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“Separation Guilt” in Women Who Initiate Divorce



This paper explores the “separation guilt” of women who initiate divorce. The paper argues that the gender-specific processes of separation individuation and socialization that women undergo in childhood make them vulnerable to similar guilt feelings when they initiate divorce, only towards the husband they are leaving. It further argues that these feelings may impair their post-divorce adjustment. The paper illustrates these points with two case studies, one showing how the woman’s separation guilt thwarted the development of new intimacy, the other showing how it impaired her maternal functioning. Recommendations are made for treatment and research.
‘‘Separation Guilt’’ in Women Who Initiate Divorce
Nehami Baum
Published online: 13 May 2006
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media, LLC 2006
Abstract This paper explores the ‘‘separation guilt’’ of
women who initiate divorce. The paper argues that the
gender-specific processes of separation individuation and
socialization that women undergo in childhood make them
vulnerable to similar guilt feelings when they initiate di-
vorce, only towards the husband they are leaving. It further
argues that these feelings may impair their post-divorce
adjustment. The paper illustrates these points with two case
studies, one showing how the woman’s separation guilt
thwarted the development of new intimacy, the other
showing how it impaired her maternal functioning. Rec-
ommendations are made for treatment and research.
Keywords ‘‘Separation guilt’’ ÆDivorce initiation Æ
Post-divorce adjustment ÆWomen
The literature on divorce draws a fairly clear distinction
between the divorce experience of the spouse who initiates
the divorce and the spouse who does not. The initiator is
defined in the literature as the spouse who first proposes the
divorce and is firmer in its pursuit (Buehler, 1987). Al-
though there is a strong subjective component in the per-
ception of initiator status, most scholars agree that most
divorced persons are able to identify whether they, their
spouse, or both of them initiated the divorce (Buehler,
Hogan, Robinson, & Levy, 1986).
The general consensus is that the divorce experience is
more difficult for non-initiators than initiators. The re-
search indicates that non-initiators tend to feel victims in a
life change they did not want or were unsure they wanted
(Gray & Silver, 1990; Hagestad & Smyer, 1982), that they
feel they had little or no control over the change (Gray,
1996); and that they tend to feel rejected (Vannoy, 1995). It
also shows that non-initiators have greater difficulty
accepting the divorce (Vaughan, 1986) and handling its
losses (Kincaid & Caldwell, 1995) than initiators. Several
scholars suggest that non-initiators may find it especially
difficult to fully terminate the relationship (Spanier &
Casto, 1979; Weiss, 1975) and to redefine their identity as a
divorced person (Duran-Aydintug, 1995; Vaughan, 1986).
Initiators, in contrast, have been found to have almost
complete control over the divorce process (e.g., Duran-
Aydintug, 1995), to fare better emotionally and psycho-
logically than non-initiators (Buehler, 1987; Gray, 1996),
and, often, to experience a great deal of relief once the
marriage is terminated (Amato, 2000).
These differential findings, however, do not mean that
divorce is not emotionally trying for initiators as well.
Divorce is a loss for initiators, just as it is for non-initiators.
Initiators too lose their spouse, their intact family, and their
familiar routines; and they too must struggle to build a new
life for themselves and new relationships. In fact, Buehler
(1987), in a study of a representative sample of divorced
parents, found that initiators actually experienced more
change and disruption than non-initiators in the year after
Nehami Baum Ph.D., is a lecturer at the School of Social Work at Bar
Ilan University. She is a social worker with experience in both public
and private practice. Her special interests include non-death related
loss, divorce, men in therapy, treatment termination, social work
students’ professional identity formation, guilt, and social work in
times of terror and political tension.
N. Baum (&)
School of Social Work, Bar Ilan University,
Ramat Gan 52900, Israel
Clin Soc Work J (2007) 35:47–55
DOI 10.1007/s10615-006-0053-5
the divorce. Yet, while the divorce literature deals exten-
sively with the emotional and psychological difficulties of
non-initiators, it has paid little attention to the distinct
emotional distress that initiators may experience. Although
there are a small number of studies comparing the divorce
experience of initiators and non-initiators (Duran-Aydin-
tug, 1995; Vannoy, 1995; Vaughan, 1986), as well as
studies comparing their emotional processes (Buehler,
1987; Gray & Silver, 1990; Kincaid & Caldwell, 1995), to
the knowledge of the author, there are no published studies
on the difficulties encountered by initiators.
This is an omission. In several studies of divorced per-
sons, more than half the sample reported that they had
initiated the divorce (Buehler, 1987; Kincaid & Caldwell,
1995). The meager attention paid to their difficulties thus
leaves a gap in our knowledge of the divorce process and
its aftermath. The omission is all the greater with respect to
divorcees; for even though some studies show slightly
higher rates of initiation by men (Buehler, 1987; Hagested
& Smyer, 1982), most show women having initiated more
than twice as often as men (Kincaid & Caldwell, 1995;
Pettit & Bloom, 1984).
Studies comparing the emotional processes undergone
by initiators and non-initiators repeatedly observe that
while non-initiators tend to have strong feelings of rejec-
tion, initiators tend to have strong feelings of guilt. On the
basis of these observations, as well as the author’s clinical
experience, this paper explores the guilt feelings of women
who initiate divorce.
Guilt Feelings in Divorce
Guilt feelings are generally understood to be a significant
component of the divorce experience, as of other experi-
ences of separation and loss. Among many others, Wal-
lerstein and Kelly (1980) observe that divorced individuals
often feel guilty about both the damage of their divorce to
their children and about their own abandonment of cul-
turally accepted definitions of the good parent, husband or
A fair number of scholars have noted the impact of guilt
feelings on adjustment to divorce. Spanier and Margolis
(1983) found that guilt feelings were associated with de-
creased life satisfaction after divorce; Walters-Chapman,
Price, and Serovich (1995) found that they were associated
with depression. The literature on bereavement provides
ample evidence that guilt can hinder the mourning process
(Rando, 1984). It is not unlikely that guilt would hinder the
process of mourning the losses inherent in divorce.
