Going through the experience of divorce is plagued with SO many different emotions: fear, shame, guilt, anger, sadness, grief, resentment, jealousy, relief, happiness, hope, despair, depression, elation.   As parents, if we feel guilty or responsible for splitting up the marriage, we can eternally try to make it up to our children for our part in the break up of the marriage. This guilt can negatively impact the quality of our relationships with our children.

6 Tips to Managing Divorce Guilt

My Story of Divorce Guilt & Maddie

When I got divorced, I gave my spouse custody of our 2 year old daughter, Maddie. I felt forced into this decision because what I really wanted was joint custody.  But because I wanted out of the marriage, guilt influenced this regretful choice. Guilt continued to follow me for many years afterwards because I questioned how I could use such poor judgment.

Maddie was put in the middle of our divorce because we’d fight in front of her at times. There was name calling and talking behind my back to her that “Mommy left you.” I was filled with remorse. Every other Sunday night when I took her back home after a weekend visit, I grieved and missed her for the next 12 days until I’d see her again.  We tried to squeeze so much life and fun into those short weekends.
At the time I didn’t realize I was feeling guilty.  This pattern was more obvious when looking back after Maddie was grown. When we are immersed in a situation, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  Looking back, I saw how emotionally needy I was of Maddie and she of me.
This was for two reasons.  We didn’t get to see each other daily like most parents and kids, and so our time was precious to each other.  Secondly, Maddie was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 4 days old, and so I had anticipatory grief for a very long time.  This grief went underground when she appeared to be normal and healthy.
When she was 13 years old, we were so excited to have her move in with me and my husband, Steve, and stepdaughter, Chelsea.  We enjoyed so many fun years together, menu planning, cooking, baking and eating together. We traveled all over the world together, Australia, Paris, France, Hawaii, Mexico, Colorado, Maine, Florida, Oregon, and many other US states.

My grief re-surfaced when Maddie began going into the hospital with CF exacerbations when she was fifteen years old.   Her hospital visits continued to increase in frequency from once a year to 2-3 times a year.  Her body couldn’t take the repeated assaults of IV antibiotics, and in addition she had CF-induced diabetes.  She continued to lose weight, and I especially anticipated her death in the last year when she had to go on oxygen for a couple of weeks while outside of the hospital.

Devastatingly, Maddie passed away on 10/26/18 at 22.5 years of age. It shook my foundation to the core.  Although I knew she was going downhill, I never lost hope.  I began a healing circle for her in August 2018 and was optistic about that, but it wasn’t meant to be.


A lot of my guilt came AFTER Maddie was gone because I could no longer make up to her the fact that I’d left her with her dad when she was so young. I experienced a lot of “Woulda, coulda and shouldas.”  I believe that my subconscious guilt drove me to take over-responsibility for Maddie’s happiness.

Causes of Divorce Guilt


Many factors can contribute to divorce guilt, including but not limited to our own personal beliefs and experiences. For example,  my guilt was caused by giving away custody which caused me to also feel ashamed of myself.  What was your experience?
Guilt is caused when we believe we didn’t DO enough; we didn’t handle the our life responsibilities appropriately. Shame is more entrenched in our essence in that it reflects back to us that somehow WE are not enough, and that was definitely part of my story.

The Impact of Divorce Guilt

Studies have shown that the guilt associated with divorce can have a significant impact on our relationships with our children in a number of ways. It can make it difficult for us to be emotionally present, especially when we’re struggling with our own feelings of guilt and sadness.  Does this make sense?
Have you ever felt self-conscious or “up in your head” and while in this state it was very difficult to connect with others? When we are suffering and worried about shielding ourselves from being further hurt, we aren’t being present to others. It can be a lonely place.
We may also find it hard to set boundaries with our kids or to discipline them effectively because we are trying to overcompensate for the situation. This sometimes leads to unhealthy behaviors like over-indulging our children or sheltering them from the realities of life. Ultimately, it’s important that we work through our feelings of guilt so that we can be there for our kids in the best way possible.
If we feel guilty about the decision to end our marriage, we may be more likely to try to overcompensate for the split by being overly involved in our children’s lives, the helicoptor parent. This can lead to tension and arguments as our kids get older and want more independence.
Alternatively, we may withdraw from our children emotionally, out of a sense of guilt over not being able to make things work. Feeling guilty can cause us to project our resulting resentment towards another because we believe THEY cause us to feel that way, but our feelings come from US and should not be misdirected at our kids or anyone else.  
Either way, these types of behaviors can damage our relationships with our kids and hinder their ability to cope with the divorce. All hope is not lost though.


