Going through a divorce is an emotionally exhausting experience. Individuals experience a diverse range of feelings before, during, and long after the process. Guilt is one of the emotions that divorcing couples struggle with. Research has shown that individuals who feel guilty have a difficult time letting go of their former spouse and often have problems developing new intimate relationships after the divorce. Overall, people who feel guilt from the divorce are less satisfied with their postdivorce lives than those who feel less guilt. But some studies have also shown that divorcing people who feel guilt are more willing to compromise in mediation, thus making the whole process of divorce less traumatic. Additionally, guilt does not manifest in the same way that other strong emotions do, making it more difficult for counselors to identify. Therefore, Anne Wietzker of the Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology at Ghent University and Belgium conducted a study testing the validity of a newly devised guilt scale, the Guilt in Separation Scale (GiSS), which she developed with her colleagues.
Wietzker administered the GiSS to 214 individuals who had been divorced or separated for an average of 6 years and 458 individuals going through a divorce. Wietzker completed follow-up assessments at 6 and 12 months to verify the accuracy and reliability of the GiSS. The scale was designed to gauge emotions of guilt and separate them from shame and regret, which are linked more closely to feelings of depression and anxiety, both of which can have significant negative impacts on the divorce process and postdivorce adjustment. Wietzker discovered that the GiSS worked equally well with couples in the midst of a divorce and with individuals who had been divorced for some time. The scale proved capable of separating guilt from shame and regret in the individuals, a factor which could help professionals working with divorced and divorcing people. Wietzker said, “We also believe that it can be worthwhile to assess feelings of guilt in the context of marital counseling and recommend further research in this area.” She added, “A better understanding of guilt in the divorce process may well improve divorce counseling and mediation.”
Wietzker, A., & Buysse, A. (2012). Assessing Guilt Toward the Former Spouse. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027444
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