Several studies suggest that guilt feelings impede psy-
chological separation from the ex-spouse. Weiss (1975)
found that guilt impaired the ability of divorced mothers to
redefine their identity outside their marital status. Pais and
White (1979) and Raschke (1987) found that guilt may
exacerbate the difficulties divorced persons experienced in
redefining their position and role with not only with respect
to the former spouse, but also with respect to their children
and their greater social environment. Walters-Chapman,
Price, and Serovich (1995) found that guilt was positively
correlated with continued attachment to the ex-spouse.
Jacobson (1977) asked a group of persons who said they
felt guilty about their divorce whether their guilt functioned
to maintain or to attenuate their attachment to their former
spouse and found that almost all of them replied that it
functioned to maintain the relationship.
Only a small number of scholars deal with the guilt
feelings of initiators, however. Weiss (1975) suggests that
initiators generally feel guilty, even anguished, at the
damage their departure inflicted on their children and
spouse, are prone to question their capacity to meet their
emotional obligations, tend to anticipate the condemnation
of others and to feel that condemnation to be partially
deserved. Myers (1989), a psychiatrist who studied the
male experience in divorce, suggests that men feel guilty
when they initiate the divorce: for no longer loving their
wives and for wanting to leave them. He found the guilt to
be particularly strong among middle-aged professional
men who had left traditional marriages in which their wives
had devoted most of their adult years to being a wife,
raising the children, and running the home. Emery (1994),
who traces the emotional and psychological processes that
initiators and non-initiators undergo in divorce, shows how
guilt underlies these processes in initiators. Over time, he
claims, the initiator’s sense of guilt creates a guilty sense of
responsibility and feelings of dutiful caring. These studies
all note the existence of guilt feelings among persons who
initiate divorce. They are few in number, however, and
none of them concentrates on guilt feelings apart from the
many other emotions experienced in divorce.
Of the little literature that there is on the guilt of the ini-
tiator, none focuses on women initiators or even distin-
guishes the sources and repercussions of their guilt from
those of male initiators. In fact, to the knowledge of the
author, only one study to date has examined the guilt feelings
of divorced women. This study, by Boney (2002), written
from a feminist perspective, focuses on the guilt of mothers
and does not deal with the issue of initiation. The very limited
attention to the guilt feelings of women initiators is partic-
ularly striking in light of the findings, noted above, that
women tend to initiate divorce more often than men.
Guilt and Gender
Freud (1925/1961) regarded guilt as the product of the
inevitable intrapsychic conflict between the desires of the
ego and the demands of the superego. He viewed it as a
48 Clin Soc Work J (2007) 35:47–55
force for morality, anchored in fear and threats of pun-
ishment, first by the parents, then by the superego. Fol-
lowing Freud, many other views of guilt developed. These
treated guilt as an interpersonal phenomenon, with its roots
in altruism and concern for others. One of the first propo-
nents of this approach was Klein (1975), who conceptual-
ized guilt a drive to make reparation. Similar to Freud, she
located the roots of guilt in the child’s aggressive and
destructive impulses against the parents and in the fear of
retaliation that these evoke. Unlike Freud, however, who
viewed guilt as self-punishment for these impulses, Klein
(1975) maintained that guilt is not an internalized fear of
retaliation for the impulses, but rather an independent and
primary motive to repair the harm.
Today, most researchers and clinicians define guilt as an
interpersonally driven emotion, stemming from altruism
and fear of harming others. They regard it as rooted in
empathy and based on the need to maintain attachments to
others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Baumeister, Stillwell,
& Heatherton, 1994; Gilbert, Pehl, & Allan, 1994; Zahn-
Waxler, Kochanska, McKnew, & Krupnik, 1990). In
addition, without rejecting this view, some writers
emphasize the cognitive element of guilt. They locate the
roots of guilt in the cognitive perception of wrongdoing,
and identify its affective components as remorse and
emotional tension resulting from the incongruence between
the person’s behavior and his or her internalized values
(Mosher, 1966; Zahn-Waxler, Kochanska, McKnew, &
Krupnik, 1990).
Freud viewed the male conscience as more highly
developed than the female, and men as more prone than
women to guilt. This conception was based on his view that
the development of conscience, of which guilt is the
manifestation, is tied to castration anxiety and the resolu-
tion of the Oedipus complex. Without these experiences, he
reasoned, women’s sense of justice was inferior to men’s.
Indeed, he was highly critical of what he saw as the impact
of women’s emotions on their sense of justice (Zahn-
Waxler, Kochanska, Cicchette, & Thompson, 1988).
Both the ‘‘altruism’’ and ‘‘cognitive’’ understandings of
guilt, however, suggest that girls and women might be
more susceptible to this emotion than boys and men. If
guilt is an interpersonal emotion anchored in empathy, then
findings suggest that women are both more interpersonally
sensitive than men (Zahn-Waxler, Kochanska, McKnew, &
Krupnik, 1990) and more empathic (Eisenberg & Lennon,
1983). If guilt stems from the violation of internalized
values, then it may be argued that gender differentiated
socialization processes would also lead to greater guilt
feelings among women than men since girls are more likely
than boys to be socialized not to express, or even to feel,
anger (Feinman & Feldman, 1982; Zahn-Waxler, Ko-
chanska, Cicchette, & Thompson, 1988). According to
Zahn-Waxler, Kochanska, Cicchette, & Thompson (1988),
unexpressed anger among girls is often translated into guilt.
