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What Causes Guilt in Relationships And How To Deal With It

What Causes Guilt in Relationships And How To Deal With It

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The feeling of guilt has been said to be one of the worst feelings in the world. Sometimes, we feel guilty for no reason at all. Other times, we sense the natural, stomach-twisting feeling of knowing we’ve done something to cause hurt to someone we love.

While guilt can sometimes result from an overactive conscience, oftentimes, that sinking feeling is a subtle cue from your body telling you to pay attention.

In this article, I will share the four main reasons people experience guilt in relationships, along with some helpful ways to deal with this natural feeling.

4 Main Causes of Guilt in Relationships

Here are the four common causes of guilt in relationships and how you can deal with them.

1. Feeling as If You’re Not Good Enough

One main reason for experiencing guilt is a sense of unworthiness. Feeling as if you’re not good enough for someone can be disheartening. These thoughts stem from low self-esteem and can eventually sabotage relationships if not dealt with properly.

In addition to feelings of unworthiness, some of us can be more susceptible to feelings of guilt due to anxiety. According to Psychology Today, the fight or flight response of guilt-proneness is “like having an overactive smoke detector in your head.”

While wanting to be the best version of yourself for your partner is natural, second-guessing yourself and your relationship can lead to feelings of guilt and unhelpful thoughts like, “I’m just holding them back,” or, “They’re better off finding someone more like them.”

Instead, experiment with more helpful thoughts to prevent yourself from comparing yourself to your significant other. More likely than not, your partner’s personality is a lot different than yours, and that’s okay!

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Many couples find that opposites attract, which can contribute to a rich dynamic when each person brings their unique strengths to the relationship.

Remember, your significant other chose you, not any other person you may be comparing yourself to. They chose you for you, so feel encouraged to be yourself!

How to Deal With It

If you find yourself dealing with low self-esteem regularly in your relationships, consider speaking to a licensed therapist. A professional can help you understand how to reframe your thoughts to think more positively and in a more helpful tone so you can focus on your love for your partner instead of any potential negative, anxiety-inducing thoughts.

Being able to shift your mindset is a wonderful skill that can benefit all areas of your life.

2. Knowing You’re Not Forthcoming With Your Significant Other

On the other hand, guilt can arise when you know you’ve done something wrong. Whatever your morals may be, the feeling in the pit of your stomach that you can’t seem to shake will continue to persist until you decide to have a conversation with your partner.

Guilt can stem from any circumstance where trust has been breached in a relationship, big or small.

Perhaps you live with your significant other and overspent your agreed-upon budget for the month by making an unnecessary purchase. Instead of allowing the guilt to grow, have a candid conversation with your partner about your spending habits.

They will appreciate you being honest instead of hiding the purchase among credit card bills and other discretionary spending. The conversation could even be an opportunity to ask for help in managing your money if you’ve been challenged by sticking to a budget.

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On a more serious level, perhaps you divulged intimate details about challenges you’re experiencing with your partner to a coworker and felt bad about your decision later. Or, maybe you took your actions a step further and betrayed a secret your partner asked you to hold in confidence.

How to Deal With It

Since trust is the foundation of every successful relationship, it’s understandable that mismanagement of emotional intimacy can cause trust issues with your partner and can oftentimes lead to a breakup. If you find yourself in a position where you’ve broken the trust of your partner in any context, the only way to move forward is to tell your partner the truth.

While being honest can hurt sometimes, your partner deserves to know and will likely have more respect for your position in your honesty with them than if they were to find out through other means.

3. Staying in the Relationship When Your Heart Isn’t In It

While a sense of guilt can develop from doing something morally wrong, these feelings can also arise when you don’t act upon a situation at all, allowing thoughts to ruminate in your brain. This preoccupied feeling is synonymous with the guilt associated with remaining stagnant when deep down, you know your head and heart aren’t aligned.

As with all situations, honesty is the best policy. Don’t wait to see if things get better. Open and honest communication with your partner is important.

Even simply admitting you’re not feeling as committed anymore can feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders, and it may even take the pressure off of the relationship a bit, depending on how your partner accepts the news. Either way, being forthcoming about your true feelings will allow you to feel more like yourself.

However, the guilt that comes from knowing your partner envisions the rest of their life with you and the realization that you don’t feel the same way can understandably feel painful. Sometimes, people choose not to continue a relationship to marriage, and that’s a normal part of life.

Staying in a relationship that’s not feeling right is not the best decision for either one of you.

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How to Deal With It

Sharing your feelings is the first step to coming to an agreement about which way your relationship will go.

No matter how long the two of you have been together, don’t allow those factors to override your decision if you’ve already made up your mind. No one wants to have their time wasted with someone who is not honest. You should respect your partner who you still care for and not waste their time.

While breaking up is never easy, both you and your significant other will appreciate partners who feel the same depth of love towards them as they feel towards you.

4. When You Are Both Too Busy for Each Other

Relationships ebb and flow. Being on the same page as your partner isn’t always automatic. Life happens, work gets busy, and other obligations can prevent the two of you from regularly connecting, which can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt.

Remember that the guilt that arises from not being on the same wavelength as your partner is normal and understandable. If you’re the busier partner, you may feel more intense feelings of guilt with thoughts like, “My partner deserves someone who can make time for them,” or “We’re not connecting like we used to.”

When you truly love your significant other and see a future with them, you can communicate your needs and ask for patience. When work picks up, or you find yourself busier than usual, reassure your partner that while your relationship is incredibly important to you, this particular season of life is busier than usual.

How to Deal With It

Consider setting a getaway date with your partner when you know your busy schedule will be slowing down where the two of you can come back together and reconnect.

When both of you have something exciting to look forward to beyond the shorter dates you share in the meantime, you can put any feelings of guilt on the sideline because you know an opportunity to reconnect is coming up soon. Then, when that date comes around, you can celebrate each other and toast to patience and your love!

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Final Thoughts

Any feeling of guilt is not fun. Those of you with “overactive smoke detectors” are more susceptible to feelings of guilt that are not necessarily correlated with any wrongdoing, such as feeling not good enough for your partner or being too busy during a particular season of life.

On the other hand, guilt can be a helpful emotion to help your moral compass guide you and differentiate between right and wrong. Listen to your inner voice when you find yourself in a position to do something wrong and determine which path you should take.

Overall, guilt can be both helpful and hurtful and can be felt for many different reasons. The solution to both kinds of guilt is communication.

Communicate with your partner by explaining how you’re feeling, asking for help, and being honest. Communicate with yourself, too. Don’t ignore those thoughts and feelings. Listen to your body, and don’t allow any negative thoughts to ruminate in your brain.

Once you act upon the feeling of guilt and express what’s on your mind, you’ll be relieved, your partner will appreciate knowing what is going on, and you’ll be able to feel closer as a result.

Featured photo credit: freestocks via

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