How to Forgive Yourself When Your Marriage Ends in Divorce

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Divorce has become common in the U.S.  Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Imagine what that percentage would be if we factored in every long-term, committed couple that never made it “official.” Break-ups in relationships of all types are the norm. Everyone knows this, yet somehow, we all imagine it will never happen to us.

Part of this denial is rooted in deep shame. We feel bad about ourselves if we fail at anything. Marriage is a big one. Breaking up after saying “I do” to “until death do you part” can make just about anyone uncomfortable.

The stigma of divorce

Despite being common, divorce still carries an enduring stigma. Studies show:

  • Couples in crisis will stay together rather than introduce the D word
  • Individuals take as many as 3 or 4 years to recover
  • One in six divorced individuals report losing friends over the split
  • Forty-six percent say they face daily judgment
  • Women are twice as likely to feel post-divorce shame

This is just scratching the surface. Research cannot fully explain how many people feel shame that is self-imposed. Simply put, many people cannot or will not forgive themselves for “failing” at marriage. We are conditioned to see matrimony as a core aspect of our lives. That conditioning makes divorce shameful even when it shouldn't be.

7 Ways to Forgive Yourself When Your Marriage Ends in Divorce

1. Begin with self-care

Research indicates that individuals, post-divorce, are among the unhealthiest in our population. So, how can you forgive yourself when you’re not caring for yourself? Healthy eating habits, regular sleep patterns, daily exercise, and stress management are mandatory components of self-compassion and forgiveness.

2. Appreciate the power and beauty of forgiveness

Saying and meaning “I forgive you” is one of life’s most amazing and helpful experiences. You forgive others for a wide range of offenses. Why not aim it inward and see how it feels? You might find it helpful to write one sentence every day that begins with "I forgive myself for .....

3. Recognize the uselessness of guilt

Take out a pen and paper. Now make a list of all the things you get out of feeling guilty. Is it productive? Guilt is productive only when it motivates us to do something we know we should do. If it isn't productive, work hard to let it go.  

4. Don’t replay every moment that could’ve gone differently

This is a hard trap to avoid. Sure, there are cases—infidelity, domestic abuse—when a single moment can set a divorce into action. But usually, it’s more than can be fixed with a single change. Ruminating about it only leads to mental anguish.  

5. Communicate with your ex in whatever way feels right and safe

Maybe there’s something you truly need to say to your ex before you can forgive yourself. Speaking directly—face-to-face, text, phone, etc.—may not be possible or even safe. But there’s nothing stopping you from writing it down and saying it anyway.

6. Accept your imperfection and learn from it

Michael Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots in his professional career. It’s a cliché for a reason. It’s true and it proves a valuable point. Failure is inevitable. Learning from it is up to you.

7. Do something for others

Divorce or no divorce, you are a good person. Why not prove it to yourself more often? Find a cause to support. Even better, create your own cause and make it happen.

Since divorce doesn’t come with a user’s manual…

Let’s re-state the obvious: Divorce can cause lots of emotional havoc, bordering on trauma. And it’s common. This combination will leave many couples and individuals in a state of guilt and self-blame. Divorce carries a stigma of shame that should not be faced alone. It’s important to have a support system around you, but that can’t take the place of professional help. Seeking guidance on your journey is a proven path towards forgiving yourself when your marriage ends.