Although research on gender differences in guilt feel-
ings is relatively sparse among adults, the few published
studies there are lend support to these conjectures. Hoff-
man (1975) found that moral transgressions led to higher
levels of guilt in females, while males were more likely to
respond with fear of being caught. These findings, they
contend, support the view that consideration for others
makes females more vulnerable to guilt feelings than
males. Tangney (1990) found higher levels of guilt among
women and girls than among men and boys (Baumeister,
Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994). Zahn-Waxler and Robinson
(1995) contend that there are stronger cultural expectations
of responsible and kind behavior from girls than boys, and
that girls tend to internalize earlier and more completely
than boys the message that it is wrong to hurt others and
that it matters how others feel. The heightened levels of
empathy and guilt observed in girls, they claim, may make
them particularly vulnerable to feeling over-responsible for
the problems of others.
Divorce Initiation, Guilt, and Gender
By definition, divorce may be conceived as a separation
and its initiation as a willful departure. As such, initiating
divorce may arouse what Modell (1965,1971) termed
separation guilt. Guilt has, in fact, been observed as a
prominent feature of various experiences of self-initiated
separation, including immigration (Espin, 1987), counselor
initiated treatment termination (Glenn, 1971), and the ter-
mination of romantic relationships (Hill, Rubin, & Peplau,
According to Modell (1965,1971), separation guilt is a
universal phenomenon anchored in the infant’s impulse
towards ‘‘self-object differentiation’’—that is, in the nat-
ural impulse to develop a self-distinct from the parent. As
Modell (1965,1971) explains it, the infantile mind con-
verts the fear of dying upon separation from the mother to
the fear of damaging or destroying the mother. Modell
(1965) puts the conversion down to the infant’s poor ‘‘self-
object’’ differentiation. Weiss (1986) explains the guilt as
arising from the infant’s utter dependency on the parents,
as a result of which the infant must condemn in himself or
herself any motive or behavior that seriously threatens the
all important ties with the parents.
Modell (1965) defines separation guilt as the un-
conscious ‘‘belief that one does not have a right to life...
the right to a separate existence ....’’ (p. 328). Developing
autonomy and pursuing normal developmental and life
goals are feared as harming the parent and, later, additional
significant others. As Weiss (1986) defines it, separation
guilt is characterized by the belief that one is harming
Clin Soc Work J (2007) 35:47–55 49
one’s parents or other loved ones by separating from them
or by differing from them and thereby being disloyal.
Neither Modell (1965,1971), Weiss (1986) nor any of
the studies that found guilt feelings in the self-initiated
separations noted above relates to possible gender differ-
ences in separation guilt. It may be argued, however, that
women may be more prone to this feeling than men, be-
cause of difference in both the early separation–individu-
ation processes they undergo and in the socialization for
which these different processes prepare. As feminist
scholars have pointed out, the infantile separation–indi-
viduation process differs for girls and boys. Because girls
are generally parented by the same sex parent, they expe-
rience themselves as being like their mothers, just as their
mothers experience themselves as being like them. In
contrast, boys and their mothers both experience the other
as being their opposites. The outcome for girls, but not for
boys, is a fusion of the experience of attachment with the
process of identity formation (Chodorow, 1978). This fu-
sion may make separating from the mother both a more
frightening and a more guilt provoking experience for girls
than for boys, even in earliest childhood. Indeed, girls re-
solve the separation–individuation conflict by the adoption
of a position of relatedness, boys by the adaptation of a
position of separateness (Gilligan, 1982; Gilligan, Taylor,
& Sullivan, 1995; Gilligan, Ward, & Taylor, 1988).
These differentiated processes are reinforced by society
through its gender socialization. As has often been noted,
girls are socialized to define themselves in the context of
relationships with others and to base their self-value on
how well they form and maintain relationships (Heaton &
Blake, 1999). Boys, in contrast, are socialized to inde-
pendence and to define and value themselves by their
personal achievements (Aneshensel, Frerichs, & Clark,
Like other early processes, the dual processes of sepa-
ration–individuation and gender socialization impact on
persons’ feelings and behaviors throughout the lifespan.
Here it may be suggested that they would come together in
making divorce initiation a more guilt-provoking act for
women than for men. According to Weiss (1986), separa-
tion guilt has both internal and external sources. By
internal, Weiss (1986) means the quest for an independent
self. By external, he means the behavior of the parents,
who may signal to a greater or lesser degree that such
independence is not welcome on the part of their offspring.
The quest for an independent self that is inherent in the
separation–individuation process is also an aspect of di-
vorce initiation, while the parental interdiction of psycho-
analytic theory has its parallel in society and the
socialization process. In the latter act, as in the former, the
individual chooses his/her own needs or preferences over a
close tie with an important other (Cantor, 1982; Pappas,
1989). The lack of radical differentiation from their
mothers would make initiating divorce, with its rupture of
attachment, a relatively unfamiliar and not quite ‘‘natural’’
experience for women. Women would bring the guilt
ensuing from the early separation–individuation from their
mothers to their divorce initiation. For men, who have al-
ready undergone a radical separation in infancy and ado-
lescence, the willful rupture of attachment involved in
initiating divorce would be more familiar, feel more
‘‘natural’’ and evoke less guilt. Their gender differential
socialization would make the external source of guilt
stronger for women initiating divorce as well. It would
make the conflict between the internalized values of
responsibility for others and the personal needs and desires
of women who initiate divorce particularly acute (Gilligan,
In the previous section, it was noted that guilt feelings in
divorce may lead to decreased life satisfaction and
depression and impede the psychological separation from
the ex-spouse. Even though the notion of separation guilt
was originally developed with reference to the child’s
separation from the parents, Weiss’ (1986) discussion of
the consequences of this guilt may help us better under-
stand the guilt that may ensue upon divorce. According to
Weiss (1986), persons who suffer from separation guilt
may attempt to alleviate their guilt through certain forms of
self-punishment. The two forms he names are intensifying
in a self-tormenting way their ties to the parent whom they
believe they have hurt by their independence or, alterna-
tively, complying in a self tormenting way with that par-
ent’s real or imagined wishes. These two expressions of
separation guilt may also apply to the spouse one has left.
