Managing Feelings of Regret after Your Divorce

All of us have regretted something at some point in our lives. No matter how trivial or serious the situation may be, the feeling is usually the same: a pit in your stomach and a sense of panic that you’ve done something you wish you hadn’t done – but you know you can’t undo it. 

Suffice it to say, regret is not a pleasant feeling. So, understandably, we try to avoid doing things and making choices in life that will make us feel that way. But the funny (i.e. frustrating) thing about regret is, that you never know 100% if you’re going to regret something until after you’ve already done it. 

If you were the one who initiated the decision to end your marriage and get divorced, the fear of regret can be overwhelming, even after the divorce is over. You know that you were unhappy in the relationship and something needed to change. 

But what if you threw in the cards too soon? What if you and your spouse could have made it through that last rough patch and found your way back to each other? What if you wake up one day and realize this was all a terrible mistake, but by then, your ex has moved on and is happy with someone else? 

The “okay” marriage: stay or refuse to settle?

Sometimes, the fear of regret over leaving an “okay” marriage is even greater than deciding to leave a “bad” one. Could I theoretically have survived the rest of my life in my prior marriage? I suppose so. My marriage was “okay” – my ex-husband and I had great jobs and financial security, a nice condo in Chicago, strong family ties, a similar sense of humor, and we were good roommates. 

In this type of situation, you might find yourself wondering:

  • “What if I end this “okay” marriage, and then I never find anything as good as this?” 
  • “Am I being unrealistic in my expectations?” 
  • “Is this all there is out there?” 
  • “Why can’t I just be happy where I’m at?” 

All of these thoughts can make you doubt your decision to break up, especially when you think about how fortunate you are to not be in a dangerous or abusive relationship. “Just be grateful, just be happy,” you might keep telling yourself. Are you right to feel guilty about wanting something different?

Factors to consider regarding marital satisfaction

Deciding whether to stay in a marriage that isn't satisfying or to end it is an extremely personal choice that depends on individual circumstances, values, and priorities. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating your relationship:

  1.  Communication and effort: Have you and your partner actively worked on the marriage? Lack of effort in one or both spouses or unresolved conflicts may start small and turn into relationship-breaking patterns. Counseling or therapy might help to improve relationship satisfaction if both partners are willing to try.
  2.  Quality of life: Consider how staying in the marriage impacts your overall quality of life, emotional well-being, and even your physical health.
  3.  Long-term prospects: Does the marriage have the potential to grow and evolve into a fulfilling partnership, or do you see deep-rooted differences or irreconcilable issues that make a happy, healthy future together extremely challenging or unlikely?
  4.  Impact on children: Research suggests that children can thrive in healthy, supportive environments, whether within a two-parent household or loving co-parenting arrangements post-divorce. Ongoing conflict can negatively affect children's well-being. And abuse is always a deal-breaker.
  5.  Self-worth: Consider your self-esteem, values, and need for personal fulfillment. Life is too short to be unhappy, unloved, or disrespected.
  6.  Respect and boundaries: Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, trust, and the ability to establish and maintain boundaries that allow each person to thrive independently.

Ultimately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer, and the decision to stay in a marriage or end it depends on your unique circumstances and what you believe is best for you and your family.

Is regret after divorce normal?

Research suggests that about a third of divorcees have felt regret over ending their marriages – and more men experience regret than women. Often, this regret is temporary or situational. Here are some reasons why feelings of regret may occur and how individuals can navigate them:

  • Grief: Divorce involves the loss of a significant relationship, companionship, shared dreams, and the lifestyle you were accustomed to. It's normal to grieve these losses and experience a range of emotions, including regret, sadness, anger, and confusion.
  • Introspection: This can lead to second-guessing and questioning whether the divorce was the right choice, especially if there are unresolved feelings or if the divorce process was extra challenging.
  • Comparisons and romanticizing: It's common to compare the post-divorce reality to idealized scenarios or fantasies of how things could have been different.
  • