Today’s Untold Story is a contribution from a woman who years later, still feels a crushing guilt at having ended her marriage. Guilt is something that we all carry so much of, especially as parents, that I’m sure her story will resonate with a lot of people. Please leave a comment if you’d like to share your experiences of guilt and please get in touch if you have your own untold story you’d like to share – they can be published anonymously.
I’ve decided to write a blog post on guilt because it’s something I have struggled with terribly and something I imagine a lot of you have struggled with also.
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the definition of guilt is a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person.
Now the difficulty here I found was that there is guilt where you have genuinely done something wrong, or guilt where you perceive you’ve done something wrong but you know deep down you haven’t or there are extenuating circumstances.
Ever since leaving my husband I have suffered with guilt. The marriage had been failing for a long time for many reasons which I won’t get into here. And every argument has two sides. My justification and reasons for the breakdown of our marriage could be the complete opposite of my husband’s. Because it was me who left, I shouldered all the guilt and blame. The marriage ended because I left. It was my fault. If I’d stayed, maybe we could have worked it out.
I knew deep down those thoughts were unfair to myself and I knew deep down I’d made the right decision but I couldn’t make them stop.
Our marriage had been toxic in later years and I couldn’t have my children growing up in that environment. Surrounded by so much negativity, despair, pain and anguish. I didn’t want them to grow up thinking that was a normal relationship. That was how a man and a woman or any couple should love each other. I didn’t want them setting their own bar so low. Their own expectations of love and marriage. I felt it was my responsibility to free them from those experiences and hopefully show them one day what love could be.
For the first couple of months I felt so much guilt it was like a physical weight crushing my chest. Have I done the right thing, for the kids, for me, even for him. Could we have made this work? I would look at the house we’d bought together and the garden. The home we’d bought for our children to grow up in. All the plans we’d made. We’d even had architect plans drawn up for a big extension project. It now all felt as though it had been for nothing. 13 years of my life had led to this point.
Towards the end of our marriage, the last couple of years or so, I yoyo’d back and forth between anger and hatred and complete indifference. I was on antidepressants which helped to take the edge off. I see now that despite the way he treated me, this wasn’t fair to him. I was a shell of myself. I had shut down. I had stopped engaging with him in any way but I also didn’t have the courage to move on. I was just drifting through the days. Existing for the sake of the kids. I felt completely trapped and joyless. Like I was in a downward spiral where I could neither see the top nor the bottom.
One day it all came to a head and the marriage ended just like that. My very first feeling was devastation and crushing guilt as I saw my future, unhappy though it likely would have been, come crashing down. At least a miserable future is a future. Now I just saw nothing. A single woman with two young kids, no job as I’d moved to the other side of the country and I was living with my parents. But after a week or so relief set in. I was free. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t see a future because the future was now mine and it was mine to control and shape as I wanted. The future could wait. I was just taking it a day at a time.
But eventually the relief, whilst still there, was displaced by the guilt which came back with a vengeance as I started to fully process what I had done and what it would mean. The phone calls from my ex husband asking to come back, the horrendous tantrums from my older daughter as she wondered where her dad had gone and standing firm in the face of all of that whilst feeling like I was falling to bits piece by piece. There are two years which I can say are the worst of my life and the year I was on my own was one of them.
This is not because I was on my own in itself. Being on my own was liberating. Yes I was managing two kids, a house and a full time job but I did so with no external factors. I didn’t have to worry about abusive arguments or fists through walls anymore. It was horrendous because I had a new job and my boss was a narcissistic bully. I’ve never worked for such a volatile, unpleasant person. I was also navigating the practicalities with my ex husband. Money, housing, the kids. To begin with, this was not done on amicable terms and it was an absolute minefield. But whilst I absorbed the abuse and the threats I knew this wasn’t my life anymore and I could just walk away.
Three years have now gone by and the guilt is still there. It is much weaker than in the early days but I don’t think it will ever fully leave. It will still hit me from nowhere. A memory, photos flashing up on my phone of when the four of us were a family, wedding paraphernalia, holidays, films we used to like, sayings and phrases which were in jokes. But mostly my children are a daily reminder of the decisions I made. Marrying the wrong man and making my children pay for my mistakes. Even though I know leaving was the right decision for me and for them, there is always an alternate reality where my children do not have to split themselves in two. Where I married a different someone and we lived happily ever after.
My ex husband is now living with another partner and they have a baby girl together. I live with a new partner who is a truly wonderful man and who I’ve been with for just under two years. But every time my life moves on, the guilt is re-triggered. The first time I was intimate with someone other than my ex husband. For the first time in 13 years. This was with my current partner and it took me a long time to fully embrace a new relationship and let go of the last. When my partner moved into the house I bought with my ex husband this was another trigger.
My ex husband now lives at the end of the road and his partner’s daughter is the same age and is in the same school as my older daughter. My younger daughter is the same age as my partner’s son and he will be attending a school in the same area. We all attend school events together and are on friendly terms as a group. My ex husband respects and happily chats to my partner and I to his. But it has taken nearly three years to get to this point.
As for me, I believe I can now show my children what true love is and can be. I don’t believe the guilt will ever fully leave me because no matter how happy I am now, my children will always have to split themselves between me and their father and find their place in two separate families. This will have repercussions. Maybe my happiness and feelings of guilt are interlinked. After leaving my husband, do I deserve to be happy? Is my happiness at the expense of other people’s? Does everyone deserve to be happy?
But regardless of this, I do believe I’ve finally found my happily ever after and I hope against hope my children will find the love and respect first time around that it took me a second chance to achieve.
For other blogs and my journey from before the separation and divorce to the present day, please see my blog Single Mummy’s Voice.
Photo from Unsplash