For example, a woman who feels guilty about having di-
vorced may continue to remain in contact with him beyond
what is necessary for their shared parenting and/or go out
of her way to anticipate and comply with his wishes with
regard to their children. In essence, they are not very dif-
ferent from the decreased life satisfaction, depression, and
impaired separation from the ex-spouse noted in the di-
vorce literature.
The next section of this paper presents two cases
showing the existence and consequences of separation guilt
among women who initiate divorce, as well as how this
guilt was identified and treated. The cases suggest that in
women’s divorce initiation, separation guilt, rooted in the
infant’s dependence on the parents and fear of harming
them by the assertion of independence, come together with
guilt rooted in empathy and values.
Case 1: Separation Guilt Thwarts New Intimacy
Aviv was a 57-year-old department manager in a high tech
firm who sought psychotherapy because of her inability to
50 Clin Soc Work J (2007) 35:47–55
maintain a lasting relationship with a man. She was an
attractive, well-dressed woman who looked younger than
her age. Men sought her company and she dated frequently,
but she invariably grew dissatisfied with her suitors within
a short time and ended the relationship, sometimes by
saying that she wanted it to end, at other times bringing it
to an end by her behavior. When the pattern repeated itself
several times, she began to suspect the problem to lie
within her, not with the men. When she arrived at therapy,
she was in an eight month long relationship that she feared
she would cause to end, just as she had all the others.
In other areas of her life, she functioned effectively. She
and her husband had divorced 3 years earlier, ending a
marriage of some 30 years. Although the settlement
negotiations were strenuous, she and her ex were able to
reach an agreement without acrimony and without resort-
ing to the courts. She described her three sons, aged 25–32,
as ‘‘well-adjusted.’’ She enjoyed her work and was well
thought of by her colleagues and superiors.
Although she presented with problems in sustaining a
relationship, she spent most of the sessions talking about
her marriage. She talked, in a somewhat detached and
intellectual manner, of the good relationship she and her
husband had had, of his kindness and great capacity for
giving, and of the mutuality of their decision to divorce.
Fairly soon, however, signs of guilt emerged. She was
the one who chose to leave, she explained. Moreover, the
reason she ended the marriage gave her pangs of con-
science. Her husband, good and devoted as he was, was not
well attuned to her emotional needs, she said.
Early in the therapy, it became apparent that Aviv had
been lonely in the marriage for many years. She had
effectively given up on the relationship with her husband,
and sought interest and gratification in her work and in a
variety of alternative medicine courses. The decision to
divorce took her many years and a great deal of inner
debate to make. Nonetheless, she apparently had difficulty
in justifying her desire to end the marriage. On the con-
trary, she reproached herself, not her husband. She had
changed a great deal over the years, she said, and had
ceased to be the woman she was when she married. She
never blamed her husband for staying much the same man
he was when they first met. Her feeling was: ‘‘I have no
reason to be angry at him; he did nothing wrong to me or
anyone else.’’
Cognitively, Aviv assumed responsibility for the pain
her husband experienced in the divorce, asserting that it
was her deed that caused his suffering. She did not con-
sciously feel guilty, however. Repeatedly declaring that she
herself had not been hurt by the divorce, she was discon-
nected from her sense of guilt as from her distress in
general. The only pain she talked of, and this at some
length, was the severe pain in her legs and feet that she
developed shortly after the divorce was formalized, for
which medical examination found no physiological expla-
nation. It was apparent to me as the therapist that these
symptoms might be a somatization and that the pain in
Aviv’s legs and feet, the limbs that walk away, might be
symbolic of the guilt pangs that Aviv felt in initiating her
It took several months of therapy before I identified, and
Aviv acknowledged, the source of her presenting problems
as guilt. During those months, the early pattern of Aviv’s
sessions solidified into a regular form. That is, Aviv con-
tinued to talk a great deal more about her ex-husband that
about her current beau, even though it was her fear that she
would ruin her current relationship that had brought her to
treatment. This disparity indicated just how emotionally
involved Aviv still was with her former husband and how
little emotional space she had for a new man.
The inability to divorce psychologically, as evident in
the persistence of Aviv’s absorption with her ex-husband,
is not necessarily a sign of guilt, though, as noted above, it
can be. It can have various sources, including emotional
difficulties rooted in childhood, and it can express ten-
dencies such as the desire to hold on to the former spouse.
I was alerted to its origins in separation guilt in Aviv’s
case by another feature of her sessions. It is not only that
she talked so much more about her ex-husband than about
her current beau. It is also that she idealized her ex-hus-
band—as a good man and devoted parent—while focusing
on the smallest flaws of her various boyfriends. Her current
boyfriend, she described as a sensitive, intelligent man with
whom she was highly compatible, yet considered ending
the relationship because of an inapt comment here or
carelessness there. The idealization of her former husband
resembled the well-known idealization of the dead by
persons who feel survival guilt (Rando, 1984). The deni-
gration of her boyfriend can be understood in terms of the
Weiss’s (1986) brief description of the possible conse-
quences of separation guilt. It can be seen as a self-pun-
ishment, which, if it resulted in a rupture with her
boyfriend, as it had in the past, would prevent her from
enjoying a fulfilled relationship. It can also signal her un-
conscious compliance with what she seems to have per-
ceived as her ex-husband’s reluctance to see her remarry.
This reluctance he expressed indirectly in his informing her
that the new relationship he was in would probably not last,
while she expressed her unease about embarking on a new
and independent life while her husband was not by
repeatedly expressing the hope that his new relationship
would last and that he would be happy.
I raised the possibility of Aviv’s feeling guilt in con-
nection with Aviv’s inability to fully enjoy her relationship
with her current boyfriend. First, I asked whether she
thought that there was something within her that was pre-
Clin Soc Work J (2007) 35:47–55 51
venting her from enjoying it. When she said that she didn’t
think there was, I asked more directly: ‘‘Do you think it
might be that you’re feeling guilt about leaving your hus-
With that question, with my enunciation of the word
‘‘guilt,’’ it was as though an electric charge passed through
Aviv. For several minutes, she was in a stunned silence.
