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Unpacking the Baggage of Failure and Shame in Divorce posted Nov 1, 2017


Some would have the rest of us to believe that divorce is the product of the 60’s and 70’s in America. Stephanie Coontz in her book “The Way We Never Were” says that marital relationships have always waxed and waned. Some say that this cycle is often based on economic climates. Whatever the reason, divorcees often feel a sense of failure and thus, shame.

One would think that if over 50% of all marriages end in divorce, that people are doing what they feel is best for them and are content, even happy with their decisions. Not so in the tax-break land, where to be married is 1) to Fornicate under the consent of the king; 2) to be stable—give the appearance of being established, and 3) to be whole—having someone do for you what you cannot do for yourself (complete you).

No pressure, right? Yeah, right, there are lots of perks you give up when you say “I don’t anymore” and divorce. Here are a few things you can do to sort through your divorce baggage of shame and get on to being the whole self you were designed to be:

  1. Know that your divorce was the BEST thing to do because YOU DID IT. You'll understand how later, so give yourself time.
  2. See a therapist—you have unconscious bags to unpack and a good therapist will help you sort through it all.
  3. Forgive yourself and your Ex—this you must do for lots of reasons. The first is that you will spend precious time rehashing an unhappy past. I know some of that is necessary, so give yourself a set number of day, weeks, or months to grieve the loss and then begin the healing process.
  4. Abandon false ideas about the sanctity of marriage—it’s made up. Okay, that was sort of disrespectful. That's not even my style.

So, let me say that if you truly believe in the holiness of matrimony, then do the following: a) Ask your Supreme Being for forgiveness—most likely you'll be forgiven; b) Do whatever your faith tradition calls for to cleanse yourself of the sin of divorce; c) Allow yourself to accept the forgiveness and the cleansing as sufficient to set you free of any guilt you may be feeling; and d) Sing sacred songs, say prayers, or read scripture to help you get through the tough times.

  1. Reconcile your principles about your ex-marriage with your decision to leave it. Without knowing your particular reason for getting a divorce, I'm going to err on the side that you would not have left your marriage without damn good reasons. Since you felt you had no choice, I'm going to invite you to accept your decision as very good judgment on your part.
  2. Practice valuing yourself as a whole person with or without a partner. This practice begins with accepting and respecting your decision to divorce yourself from a marriage was not serving your well.

Just know that neither embracing a sense of failure nor holding on to self-imposed shame will serve you, as both are products of an abusive way of dealing with life troubles that will keep you second-guessing your personal wisdom, which is the greatest of all problems.

28850 PointsGold

Dr. Debra LMFT (MT2416)

/ The Relationship Expert / LMFT