Today we’re going to be talking about guilt. Guilt is something that I think we, as women, know a lot about. We feel like a bad wife or guilt for this and guilt for that. In fact, it might not be guilt we’re experiencing. It might be something else. I’m going to go into that. But let’s start with the one question that you can ask yourself that will help eliminate your guilt really quickly. And then, I’m going to invite you to some action steps that I think are really beneficial for all marriages.
I hear a lot about guilt because of who I interact with, day to day. I help married women who don’t want sex very much and that brings up a lot of feelings. It did for me as well for many, many years. And when I do surveys and talk to women in my program, I hear a lot of guilty feelings. They go like this, “I feel guilty that we haven’t had sex in a very long time.” “I feel guilty that I don’t initiate.” blah blah, blah blah. You get it.
I really want to make a distinction here between guilt and shame. And if you want to learn more about this, I learned all of this from Brené Brown. Go look her up because she is amazing. She did a couple of amazing talks and if you want to learn more about the difference between guilt and shame, she is the lady to check out.
Here’s the thing. Guilt is based on behavior. Guilt is ‘I did something bad.’ Shame is deeper, more rooted in our person. Shame is ‘I am wrong’ or ‘I am bad.’ So guilt is focused on behavior and shame is focused on self. Sometimes I find it’s actually really hard for women to know they are experiencing guilt or if it is in fact shame.
Let’s take these thoughts for example… ‘I am a bad wife. Just period. I’m a bad wife because I don’t like adventuring with my husband. I’m bad wife because I don’t like sex as much as he does. I’m a bad wife because blah blah blah.’ Here’s the question I want to teach you guys. This is what you need to ask yourself, DID I DO SOMETHING WRONG? Did I do something wrong? And the focus needs to be on behavior. So could you imagine apologizing for something? That’s a really good indication if you say yes to that, then it’s guilt you’re experiencing. If you kind of feel a little bit weird, and ask yourself “what would I apologize for?” Then you’re dealing with shame.
When you’re asking yourself, “did I do something wrong?” You have to be really cautious. As women, we can take on so much of our spouses experiences and feelings and feel really responsible for them. But, the fact of the matter is you can not make anybody feel anything. That is 100% their responsibility. So if you’re feeling like you did something wrong because your husband is mad or sad, that is not what we are talking about here.
There are many things that you can do that aren’t wrong at all. They may be very much in integrity with yourself but they still may make him feel his feelings. And that’s okay. Here’s an example: If my husband wanted to go on a big vacation with the family and I said, “I don’t have the bandwidth for that this weekend so I can’t. You can go with the kids but I can’t.” My response may have made him feel sad or angry or frustrated or not important or whatever. It made HIM feel. But I still didn’t do anything wrong. Be cautious with this question you’re asking yourself
But if you feel guilty because you yelled or lost your patience, that’s different. Maybe you feel guilty that you blamed him for something that really was your thing to deal with. Or you were really critical this morning in the kitchen or you didn’t say goodbye to him out of spite.
So those are behavior focused things and apologizing (for those not so awesome behaviors) is really healthy for marriages. Really healthy. It’s not weak. The more you can apologize, the more it actually reaffirms that you are committed to the relationship. It reaffirms that you care about your husband and that you can be humble, which is really helpful for a lot of us.
And I use apologizing a form of intimacy in my marriage. And so when I’ve done something wrong, I can even just feel a little bit of excitement that there is an opportunity for me to apologize. And for him to forgive me. And vice versa. It goes both ways. Sometimes this takes some practice. If you’re in a negative spiral in your marriage, then you might apologize and he might say something like, “yeah, well you should be upset” or “yeah, you should feel bad about it”. You’re going to have to just take care of yourself in that moment. And that stinks.
Guilt is actually really helpful when you look at it this way, because it brings to light something that you might’ve done wrong. And you can do something about it. You can apologize and make amends or fix the situation. Then you can let it go because you did a full circle and you are human and you don’t have to be perfect.
I make mistakes all the time. Just today, my husband told me he was going to go on an unexpected fishing trip with our daughter. Which is really sweet, but I kind of sulked a little bit and did some not so great communication, well really texting. So when he comes home today, I can apologize and I can say “I’m sorry. I was triggered but I really am happy that you can go out. Maybe if you could let me know when you’re going on a fishing trip in the future, that would be really, really helpful and help me feel more comfortable with it.
Shame is a whole different beast. How can you have what Brené Brown calls shame resilience? We’re all going to experience it in many different forms. And I think as women, as moms, we got it so bad. It’s actually very, very harmful. Shame leads to more addictions and eating disorders, all sorts of nasty stuff in our culture. It’s too big of a topic for me to cover fully right now, but I will say that shame loves secrecy. It just loves it. The more you can be secret about something that you feel, the bigger it will grow. The best thing you can do is reach out to somebody that you trust if you’re feeling those feelings of shame.
For example, maybe you are thinking ‘I’m a bad wife’. And you can reach out to a girlfriend that you feel comfortable with. You can reach out to your husband as well if you feel like you have a strong enough relationship and he could genuinely respond back saying that you are not. And in fact you’re fantastic and wonderful and I love you so much. If you’re not at a stage where you can do that, then it’s good to reach out to anybody else that you trust.
You can always, always count on me to tell you that you are not a bad wife because I know you’re here trying to figure out how to improve your marriage. Give yourself some credit. That’s a pretty big deal!
Guilt. The way you can overcome it is by asking yourself, “did I do something wrong?” If yes, then you can just apologize. Allow him to have his own experience with that apology and then move on with your life. Shame is more deep rooted. Do check out Brené Brown and her books and content. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher. She would be helpful in digging further into why you have those deeper feelings.
I hope you found this helpful. Comment below and let me know if this resonates with you or if you’ve been asking yourself this question to sort through your feelings.
If you don’t already, make sure to go like and follow me on Facebook at the Happy Couples Club. That is where you’ll be able to interact with me and catch the videos live.