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“3 Secrets to Survive the Stress of Divorce”

Managing Divorce Guilt


There are ways to manage divorce guilt in a healthy way that can improve our relationships with our children. When a couple decides to get a divorce, guilt is often one of the first emotions that they feel. This guilt can be especially strong when there are children involved. Here are 6 tips for managing divorce guilt with kids:

  1. Don’t try to hide your feelings from your kids. It’s important for them to see that you’re going through a tough time too. They feel it anyway, whether you verbalize it or not.
  2. Forgive yourself. Remember you did what you did because you didn’t have a better alternative at the time. It made sense to who you were then. Go easy and gentle on yourself as you take responsibility for your past choices.
  3. Take good physical, mental and emotional care of yourself. The more you can connect with yourself and see you deserve to be cared for, the better you’ll connect with your kids and others and be able to let go of the guilt.
  4. Let them know that the divorce is not their fault. Reassure them that both parents still love them and will always be there for them.
  5. Help them find ways to express their feelings about the divorce. Kids may want to talk about it, write about it, or draw pictures about it.
  6. Make sure they have plenty of one-on-one time with both parents. This will help them feel loved and supported by both parents during this difficult time.

Using EFT to Relieve Feelings of Guilt & Shame


You can apply one of my favorite techniques, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT a/k/a tapping), to help you overcome the feelings of guilt.  This simple, powerful technique rewires your neural pathways for a new way a thinking and calms your nervous system for emotional relief.
If you can tap 5 minutes daily, you will notice some true relief.  Here are some possible phrases you might say while you tap. Go to the karate chop point on the side of your hand and do the set up as you repeat 3 sentences, such as the following:
“Even though I feel so guilty for the divorce and I worry how it will harm the kids, I love and accept myself.”
“Even though I have to make it up them by doing more or giving them more than I normally would, I love…”
“Even though I want to over-indulge them and shelter them from reality to make up for the pain I caused them, I love…”
Tap through the points with your fingertips and moderate pressure:
Eyebrow (inside near the nose): I feel so guilty for the divorce
Side of Eye: I worry how it will harm the kids
Under Eye:  I have to make it up to them by doing or giving them more
Under Nose: I want to over-indulge them
Chin: I want to shelter them from reality
Collarbone:  I need to make up for the pain I caused them
Under Arm: I acknowledge all of this guilt living in my body
Top of Head:  I must be a bad mom
Wrist: How can I forgive myself and move forward?
Do this 2-3 rounds saying something similar or whatever is on your mind. If the intensity remains high after 3 rounds, don’t fight it.  Just let it be for now. Do some deep breathing while you tap to help calm yourself.



Feeling guilty over ending our marriage can hurt our relationships with our kids because feeling guilty can cause us to over-compensate and try to please them. Taking over-responsibility like this can cause us to feel resentful, and we project these feelings onto the one we blame for “causing our feelings.” Feeling guilty can cause us to be in our head, and not in our hearts and present for healthy connection. Bottomline: guilt can lead to disconnection with our kids and damage to the relationship over the long run.
You deserve to let go of the guilt because you can’t change the past.  You can only shift your attitude going forward. You are a good person. Trust that.  Begin to know who you are.
I’d love to support you while going through divorce. You can register for my next “3 Secrets to Survive the Stress of Divorce” at the link below. I am here for you.
Much Love,
Angie Monko,
Holistic Divorce/Loss Coach