When my husband said he was leaving me I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. I was in shock and denial and telling anyone would have made it real. I was desperately hoping he’d change his mind and realise he’d made a mistake before he moved out. He eventually told my sister the day before he moved out, and she told the rest of my family.
I was ashamed and embarrassed and felt like a complete failure. I was devastated – I’d failed at the thing that mattered most to me in my life.
For the 3 months before my husband moved out, I acted as though everything was normal in front of anyone else and at work. We still socialised together and even went on a family holiday - whilst all the time he was planning to leave. It was exhausting and when I was by myself, I was inconsolable. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it.
Before my divorce, I think the only thing I’d failed at was my GCSE Maths I’d taken a year early. I was a perfectionist and pushed myself hard to avoid failure. So, when my marriage failed, I was totally devastated.
I felt a complete failure, that I wasn’t good enough. I’d failed at my marriage and my husband didn’t love me anymore. And there was nothing I could do to change his mind. I totally blamed myself.
Feeling ashamed, guilty and a failure after a breakup is normal – so if you’re feeling those emotions, you’re not alone.
But the reality is, we all have failures in life and that’s what makes us who we are. Just because your relationship failed, doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Don’t let it define you. And actually, taking it a step further, is your relationship a failure just because it’s ended? (Maybe that should be the subject of another blog)
We didn’t have children, but adding them into the mix and breaking up the family, adds a whole other layer of guilt.
So, what are the feelings of guilt and shame?
Guilt is experienced when you ‘feel bad’ for something you’ve done - your behaviour. You can still feel it even if you didn’t initiate the split.
Shame on the other hand, is more debilitating. It’s more of an assessment on you as a person. You think there’s something wrong with you and that’s certainly how I felt. It’s unhealthy and leads to lower self-esteem.
When we become overwhelmed by the feelings of guilt and shame, this can lead to depression.
I also felt ashamed that I was stuck after my divorce and couldn’t move on with my life. I couldn’t let go of the past and what had happened. I couldn’t imagine my future without my husband. Friends and family couldn’t understand why I wasn’t moving on and that made me feel worse still.
If you can get rid of the guilt and shame by processing it, you’ll be able to think differently about yourself and move on with your life. Life’s too short to be overwhelmed by these feelings that keep you stuck.
Eventually I managed to let go of the guilt and shame I felt and the belief that I was a failure. I also came to terms with my part in the breakdown of my marriage.
If you’re struggling to move on because you’re feeling saddled with these negative emotions, here are some tips to help you:
1. Acceptance – You have to accept your relationship has ended and stop dwelling on the past. It’s happened and there’s nothing you can do to change it. You need to start focusing on your future instead. Give yourself one thing to do every day, no matter how small, that moves you towards your new future.
2. Forgiveness & Self-compassion – You have to learn to forgive yourself for your part in the breakup and stop beating yourself up about it. Make sure you’re not taking responsibility for your partner’s bad behaviour. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you’re doing the best you can. Going through a breakup is a stressful and traumatic experience.
3. Challenge your negative thoughts – Your thoughts are the stories you tell yourself. They affect your feelings and beliefs, which in turn affects your behaviours. Try and catch yourself when you’re thinking negative thoughts and being self-critical. Challenge those thoughts. Are they really true? What’s the evidence for and against them? Replace the negative statements with something more positive. Using affirmations can really help.
4. Journaling – Don’t supress your feelings. Write down how you’re feeling every day, so those feelings have an outlet. Ask yourself what the breakup actually means to you, what does it say about you? Really dig deep to understand what those feelings are and where they’re coming from. How are those beliefs serving you? Then write down beliefs that will serve you better and help you to move on.
5. Spend time with positive people – Spend time with friends and family who treat you well and make you feel good about yourself. Get rid of, or reduce contact with, any toxic or critical people you don’t need in your life.
6. Seek help – It can really help to speak to someone who is removed from your situation as they can be objective and non-judgemental. A breakup and divorce coach will be there to listen to you. They’ll help you to process your feelings and reframe your limiting beliefs into more positive ones that will serve you much better in your life going forward.
7. Embrace your future – Try and think of your future as a new opportunity in your life that you can get excited about. It’s a new chapter for you. I know that’s not easy to do but take each day at a time. Start thinking about what you’d like to do, who you’d like to be and who you’d like to be with. Set yourself some small goals that will keep you focused.
Moving on from a breakup takes time. You need to grieve the end of your relationship. It’s really important to clear any feelings of guilt, shame and failure so they don’t hold you back from moving on. You can then concentrate on rebuilding your confidence and self-esteem and planning a future that you’re excited to live again
You can download my free guide ’10 Tips to heal yourself after the breakdown of a relationship’ here