Finally, when she regained her self-possession, she said,
‘‘That’s exactly what I feel. I’m amazed that I never
thought of it before.’’
At the time of this writing, Aviv is still in therapy.
However, she no longer suffers from pain in her feet and
legs, and she is still going out with her boyfriend. She also
speaks much less of her ex-husband and more of her new
Case 2: Separation Guilt Creates Difficulties in Setting
Galit was an intelligent, feminine looking 42-year-old
woman with an M.A. in Business Management, who
worked as an investment adviser in a local bank. She had
been married for some 10 years and sought therapy about
5 years after her divorce. Her presenting problem was the
behavior of her 12-year-old daughter, Ella, whom she de-
scribed as locked up in herself, having few friends, and
isolated and withdrawn at home, not even relating to her
15-year-old sister, Gili.
Galit sought counseling after Ella refused to go for help.
Her declared aim was to find a way of helping her
daughter. She attributed Ella’s problems to her divorce,
which was prolonged and conflictual. Both Ella and her
sister, Galit said, had taken the divorce very hard, as did
their father. For around a year, both girls did poorly in
school and fared badly socially. Gili’s functioning even-
tually improved, but Ella’s did not. Although her school-
work was once again excellent, as it had been before the
separation and divorce, her general behavior deteriorated.
Galit believed that she could help by gaining greater
understanding of Ella’s plight and learning to deal with it
with greater sensitivity.
The therapy started with discussions of Galit’s life after
her divorce, which had become very difficult. As Galit told
it, her husband, a high-ranking army officer, had been
extraordinarily accommodating until she asked for a di-
vorce. For 12 years, it was he who tidied the house after
work, gave the children their dinner, and handled the er-
rands and bookkeeping, allowing Galit ample time for
reading, courses, grooming, and generally pampering and
developing herself. All this changed with her announce-
ment that she wanted a divorce. Since they had rarely
quarreled and she had never voiced her dissatisfaction, he
was astonished. Hurt and angry, he insisted on keeping the
family apartment, so Galit moved with her children to a
smaller one. After the divorce, he paid the required child
support and remained an involved and devoted father, but
turned every encounter with his ex-wife into an occasion
for making rigid demands, whether with regard to visiting
times and places or financial matters.
Galit responded by accommodating, almost invariably
agreeing to his demands, even where she found them
inconvenient or otherwise objectionable. She also accom-
modated her daughters in a way that she had not done while
she was married. She told, with great pride, how she
channeled all her energy into being a good mother and
described in detail how she organized her days around her
daughters’ needs. She related how she devoted virtually all
her free time to the girls and practically stopped buying
things for herself so that she could buy for her daughters
instead. Galit could not see why, with such devotion on her
part, the atmosphere at home should be sullen and
unpleasant. It soon became clear to me, however, that, with
her separation and divorce, she had ceased to impose any
boundaries on her daughters, much as she had ceased to
impose any boundaries on her ex-husband.
Eventually, Galit admitted that there were times when
she felt like a ‘‘slave,’’ especially to her daughters—a
sentiment that she repeated often once she had let the word
out of her mouth. This admission opened the way to
exploring the source of the striking change from the rather
self-centered individual she had been in her marriage and
the ‘‘slave’’ she had become with her separation and di-
vorce. Initially, Galit explained her change in behavior as
an effort to compensate her daughters for their uprooting
and the breakup of the family. She spoke extensively of the
undeserved hardships they suffered, but did not acknowl-
edge feeling any responsibility for those hardships.
When she spoke of her divorce, she presented it as
emotionally right and essential. She had had married
young, at age 24. Over the years, she came to realize that
she had never loved her husband, that she was not attracted
to him, and that she had married him because he was a
good, educated and wealthy man, whose outgoing per-
sonality compensated for her own introversion. As she
developed—getting an advanced degree, doing well at her
work, and gaining in self-confidence—she came to feel that
she could no longer remain in the marriage, she told.
At this point in the therapy, Galit had no sense of the
guilt that drove her to her fervid accommodations. In an
effort to tap into her emotional world, I encouraged her to
talk about her feelings as a ‘‘slave.’’ After several months
of this she declared, ‘‘But I deserve it. I brought it on
myself.’’ In other words, she understood her ‘‘slavery’ as
just punishment for her decision to divorce.
52 Clin Soc Work J (2007) 35:47–55
She now went on to present another version of her di-
vorce, in which separation guilt was a prominent feeling.
Her husband was a good man, who took good care of her,
so for many years she felt that she had no legitimate cause
for complaint and no right to divorce. He didn’t deserve it,
she felt. These feelings were exacerbated by, but not an-
chored in, her upbringing, which taught that being married
was the ‘‘right’’ way to live. She thus spent around 4 years
of wavering and uncertainty before she actually made the
decision. When the idea of divorce first came to her, she
quickly put it out of mind. It took her several years before
she even began to tell her friends of her unhappiness in her
marriage and to test out their reactions. After she told her
husband, her sense of guilt was exacerbated by his hurt and
angry response and by the children’s confusion.
From here, it was a short step for Galit to connect her
‘‘slavery’’ and inability to set boundaries with the over-
whelming guilt she carried. At this point, we began to work
on distinguishing guilt from responsibility and on helping
Galit to acknowledge her responsibility for her decision to
divorce without feeling that she had to punish herself for it.
With this understanding, Galit was able to begin to estab-
lish boundaries. She began to consider what her daughters’
real needs were and to establish boundaries for them. She
was also able to set boundaries for her ex-husband, whose
behavior has become very much less demanding.
At the time of this writing, her parental functioning has
improved considerably and the relationships among all
concerned have become much less fraught. She has freed
up enough inner space to begin to consider her own needs
and even to form a new relationship.
