To help you get past regrets and guilt associated with your divorce, here’s a FREE excerpt from Renee Smith Ettline’s book, Peace after Divorce.
Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Jonah 1:12 NIV
Jonah knew without a doubt that he was guilty of running from God and of failing to do what God told him to do. His guilt was causing consequences, not only for himself, but for others as well. When he owned up to his guilt, he still had to deal with the consequence of being thrown into the sea, but he also moved himself a step closer to God.
In a similar way, owning up to the ways you contributed to your divorce does not eliminate the consequences, but it can bring you closer to God and can clear your conscience. Sitting in a whale with his head wrapped in seaweed and his life fading away, Jonah chose to call on God. God rescued him from death not because Jonah deserved it but because God is a God of grace.
Feeling Guilty over Divorce?
The most justified reasons for true divorce-related guilt involve violation of the marriage vows. Have you failed to love, honor and keep? Have you been unfaithful? Have you neglected your spouse? Have you been physically or emotionally abusive? Have you abandoned your spouse? Identifying the reasons for your feelings of guilt can help you process them and prepare yourself to ask God for forgiveness and healing.
Accept God’s Forgiveness
If you are carrying guilt, know that God will forgive you if you sincerely ask. For some, accepting God’s forgiveness is hard, but remember, God does not forgive you because you are good–he forgives you because he is good. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
That means that God not only forgives you, but that he will help you to grow into a better person who is closer to him. Failure to accept God’s forgiveness is to suggest that Jesus died in vain. God already offers you forgiveness. He wants you to accept his offer.
You will still have to cope with the natural consequences of your choices, but you do not have to carry the heavy load of guilt that burdens your soul. Furthermore, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demon, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV). “Anything else in all creation,” must surely include divorce. Accept God’s forgiveness and forgive yourself as well. God will help you heal from your sorrow day by day as you take an active role in dealing with your new circumstances.
The Corinthians learned that turning to God when they were in distress helped them to have a more positive spirit. They became “…more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible” (2 Corinthians 7:11-13, The Message). They came through their distress with “purity of heart.” Paul praises them and points out that turning to God is a good choice in a time of sorrow and regret. Turning away from God leaves us to carry our guilt and regrets, on our own, for the rest of our lives.
Continuing to beat yourself up over mistakes, may make you feel like you are paying for what you did wrong. Actually, all you are doing is bogging down in something for which Christ has already cancelled the debt. Not forgiving yourself is equal to not accepting God’s forgiveness. Concentrate your energies on accepting God’s forgiveness, and then ask God what he would have you learn from your mistakes.
Feelings of guilt as they relate to the breakdown of your marriage can create a heavy weight to bear. Sometimes, the feelings of guilt are justified and sometimes they are not. It is important to make this distinction. The dynamics that lead to the end of a marriage can be very complicated and things are not always black and white.
If you are an abused spouse who feels guilty for causing the abuse you received, you are carrying unmerited guilt. Nothing you did or did not do justifies abuse. Abuse is a violation of the marriage vows and is just cause for divorce.
A different example of unmerited guilt comes from a woman who participated in one of our workshops. Despite the years of neglect she endured from her husband, she felt guilty for filing for divorce. Reflecting on her situation after her divorce was final, she says, “It sounds odd to say God gave me the strength to leave my husband, but he did.”
If you are blaming yourself unfairly, give yourself a break. If you are responsible for things you regret, humbly ask God’s forgiveness; find the lesson in what you’ve done; hold on to that wisdom; accept God’s forgiveness and forgive yourself. Move on.
Sometimes, feelings of sadness over what happened in a marriage are based on regret rather than guilt. Regret is simply when you wish things had been different. Perhaps you regret things you did or things you feel you should have done.
You may also regret things related to circumstances that are not really anyone’s fault. For example, you may regret outcomes related to less than desirable economic influences or the unfortunate timing of certain events. It is important to work through guilt and regrets. The following six steps may prove helpful.
6 Steps for Dealing with Guilt and Regrets
- Acknowledge regrets and guilt to God and ask his forgiveness.
- Change what you can.
- Accept what is now beyond your control.
- Release regrets and guilt to God.
- Ask God what he wants you to learn from your experiences.
- Allow yourself to heal and grow.
God forgives you the first time you ask. Repeat the above steps as many times as needed until you forgive yourself.
Making Information and Ideas Work
1. What feelings of guilt are you still carrying regarding the breakdown of your marriage?
2. List the times that represent the most negative memories in your marriage. For each of those times, make a list of things you wish you had done differently.
3. How do you feel about asking God for forgiveness?
4. What steps do you need to take to forgive yourself?
5. What regrets do you have regarding circumstances over which you had no control?
Talk with God
Ponder this reading and share your thoughts with God. Listen so that the Holy Spirit might fill you with wisdom and peace. What concrete actions do you need to take based on what God is saying to you?
You Can Get Guidance for Healing from Divorce
If you found this excerpt helpful, you’ll like Renee’s award-winning book Peace after Divorce. Learn more here.