ASK ABDI: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON GUILT?
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on guilt? I am divorced and in a happy relationship, and will be getting married again. I have done a lot of spiritual work to evolve past my former marriage, but recently have been paralyzed by guilt about leaving my ex and not taking care of him anymore. We have two children together, and I still feel pain about the relationship being ended by me. How can I let go and allow myself to embrace the newly found happiness that awaits me?
ANSWER: Guilt is an interesting one. Unlike anger, grief, joy, etc., it is less biological in nature and more societal. That means that it has evolved as a cultural tool to modify our communal behavior: we are socially trained to feel guilty. And certainly, some of us more than others. It can have its place - in that it forces us to examine our behavior in relation to those around us. At the same time, it can also act like glue and keep us unnecessarily stuck in certain situations.
I know that leaving a marriage is brutal business. Many times the person being left has an easier time, since they are left with grief and rage, while the person doing the leaving usually also has those feelings, which are then compounded by guilt. In your case, this is even more intense since you have found happiness while you are still grieving. No matter what made you leave, this is someone that you have a history with that includes two children.
One can not let these feelings go or bypass them. They need to be felt and healed, which takes time. You need to make room to grieve the past no matter how bad or unfulfilling it was. Again, this is complicated by the fact that there is a new chapter being opened, while the old one has not been fully closed. The part about not taking care of him anymore has to be examined, since it is not our job to take care of people - but be present with them as we both tend to self-care. So look into your issues around that piece of caretaking.
Set aside some time every day where you can sit alone with this grief and shame. Create some space and make room for it. The shame and guilt that we feel around being the one that terminates a relationship is a healthy response. Otherwise, we would be cold-hearted psychopaths with no sense of empathy, or just repress it to have it come up and bite us at a later time. But you left for a reason, so sit with that too. I am happy to read that you have done the work to evolve beyond your past relationship. You can rest assured that time heals all and that this grief will pass. Whenever a relationship ends, both partners are responsible, regardless of who does the stepping out.