How long can you live with guilt

Why guilt can stand in the way of reconciliation after separation

  • begin
  • Blog
  • Why guilt can stand in the way of reconciliation after separation

Those who want to undo a separation are often faced with the following problem: The ex would be motivated to do more together again, but there is an inner voice in him / her that says: “I have a guilty conscience because of the separation , that's why I shouldn't get involved with this person any more. ”In coaching I often notice that this often occurs with ex-partners and stands in the way of reconciliation. In this guide, I will explain to you why there is such a “guilt” because of the separation with ex-partners and what you can do about it.

A separation as a "crisis phase"

For the course of a relationship, the therapist Karl Lenz differentiates between the following four phases:

1. Construction phase

2. Existing phase

3rd crisis phase

4. Dissolution phase

In the crisis phase it is decided, so to speak, whether a relationship is ended or whether you can come back to the existing phase. Often one might think that a separation of two people is a clear indication of the breakup phase.

I see it very often in coaching with my clients that a separation does not necessarily have to lead to the dissolution phase, but that it is possible either to win back the ex or to reverse a separation. The crisis phase can be like a strong "jerk" in the relationship - a wake-up call, so to speak.

Why a breakup doesn't have to mean the breakup of the relationship

The word "relationship" in and of itself is just a concept, or a label, of a way that one interacts or has interacted with one another. When you end a relationship, i.e. when you break up, the set of rules changes as to what you can do or expect. So there are fewer obligations and fewer visions for the future. Such a "new" rule is for example: "If my: e ex starts a new relationship, then this is not a cheat, but absolutely ok."

Nevertheless, after a breakup, one is still connected, a relationship between the two people still exists. If you're still in a relationship at 5 a.m. to 12 p.m. and break up at 12 p.m., you're officially separated at 5 a.m. after 12 p.m. - the set of rules has changed - but the heart is still in the relationship, the relationship The bond still exists - it doesn't suddenly go away with the breakup. In this case, a separation only leads to the dissolution phase if both partners decide: We forget each other. Then this energy goes into the relationship bond and has the effect that the relationship bond can also gradually dissolve.

If the abandoned person says (the more common case of clients who visit me): “I want us to be better together again!”, Then this energy will flow into the relationship bond. In this way, a separation does not have to mean the dissolution of the relationship bond.

Why "guilt" after the breakup?

Reconciliation after the breakup is often countered by a kind of guilt on the part of the partner (s) who ended the relationship. That sounds a bit counter-intuitive, because one might actually think that the abandoner is sure of his / her cause - why should he / she feel guilty about that? Because by breaking up you finally get rid of all the ballast of the relationship that was no longer good.

From my experience in coaching, I can say that this is not generally true. The separation often creates a lot of guilt, especially for the person leaving.

Why guilt arises with the abandoner

This guilt arises from the interplay of two parts. When someone decides to break up, there is something for him / her in the relationship that cannot go on like this. So some of them are happy that the separation has now happened, that they have taken this step themselves and have now achieved this freedom. However, this is opposed to the fact that by taking this step (i.e. by separating) you also have to hurt a person whom you loved very much or probably still have. The guilt arises because you hurt that loved one.

A client of mine had broken up with his partner, but then realized that the breakup was a mistake and was determined to reverse it. Guilt has built up in this client too. He hadn't dared to write to his ex for a long time and thought: “If she writes back nicely, what if I get scared again? What if I hurt her again? ”This shows quite clearly the thought that abandoners often have.

How guilt can stand in the way of reconciliation

When people are reconciled again after a separation, it can happen with the person leaving that it fits again for this “part of freedom” - especially if the reasons for separation no longer exist or lines of conflict have been resolved. On the other hand, the guilt is still there.

A client told me about the first meeting after the breakup with her ex during coaching. Her ex had broken up, but both had become closer again and the reasons that had led to the separation no longer existed. The two went out to eat and the client noticed that her ex was getting more and more nervous. what happened there? She finally brought this up and her ex replied: "You are going to scold me right now and tell me how much I hurt you, right?" Then the client noticed that her ex was plagued by a bad conscience because he broke up and hurt her as a result.

Through the coaching with me, the client knew that something like this can happen and how to deal with such a situation. And from now on I would like to shed some light on this process in this article.

What can be done to "take" the guilt of the ex

Of course, you can't "take" this guilt off your ex. Rather, I mean here: What can you do so that this guilt does not appear like an elephant in the room, which you always have to squeeze past, but which nobody addresses?

In order to be able to meet the ex with empathy, one must first acknowledge that the ex may be guilty. And then comes the second step, which is to forgive the ex for deciding to break up.

Finding meaning in the separation

Most people find it easier to forgive when they can see a positive sense of why the breakup had to happen. Many clients tell me that they have learned a lot about themselves through the breakup. The pain of separation has caused them to surpass themselves and become stronger.

If you are in a situation like this, I recommend that you research what was difficult because of the breakup and how you then coped with it. So make it clear to yourself which “emotional muscles” you had to train. A client told me that she can now give herself a feeling of security in the world. In the past, in the relationship, only her partner gave her this feeling of security. The separation has meant that she has learned to find this security in herself as well.

Signaling to the ex that one has learned something and was thus able to forgive

Let's remember the example of my client who was having dinner with her ex and he was getting more and more nervous because he expected that she would give him her opinion about the breakup. But how did this client react? She knew from the coaching that her ex might have a guilty conscience about the breakup and said the following: “I understand why you think I'm angry with you. I can tell you how it is for me. I made my peace with the breakup. For me the breakup was a wake-up call and if that hadn't happened I would still be trapped in my old patterns. I've learned from the breakup and I'm fine with it. And I can understand you too, that you have decided to take this step. I am not angry with you and I came for peaceful purposes. That's why we don't have to talk about the past, but can enjoy the time together. "

In this way, my client was able to treat her ex with empathy. She forgave her ex in her process and learned something for herself from the breakup. As a result, she has issued an invitation that her ex can forgive himself for having decided to break up at the time.

Don't put any pressure!

In these situations, it is very tempting for many people to put pressure on the ex, send him / her self-help books and say: "Yes, if you want to deal with the breakup for yourself and you want to see it, then you can do it like this! "

In my experience that doesn't work. You can only open the door for your: r ex here and wait on the threshold, but your: e ex has to go through yourself. My experience from coaching is that you definitely need a little patience here. I always recommend my clients to set a deadline for themselves as to how long they want to wait at this proverbial threshold. Because this invitation should not last forever.

How it can go on for you

If you are in such a situation right now, then I would like to invite you to look for what your potential for growth is about the separation. So find that emotional muscle that you can train through the separation so that you can emerge stronger. (Incidentally, this applies regardless of whether you want to reconcile with your ex or want to close the relationship.)

All the best,


About the author:

For Lena Kager, relationships are an opportunity for growth, a stepping stone to tackle your own life. That is why she supports people in relaunching their relationships in a professional and private context. With us, she successfully completed her training as a couple counselor. And if you are interested in her coaching, you can find out more on Lena's website and simply get in touch with her. Together with Dr. Stephan Kraft also founded the relationship portal szenario-Zwei - it's worth stopping by!


You can get even more stories, tips and tricks in our podcast episode with Lena: