almost six years before mine was final. It wasn’t a horrible situation, but instead of acting like partners, my ex and I were roommates who didn’t really like each other. We both agreed it would be better to go our separate ways. After we came to that decision, we didn’t tell our kids for four months. And each morning I’d head out for a run and the guilt would take me down. I’d vow to try hard to repair my marriage — but it was clear we were better off apart.
That was six years ago, and I have just started to let go of the guilt. For so long, I have beat myself up, thinking that if I’d only tried harder if I’d only had sex with him more if I’d only made more sacrifices, we’d still be a family.
After we separated, I’d drop the kids off at their dad’s house, and the guilt would float to the surface. I’d blame myself for missing time with my kids. There’d be mornings I’d wake up alone and my life felt so… unnatural.
My ex has since moved on and fallen in love with a wonderful woman. I am happy for him. We’ve even become good friends. Now, we celebrate our kids’ birthdays and graduations under one roof. We talk on the phone weekly to catch up on how everyone is doing. Our kids are happy and well-adjusted. To me, we have it really good as co-parents — but the guilt I carry lingers.
I once asked my ex-husband if he ever felt guilty. He told me he did at first, but he knew we were doing the right thing, so it faded fast. But that wasn’t the case for me.
My divorced friends told me that would change over time. Maybe if I met someone it would help. But time passed and I did fall in love and the guilt still stuck with me. I wondered if it would ever fade. It felt like everyone had moved on and was perfectly adjusted.
But then a few months ago I had a heart-to-heart with myself. I was having another pity party and realized that in my own mind, I’d told myself a very specific story about what happened: I’d taken 100% of the blame for my marriage ending. Of course, no one ever told me it was my fault. And my ex has taken a lot of the blame for his part and has told me I need to let go of it. My kids aren’t angry with me, nor do they fault either of us. If we were still married, I know with all my heart everyone would be in a bad situation.
I realized that morning that all the guilt was coming from me. I also realized I was the only one that could take it away and it was time to let it go. It wasn’t serving anyone; all it was doing was hurting me. That morning was a big shift for me; it was the start of being conscious of my thoughts every time they’d turn to guilt.
It’s taken work, and the guilt still bubbles up in my chest some evenings when my kids are gone, but I now know I am not the only one responsible for my marriage ending. And more importantly, I’m positive it was the right choice for my family. That’s what I need to focus on. I’ve felt a lot lighter since and it’s so much better than letting guilt run my life.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.