Discussion and Recommendations
The purpose of this paper is to draw the attention of
scholars and clinicians to the guilt feelings that many
women who initiate divorce may feel and to the possible
consequences of such guilt for their post-divorce adjust-
ment. To this end, the paper applies the concept of sepa-
ration guilt, which generally pertains to early childhood
processes and is rarely associated with other types of
separations, to divorce.
In both cases presented above, the women were happy to
have ended an unsatisfying marriage. For all intensive
purposes, both went on with their lives. They did well
professionally, had friends, and functioned effectively in
most areas. Both were unaware of their guilt feelings, as
are many people who divorce.
The case illustrations above are only two of many pos-
sible examples. In some ways, the cases are similar. Both
women had children. Both had been married to men who,
by traditional standards, were good husbands. They were
decent providers and giving, caring and affectionate part-
ners, who tried to meet their wives’ needs and wants and
who did more than their share of accommodation. The
women’s separation guilt was a function of their husbands’
‘‘goodness,’’ which, to the women’s minds, made their
husbands undeserving victims of their selfish decisions.
This does not mean, however, that childless women and
women who leave ‘‘bad’’ husbands do not feel guilt. In my
clinical experience, I have treated childless divorcees
whose guilt feelings, like those of the woman in the first
case, impaired their ability to form new meaningful rela-
tionships. Women who initiate divorce from ‘‘bad’’ hus-
bands are probably less likely to feel separation guilt than
woman who initiate divorce from ‘‘good’’ husbands. But
women who leave ‘‘bad’’ husbands may also feel such
guilt. For example, studies of battered wives show that
these women tend often feel guilt when they initiate di-
vorce (Davis, 1984). Indeed, in my clinical experience, I
have found that guilt feelings eventually surface in many
women who have initiated divorce, including childless
The cases illustrated two areas of post-divorce func-
tioning that separation guilt can impair: personal func-
tioning and parenting. In the first case, the woman’s guilt
impeded the development of a new intimate relationship; in
the second, it impaired her ability to establish boundaries,
both for her children and her ex-husband. As indicated in
the Introduction, however, many other consequences are
For the purpose of illustration, the cases presented above
focused narrowly on the women’s guilt feelings. It must be
made clear, however, that these were only one of many
issues that arose in the women’s therapy. In treating di-
vorced women who initiate divorce, it is thus important
that therapists do not expect to see or to deal with the guilt
feelings in isolation of other matters that are common in
therapy with divorcees.
Other recommendations may also be offered. First of all,
client’s guilt is not an emotion that therapists should be too
quick to bring up. Even where indications of guilt are fairly
obvious to the therapist, it is important first to establish a
stable, trusting relationship. Otherwise, suggesting that the
client feels guilt that she does not recognize is likely to
push her into denial.
It is also recommended that therapist consider a variety
of matters in helping clients to work through their guilt
One is prior separation individuation experiences in
childhood and adolescence. Guilt over divorce initiation
may be greatly exacerbated by earlier unresolved separa-
tion guilt. Where this is the case, the therapist should help
Clin Soc Work J (2007) 35:47–55 53
the client to distinguish the earlier separations from the
divorce separation and the guilt stemming from them.
Another is the distinction between responsibility and
guilt. It is important to make clients aware of the difference
and to help them accept responsibility for their decision to
divorce, while freeing themselves of their guilt. Much as in
bereavement, the resolution of separation guilt in divorce
requires an internal process of self-forgiveness, restitution,
and letting go of the hold on the guilt (Rando, 1984).
Where the guilt interferes with building and maintaining
new relationships, it is important to help clients recognize
and free themselves from their ‘‘invisible loyalties’’
(Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973). Such loyalties can
make new relationships seem like a betrayal (Espin, 1987)
and create paralyzing effects (Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark,
Where clients feel guilty over their divorce initiation,
special attention should be paid to the treatment termina-
tion. As is well known, ending treatment can be distressing
to clients (Anthony & Pagano, 1998; Fortune, 1987;For-
tune, Pearlingi, & Rochelle, 1992), even where they
themselves choose to end it. Among other things, it almost
always raises issues of loss and separation. For women who
experienced guilt over willfully separating from their
spouses, treatment termination may thus be particularly
distressing. To alleviate the distress, therapists would do
well to give the client’s decision to terminate as much
legitimization as possible. Moreover, since treatment ter-
mination evokes a range of feelings therapists, therapists
treating clients who suffered from guilt over their divorce
initiation should be especially alert to their counter-trans-
ference. At the same time, treatment termination may
provide an opportunity to further work on client’s separa-
tion guilt. Therapists would do well to take the opportunity.
Further study is called for. Clinical studies of separation
guilt in divorce are recommended to deepen and expand
our understanding of the conditions under which it is likely
to arise and its manifold manifestations and consequences,
in men and women both. Empirical studies are also needed
to the same ends.
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... Ini berarti bahwa tidak semua wanita mengalami rasa kehilangan dengan kualitas yang sama. Baum, 200726 Vaughan, 1986dalam Baum, 200727 Kincaid & Cadwell, 1995dalam Baum, 200728 Spanier & Casto, 1979Weiss, 1975dalam Baum, 2007 Duran-Aydintug, 1`995; Vaughan, 1996 dalam Baum, 2007 perceraian, 30 memiliki keadaan yang lebih baik secara emosional dan psikologis dibandingkan dengan non inisiator 31 dan seringkali, mengalami lebih banyak kelegaan pada saat perkawinan berakhir. 32 ...
... Ini berarti bahwa tidak semua wanita mengalami rasa kehilangan dengan kualitas yang sama. Baum, 200726 Vaughan, 1986dalam Baum, 200727 Kincaid & Cadwell, 1995dalam Baum, 200728 Spanier & Casto, 1979Weiss, 1975dalam Baum, 2007 Duran-Aydintug, 1`995; Vaughan, 1996 dalam Baum, 2007 perceraian, 30 memiliki keadaan yang lebih baik secara emosional dan psikologis dibandingkan dengan non inisiator 31 dan seringkali, mengalami lebih banyak kelegaan pada saat perkawinan berakhir. 32 ...
