How To Forgive Yourself When You Divorce


If you’ve opened this and are thinking, “I have nothing to forgive myself for, I’m totally at peace with myself in my divorce” then good for you. Seriously – I commend you. Being a solid ally to yourself in your divorce is wonderful. And, sadly, all too rare. 


Many of my clients carry a lot of guilt about their divorce. They feel guilty about how they behaved during their marriage. Or about how they behaved during divorce. Or they simply feel guilt and shame simply because divorce is happening. In How To Forgive Yourself When You Divorce we’ll look at all the ways you can release those feelings and forgive yourself when you divorce.


Identify what you feel you need to forgive

Often shame or guilt shows up as a generalised fog. You feel this heavy burden, a queasiness  inside. It’s uncomfortable and the last thing you want to do is bring it to your attention. But until you look that feeling in the eye you won’t be able to deal with it. So take some time to sit quietly with yourself. Have a notebook and pen handy.


First of all, take some time to show yourself some compassion. This isn’t an activity to cram in just before the school run, or to do just after a row, or straight after a stressful work day. Give yourself at least an hour. Create a quiet, nurturing space. Make a cup of tea. Take some deep breaths. Remind yourself that you are a human who is trying their best, and who is worthy of kindness. 


When you feel ready make a list of all of the things you feel guilty about. Be as specific as you can. If you find yourself writing something general like ‘getting divorced’, simply ask yourself ‘why?’. What is it about ‘getting divorced’ you feel bad about? 


Dig deeper and try to break it down into specific, tangible points. For example, you may feel bad about ‘getting divorced’ because you feel you failed at marriage – and that sense of failure is something that feels heavy. Or because you feel it’s letting your family down. Or myriad other reasons. 


Work through your list

This task might be hard – and it might also be easier than you think. When we get things into a black and white list, rather than having a guilt mist that fills our headspace, sometimes we surprise ourselves. If possible, work with a coach or a trusted friend to help you examine your list with a fresh, compassionate perspective. 


For each item on your list, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is forgiveness needed? 
  • Can I make amends?
  • What have I learned?
  • What would my best friend say?

Let’s take them in turn.


Is forgiveness needed?

It may be that you’ve been carrying guilt for something you now see wasn’t your fault. If that’s the case, unhook yourself. Recognise that the guilt you’ve felt isn’t appropriate here and let it go.


It can be easy to transfer blame to another person – but that just gives you different toxic emotions to carry! For now, simply acknowledge that the wrong wasn’t yours to own. And feel the release. Whatever others do is up to them. 


Can I make amends? 

If you find you did make a mistake, is it something you can put right somehow? This could take different forms, depending on your circumstances. It may be that you can set right what happened. It may be that you can apologise. 


It may be that you can’t do anything about the specific situation you were part of, but can give time and energy to a related cause too, by way of restoration. Think about what suits your situation and act on it as best you can. And give yourself some grace. 


What have I learned?

Mistakes are always opportunities to learn – whether that’s in maths homework from school or in our interactions with others. Look at what led you to react the way you did. If you had the time again, what would you do differently? 


Are there particular actions from others that have led you to respond in ways you now regret, for example? If so, can you come up with strategies to help you press pause before your reflex response, and then choose to do something else? Something that would nourish you as well?


While I never encourage any of my clients to put up with abusive or bad behaviour, sometimes we can all get caught in power plays that are driven by other people’s egos (and our own ego responds in kind!). If you find this happens to you, remember what you’re aiming for. It’s a fulfilling life that is not dominated by your ex-spouse. So aim to keep that vision in mind, stay calm, and don’t let them derail you from your goal. 


What would my best friend say?

Finally, for each item on your list imagine you’re sitting with your best friend. Or even better, book a coffee date or phone call with them. And ask them what they would say to you about the mistake. 

Chances are your self-talk goes along the lines of:

“I’m such a stupid person to let them get to me” or 

“I can’t believe I had that fling, I’ll never forgive myself” or

“Why did I fly off the handle at my children? It’s not their fault. I’m such a terrible parent.”


Your friend will help you see a different perspective. One that doesn’t ignore the mistake, if it exists, but that reminds you that it doesn’t define you. They will remind you of the good times and the moments you can be proud of. And this is critical to moving on. If you let your mistake take root and become part of your self-identity you increase the risk of it happening again. You’ll think, “That’s just what I do” and your self-loathing will sky-rocket. 


A new start

Whatever happened before doesn’t have to dictate what happens going forward. How To Forgive Yourself When You Divorce is about remembering, any mistake is an opportunity to pause and decide to learn. 


What values or principles do you want to guide you going forward? What matters most to you? For example, perhaps you’ve found yourself getting caught up in power plays and arguments – desperate to come out on top or win. Desperate to not let your ex-spouse have their way. 


If you switch to centring the most honest/fair outcome (whether that means you’re right or not), you can shift in how you operate. You don’t need to be so attached to ‘winning’. And that’s actually really liberating. It means you can think and act more calmly and clearly. And, cheeky bonus points, it will infuriate your soon-to-be-ex who will most likely have been getting a kick out of pushing your buttons! 


Divorce is not failure

We all make mistakes. Affairs don’t happen in healthy marriages. Constant rowing doesn’t happen in healthy marriages. That sinking “Is this it” feeling doesn’t last in healthy marriages (though every long term relationship will have rocky patches). 


How To Forgive Yourself When You Divorce is recognising sometimes divorce is the best answer for all concerned – including your children. It’s a brave step towards a healthier, more fulfilling life. As we’ve seen, what matters now is the future. And for you to have the happiest future you need to forgive yourself and let the past go. I’m not saying it’s easy or can happen instantly. But it’s necessary work. 


Find your tribe

If you would like help working through the past so you can focus on the future, I can be there with you. And so can other brave, empowered women who are determined to do divorce their way. 

The Absolute Academy is a community of women who enlist my support and each other’s so they can step up to their divorce. Whether it’s practical questions about the legal process, ‘what would you do’ questions or a safe place to collapse into a heap for a while, The Absolute Academy is there for you. We are meeting in August for the first time since the pandemic! On Saturday 14th August from 1:30 – 5:30 pm, we are getting together for Pimms, canapes, and cake in London and, we are inviting non-Academy members to join us. It’s a great way to find out if the Academy is your tribe and to have fun. There will also be the opportunity to chat, share your story and learn that you are not alone.

Cady Pearce senior associate solicitor from Kingsley Napley solicitors will also be joining us to share her thoughts on managing a high-conflict divorce and ensuring you know how to access the best legal support.


Find out more and join here

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of  The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
%d bloggers like this: