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Guilt not such a bad thing -- at least in divorce proceedings

Guilt is an emotion that can come up a lot in divorce, especially if one member of the couple has been caught cheating. In the absence of infidelity, a spouse can feel guilt over not being invested enough in the marriage, or not spending enough time on the kids, the dog or even the household chores. Many people believe guilt is a useless emotion because it's a reflection of things that happened in the past. And in a failed marriage, there's no looking back.

But guilt can actually be advantageous for both spouses when it comes to divorce proceedings. According to a study published in the Journal of Personal Relationships, guilt can lead to greater cooperation among couples, which could produce favorable results when it comes to property division and other matters.

The study, which surveyed more than 450 divorcing couples whose average age was 43 and whose marriage lasted an average of 15 years, concluded that the stronger a person's guilt was, the more he or she was willing to accommodate the other person and less likely to engage in long, drawn-out battles over property, custody and alimony.

The study also examined the different effects of feelings of guilt, shame and regret. While these emotions tend to overlap in our minds, they produced very different outcomes when it came to taking action in divorce settlements. While guilt was described as the by-product of feeling like you've hurt the other person, leading us to want to go out of our way to accommodate him or her, shame causes us to look inward and often feel worthless or incompetent. These feelings more often lead to a desire to retreat and avoid a situation, which can lead to those drawn-out legal conflicts. Regret, meanwhile, can cause a spouse to long for a second chance, which didn't contribute much to cooperation in divorce proceedings.

If your spouse is the one feeling guilty, you can feel free to accept his or her offer to make things up to you by extending an extra day of visitation, or allowing you to keep that special possession you shared. If you're the one trying to make up your transgressions, remember that guilt can lead to peacemaking. Just don't extend yourself or your assets and property beyond a point you'll later regret.

Source: Canada.com, "Feeling guilt leads to greater co-operation in divorce proceedings: Study," Misty Harris, Jan. 16, 2012

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