... Manifestasinya adalah adanya sebuah perasaan otonomi personan dan keyakinan bahwa individu dapat mempengaruhi nasib kehidupannya. 41 38 Weiss 1975 dalamBaum, 2007 39 Pais & White 979 dalamBaum, 2007; Raschke 1987 dalam Baum, 2007 Maddi,Kobasa dan Kahn 1982 dalam O'Rourke, 2004 Ibid. ...
Divorce and the death of spouse can be a painful and sometimes delibitating experiences.However, bereaved individuals differ markedly in how much and how long they grieve.positives emotions may be most benefecial, however when they are at the time of stress. Positive emotions contribute to psychological well-being via more effective coping. The experience of positive emotiopns functions to assist reilient individuals in their ability to recover effectively from bereavement.
... They argue that men suffer more from feelings of powerlessness and a loss of control during a separation because they cherish power, control and autonomy more than women (67,68). Conversely, it has been suggested that male initiators might be less prone to experience feelings of guilt and remorse than female initiators (69), implying that male initiators may fare better than female initiators in terms of mental health. ...
... Symoens et al. (11) predict that male noninitiators will be worse off emotionally than female noninitiators because being a noninitiator entails a feeling of powerlessness, which affects men more than women. Conversely, male initiators may be better off than female initiators because they experience less guilt due to the breakdown of the relationship (69). This could be reflected in the SWB outcomes, particularly in the depression dummy that measures AWB. ...
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... Thus, it is one of the major troubles that affect the family system. Divorce may be a single event dissolving the marriage, but both divorce initiators and non-initiators lose their spouses, their intact families, and their familiar routines, and they tend to struggle to build new lives and relationships Baum (2007). The changes in family composition, family roles, relationships and economic circumstance profound implications and can have a significant impact on family functioning González, & Viitanen (as cited in Selome, 2007). ...
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Divorce is the legal dissolution of a socially and legally recognized marital relationship that alters the obligations and privileges of the two persons involved. Hence, the main objective of this study was to assess the lived experience of divorced women in Bale Robe town. Purposive sampling was used to select sampling Kebeles since all Kebeles are assuming to be having a similar attribute in the case of divorce experience. The target populations were selected purposively and snowballing sampling techniques. To get the relevant data for this study the data has employed a qualitative, in-depth interview method with the combination of focused group discussion. The researcher used 12 divorced women for an in-depth interview, six divorced women for focused group discussion and six key informants for an in-depth interview. Thematic qualitative analysis technique has been employed by applying a rigorous data analysis procedure. As the result indicated Divorced women experience different psychological problems like anger, grief, feeling of lonely, regret and husband denying biological child. Also, the study revealed that divorce exposed them to social, familial, financial and emotional challenges. Therefore, government, non-governmental organization and social workers should play an important role in family counseling services, increasing public awareness about the social environment and marriage stability.
... Thus, it is one of the major troubles that affect the family system. Divorce may be a single event dissolving the marriage, but both divorce initiators and non-initiators lose their spouses, their intact families, and their familiar routines, and they tend to struggle to build new lives and relationships Baum (2007). The changes in family composition, family roles, relationships and economic circumstance profound implications and can have a significant impact on family functioning González, & Viitanen (as cited in Selome, 2007). ...
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... The participants also described keeping separation relatively private out of concern for others' perceptions and receiving unhelpful feedback. The women seemed particularly worried about not meeting social expectations or that others would see their struggling marriage as a reflection of their inability to keep their relationship healthy, which is consistent with previous research showing that women tend to feel more responsible for maintaining a relationship's health (Baum, 2007). The participants' concerns about others' feedback is also consistent with previous findings about the helpfulness of confidants' responses. ...
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Researchers have long treated marital separation as a linear transition that inevitably leads to divorce. Popular sources suggest that some couples separate without clarity about how the separation will end, often to assess whether to divorce or stay married. However, to date, we could not locate any empirical research on this kind of ambiguous separation. With a sample of 20 currently separated persons from around the United States, this study employed a hermeneutic phenomenological design to inquire about the experience of separating from one's spouse when the separation was initiated without clarity about how it would end. Six essential themes emerged: (a) our relationship feels ambiguous, (b) separation is a private experience, (c) separation is a lonely experience, (d) benefits to separating, (e) separation is not sustainable, and (f) the outcome is unclear. The article concludes with a discussion of and implications for the study findings.
Boşanma, kararın alınması ve boşanma işlemlerinin sürdüğü dönemlerin yanı sıra boşanma sonrası dönemi de kapsayan stresli bir yaşam dönüşümü sürecidir. Bu süreç, yaşamın neredeyse tüm alanlarını etkilemekte ve hayat koşullarında birçok değişimi beraberinde getirmektedir. Boşanan birey, bir yandan boşanmanın gerçekliğiyle yüzleşir ve ortaya çıkan duygular ve baş edilecek değişimler olduğunu fark eder. Diğer yandan, yeni kimliğine ve yaşam tarzına doğru geçişe odaklanır. Güncel istatistikler hem dünyada hem de ülkemizde boşanma oranlarındaki artışı gözler önüne sermektedir. Dolayısıyla boşanma sürecinin uyum açısından ele alınması önemli görünmektedir. Boşanma ve boşanma sonrası uyum sürecini anlamak amacıyla ileri sürülen pek çok yaklaşım bulunmaktadır. Bu yaklaşımlar, boşanma sonrası uyumu açıklama konusunda farklılaşsa da uyumu boşanma sürecinden ayırmamaktadır. Buradan hareketle, bu gözden geçirme çalışmasının çeşitli amaçları bulunmaktadır. İlk olarak güncel boşanma oranları ve boşanmanın hukuki, ekonomik, sosyal, toplumsal, psikolojik ve fizyolojik sağlık açısından sonuçlarına yer verilecektir. Ardından, boşanma ve boşanma sonrası uyumu açıklayan yaklaşımlar ve uyumun değerlendirilmesi açıklanacaktır. Boşanma ve boşanma sonrası uyumun kapsamlı bir şekilde ele alınmasının boşanan bireyin uygun bilgi ve desteğe erişimini kolaylaştıracağı düşünülmektedir. Ayrıca boşanma ve boşanmaya uyum ile ilgili sürecin doğru anlaşılması araştırmalar açısından da faydalı olacaktır.
