How To End A Miserable Marriage Without Feeling Guilty

Don't convince yourself to stay.

Last updated on Apr 15, 2024

Woman stuck in a unhealthy marriage, wanting a divorce Larisa Stefanuyk, Kameleon007 | Canva

One of the reasons deciding to divorce is so painful — even when you know leaving your marriage is the right thing to do — is that you believe doing so is wrong or bad.

Instead of sitting down with your spouse and having an honest discussion about ending your marriage, you remain stuck in your head (and your unhappy marriage) and wonder how to get a divorce without feeling guilty.

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Here's how to end a miserable marriage without feeling guilty:

1. When you are feeling guilty about what divorce would do to your kids

First, it is vital to understand the commonly accepted “fact” that divorce destroys children is a lie.

What makes divorce so hard for kids is how their parents react to and deal with it. If you and their other parent treat your children as messengers or spies, stop spending quality time with them because you’re too wrapped up in your life, stop showing them the love they deserve, cease giving them the structure and security they need or talk poorly about their other parent when they are within earshot, your kids will certainly suffer.


That doesn't mean they are suffering because of your divorce. It means they are suffering because of your poor behavior and role modeling. If you commit to being the best parent you can be and get the support you need to move past your divorce as completely as possible, you have nothing at all to feel guilty about.



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2. When you are feeling guilty about betraying your spiritual or religious beliefs

This guilt is usually based on fear of reprisal from On High. And this was something I struggled with when I got divorced. In virtually all religious traditions, The Deity is forgiving and teaches love. If this is true of your religious/spiritual view, then you know that others can and should be forgiven for their mistakes.


You’re no different from any other person. You make mistakes and can be forgiven without the requirement to continue feeling guilty once you’ve asked for forgiveness. Even better, you take time to learn the lessons from your experiences to move forward with enriching your spiritual and religious life.

Seriously, if God can forgive you, who are you not to forgive yourself?

3. When you are feeling guilty about breaking your promise to your spouse

The fact is people grow and change over time. You and your spouse are both different from the ones who promised to live together for the rest of your lives. And chances are you’ve both neglected your marriage over the years.

The best thing you can do now is to acknowledge your part in the demise of your marriage and apologize for it. And since this is the best you can do, there’s no reason to continue to beat yourself up for it, since castigating yourself won’t change anything.


This is another opportunity for you to learn and change how you’ll do things in the future.

couple with relationship problemsPhoto: Maya Lab via Shutterstock

4. When you are feeling guilty about breaking your promise to yourself

Again, you’ve changed over the years, and so has your spouse. You have always done your best with the situation you were in and the knowledge you had at the time. That doesn’t mean you were perfect or the ideal mate for your spouse, and that's OK.


The promises we make to ourselves are the best we know how to make at the time to provide us with as much joy, as little pain, and as solid a sense of integrity as possible. As we mature, what makes us feel good about our lives changes — sometimes dramatically.

Sometimes, the only way to maintain personal integrity is to break a promise you made to yourself when you were a different person and let the guilt of breaking that promise dissipate.

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5. When you are feeling guilty because of how your family and friends might react (or are reacting)

You’ve probably heard the adage, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.” This sentiment is important to remember as you continue your divorce journey.


The people who love you want the best for you. Sometimes, their expectations and biases can get in the way. And when that happens, they begin their efforts to induce guilt in you. When family or friends attempt to send you off on a guilt trip, their words and behavior say much more about them than you. Sometimes they turn out to be people who don’t matter in your life (at least for the moment).

Guilt is an emotional anchor.

Guilt can prevent you from taking care of yourself. It’s a tremendously difficult one to shed because it’s based on the expectations you have of yourself. Expectations of being an amazing parent to your kids, being true to your spiritual and religious beliefs, and keeping promises to your spouse, yourself, and the family and friends who love and respect you.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with these expectations — until you use them against yourself as a reason to feel guilty about even considering getting divorced, despite knowing the only way for you to feel true happiness is to leave your marriage.

So here you are, stuck between a rock and a hard place, paralyzed and unable to move out of guilt. But you can move forward, work through your guilt, and gain the clarity and peace of mind you yearn for. The first step is to work on shifting your thoughts.

As you continue to adjust your thoughts by allowing yourself to gather and consider more information, your emotions will shift away from guilt. You can then begin your divorce journey from a place of respect for your spouse — and for yourself — rather than from a place of guilt, shame, and blame.


These tips about how to get a divorce without feeling guilty all focus on how you think about and interpret things.

You need to change your thoughts and perspectives before you can release the emotional anchor of guilt. As you continue to remind yourself of these ideas, you’ll start feeling more understanding toward yourself and your soon-to-be ex.

As your empathy grows, your guilt will diminish and you’ll be able to move forward and end your marriage with respect and love for everyone concerned — including yourself.

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Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce, and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo, Psych Central, Huffington Post, Prevention, and The Good Men Project, among others.