Measuring Guilt Could Decrease Pain During Divorce

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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  • SandyS

    March 7th, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    My divorce did not leave me feeling guilty, just liberated. I was hoping that my ex would feel some of the guilt but I don’t think that he was ever able to experience an emotion quite that deep. And he has seemed to have no problem hopping from relationship to relationship since it was final. Granted none of them have lasted very long, but he seems to have no problem giving it a shot.

  • Scott Sanders

    March 7th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    There are a lot of divorced couples out there who have a hard time separarting the guilt from the divorce. But just because you may have behaved less than what you should have while married doesn’t mean that you have to beat yourself up for the rest of your life. You have to admit the guilt, forgive yourself, forgive your former partner and move on. It is so easy to want to stay in the past but that does no one any good. How can you recover in the past and move on toward the future with forgiving yourself and setting new goals in life?

  • rhiannon

    March 8th, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    It’s kind of that owning up that you made some mistakes, well that will set you free. It does not excuse the things you have done, but maybe it helps you make peace with some of that. Admit that you feel that guilt, and apologize and try to make amends. But no one said that you have to punish yourself forever over mistakes that you made in the past! Ask for forgiveness, from your family and from yourself and that is going to help you hold your head high again and move on. Divorce is a terrible experience but it does not make you necessarily a bad person, just someone like all the rest of us who made some unchangeable mistakes.

  • E Hewitt

    March 8th, 2012 at 9:42 PM

    But guilt can also lead to the person ‘giving up’ right? It is not right if the guilt is due to the person feeling that he or she didn’t put in enough effort to make the marriage work.This could manifest even in someone who has been cheated on.Strange ways of life I guess.

  • JaneT

    March 9th, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Come on, just because I rate the guilt does not make it all go away

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