Divorce has received scant attention in Iran, despite the problems that arise for individuals and families and in social life. The present study aimed to find the divorce process of the Iranian couples among whom the woman was the divorce initiator. For this purpose, interviews were conducted, using the grounded theory method, with 34 Iranian divorcing men and women (women initiating a divorce and their spouses) to investigate their divorce experience. The results revealed that the psychological, communication, cultural, and social factors involved in the divorce phenomenon were observed in five stages: (1) emergence of thinking about divorce, (2) hesitation on stay, (3) difficult decision-making, (4) separation, and (5) legal action. Despite more restrictive laws and more complicated social conditions for women initiating divorce than men, the number of women initiating the divorce is increasing in the changing cultural context of Iran. Therefore, we hope that our results on the divorce process help couples, families, and especially professionals plan preventive measures and develop clinical interventions targeting marriage and marital relationships.
Despite the increase in divorce rates in Iran in recent years, research has focused less on its process. To this end, 32 men and women among Iranian divorcing couples in which the man was divorce initiator were interviewed with a purposive and theoretical method. The divorce process revealed itself through coding the interviews based on the grounded theory method in the following four stages: 1) the unexpected start of the marriage; 2) the breakdown of relationship; 3) the surprising divorce proposal; and 4) the legal action. These stages presented a relatively clear image of divorce process of Iranian couples in which the man was initiator.
The ability to make effective co-parenting agreements and reduce conflict following divorce depends on a person’s emotional state or readiness. This article outlines OPO’s development and piloting of an Emotional Readiness Scale and subsequent digital tool, in collaboration with others. It comprises: a summary of a literature review to identify the key emotions experienced during separation and their influence on making effective childcare arrangements; item development derived from the review and expert consultation; feedback from separated parents regarding sources of support; practitioners’ feedback regarding the tool’s feasibility; and concordance between mediator comments and clients’ scores on the tool. Ways of using this tool in practice and implications for further development are also discussed.
Examined sex differences in moral standards and the content of such standards in 3 studies conducted (a) in 1958 with 146 male and 124 female, White, middle- to upper-middle-class 7th graders (Study 1); (b) in 1967-1968 with 103 male and 107 female 7th graders, all firstborns; and (c) in 1969 with 332 male and 325 female 5th graders. Data on all parents were obtained in Study 2 and on those having firstborn children in Study 3. Moral internalization indices were developed that pertained to internal moral judgment, guilt intensity, and fear of punishment. Findings support the prevalent view that consideration for others is more salient in females. They also suggest, with considerable consistency (especially in adults) that moral transgressions are more likely to be associated with guilt in females and fear in males. No sex differences in internal moral judgment were obtained. Evidence suggested that the differences in children may be due partly to different discipline and affection patterns. The results for adults as well as children might be explained by differential sex-role socialization as well as by increasing pressures on males over the life cycle to achieve and succeed, which may often conflict with concerns about the welfare of others. (43 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).
Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationship. Jill M. Taylor, Carol Gilligan, & Amy M. Sullivan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1995. 253 pp. ISBN 0-674-06880-7. $14.95 paper. What thoughts and feelings do girls from poor and working-class families have about relationships, about school, about their futures, about their sexuality? By listening to the voices of 26 adolescent girls and examining the experience of the listeners, Jill Taylor, Carol Gilligan, and Amy Sullivan have produced a text that answers this question and contributes to our knowledge of the intricate relationship between voice and silence in the lives of girls growing up in marginalized cultures. The 26 girls selected to participate in the Understanding Adolescence Study all attended Boston public schools and were designated as at-risk for dropping out of school or for early motherhood. They were from poor and working-class Hispanic, Italian, Caribbean, or African American families and were interviewed annually for 3 years beginning in their eighth-grade school year. Their own words flow through the text and provide evidence of the tension between speaking up or staying silent. In eighth grade many of the girls voiced their thoughts, feelings, and experiences and also reported have close relationships with mothers and other adult women; 85% of them mentioned having an adult woman mentor, an "othermother" (p. 117) who encouraged them and validated their experiences by listening to them, understanding them, and taking them seriously. By tenth grade many of the same girls have found that speaking up can lead to reprisals at home and at school. Except for the African American girls, many by tenth grade have stopped telling their mothers about their lives, and all have moved on to high school where they feel nobody listens, nobody cares, and nobody asks. By tenth grade many of the girls identified the pressure for heterosexual relationships and the threat of pregnancy, the lack of support for going outside cultural and familial norms, the socialization to motherhood, and their own fatalistic outlook that "something is going to get in the way" (p. 180) as forces that compromise their chances to achieve their goals. Themes that emerged from the interviews with the girls were also explored by the women interviewers and by many of the girls' teachers who participated in retreats held during the Understanding Adolescence Study. These retreats provided the participants with the opportunity to listen to the girls as authorities of their own experience, to explore their own thoughts and feelings about race and relationships, and to examine how women might better support girls who are marginalized by class or culture. …
The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of initiator status on emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and divorce-related stress at two points during the divorce transition. A representative sample of 80 divorced parents were surveyed 6 to 12 (T1) and 18 to 24 (T2) months post decree. A major finding was that initiators and noninitiators shared similar emotional responses to the divorce. However, the timing of the responses differed. Initiators experienced more change, stress, and personal growth at T1, whereas noninitiators reported higher levels at T2. The implications of these timing differences for clinical and educational practice were explored.