Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt guilty about something. If that feeling was pleasurable, you may lower your hand. Aha! Still have your hand in the air? I thought so. You may now put your hand down.

It’s unanimous – guilt isn’t fun. So we stay in unfulfilling, unhappy, non-productive relationships because it’s better than feeling guilty for ending it. We remain miserable in our jobs, or unhappy at home, or going through the motions with a friend we’ve outgrown, all to avoid the guilt. We’re huffing and puffing our way up the guilt mountain until one day we reach the peak. We’re teetering at the top. Should we take a look at what’s on the other side? But it’s scary. We can always roll gently back down and stay in the relationship. At least we won’t feel guilty any more for thoughts of leaving. And we won’t be afraid of the giant unknown future looming ahead of us if we take the leap.

Obviously, there’s a choice, and an informed decision is always a better way to go. So while you’re deciding, take a moment to learn about ways to deal with your guilt in ending a relationship.
STEP 1: Recognize that you own the feeling. No one can “make you feel” guilty. (In fact, no one can make you feel anything.)
STEP 2: Once you’ve taken ownership of the guilt, recognize that how long you hold onto it is also your own choice. Ask yourself whether it’s better for you sooner or later to make the change in your relationship status. Then, listen to yourself. Trust your instincts.
STEP 3: Make it a learning experience. What life lessons are propelling you forward? What will you do differently next time?
STEP 4: Forgive yourself. You’re not perfect, and no relationship can be perfect either.

In the field of divorce and family mediation, guilt is an overwhelming emotion. I help my clients talk to each other about their feelings, and about how forgiving themselves (and each other) is beneficial in the long run.