Measuring Divorce Guilt
by Divorce.com's Hoyt Vandenberg
Aside from the legal and technical aspects of a divorce, ending a marriage also means dealing with the emotions caused by the event, and different people can be affected by the emotions after a divorce in very different ways. Some people can go through a divorce without experiencing any extreme emotional states, while others may be so affected they have a very difficult time getting through it. Some get so wrapped up in the emotions their judgment becomes impaired and they lose the ability to think clearly and make rational decisions.
Research has shown that while the emotional impact of a divorce can be quite severe at times, the recovery process does have an end for most people, and the emotional turmoil will dissipate and eventually disappear after a period ranging anywhere from eighteen months to three years following the initial separation. During that period the emotional stages of divorce people go through can include feelings of grief, sorrow, sadness, shame, regret, depression, anxiety and finally just plain old guilt.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where both the divorce court system and peer pressure often encourage divorcing spouses to make important permanent decisions at the very time they are least up to the task. When a marriage is falling apart and both spouses are in a highly charged emotional state, they often make poor decisions based on their emotional reactions to the situation. As a result, many divorces are far more traumatic than they need to be. It also explains why so many current celebrity divorces are so messy and over-the-top.
Celebrity divorces are well-known for bitter court battles with the sordid details splashed all over the tabloids. The bigger the stars, the bigger the mess they make when dragging each others names through the mud, hanging their dirty laundry in public, fighting over every dollar, and hiring multiple attorneys to argue over child custody issues. There are still a few civilized celebrity splits here and there, like the recent Russell Brand and Katy Perry marriage that ended quietly and peacefully. However, most celeb breakups today seem to be of the‚"he said, "she-said," variety like Sandra Bullock and Jesse James' messy divorce, where James exposed a range of embarrassing and ultimately guilty emotional reactions, all dutifully documented by the press. Spontaneous emotional reactions to a divorce are rarely in anyone's long-term best interests. They can also leave lingering psychological scars in the form of guilt and shame for both the adults and the children involved.
Although guilt and shame can be a normal reaction to the end of a marriage, those feelings usually stem from a sense of failure for not fulfilling the promise to stay married for life and not fulfilling personal expectations. Of course, marriages where one or both partners have engaged in betrayal, deceit, and adultery will almost always involve feelings of guilt and shame when the dust settles. Guilt and shame gets in the way of good decision making and can make it difficult maintain a realistic perspective too. Guilty spouses can feel they have no right to ask for what they need in a divorce and often agree to unbalanced settlements they later regret. If the feelings of guilt persist, they can eventually escalate into anger.
In this respect, guilt is one of the most difficult emotions divorcing couples and their therapists have to deal with. Guilty spouses can have a hard time letting go old relationships and have problems developing new relationships too. Research has also shown that people who feel very guilty after a divorce are usually far less happy and satisfied with their post divorce lives than less guilty ex-spouses. Obviously, dealing effectively with post divorce guilt can make the whole process less traumatic and damaging for everyone involved. Unfortunately, guilt can show up in so many guises, it has been much more difficult for therapists and counselors to identify and deal with.
Here may be one new bright spot on the horizon for identifying and dealing with the clinical psychology of guilt resulting from divorce that could prove to be a valuable tool for both guilty spouses and the therapists who counsel them in the form of a newly devised‚"guilt scale‚" called the Guilt in Separation Scale (GiSS). Researchers from the Department of Experimental Clinical and Health Psychology at Ghent University in Belgium designed the scale to measure emotions of guilt and separate them from shame and regret in the divorce process and post divorce adjustment period. The researchers used to scale to evaluate people who had been divorced or separated for an average of 6 years, as well as people who were currently in the process of divorcing.
The team made follow-up assessments at 6 and 12 months to verify the accuracy of the results, but generally found that the new guilt scaling tool was able to separate and distinguish between the differing emotions of guilt and shame in most study respondents. The team found that the GiSS was equally effective with both couples in the middle of a divorce as well as with those individuals who had already been divorced. Identifying the two separate emotions may help professionals working with divorced and divorcing people to improve their counseling and mediation techniques in the future. More accurate clinical assessments of feelings of guilt could lead to more effective marital counseling in the future and hopefully, fewer divorces driven by emotionally reactive forces.
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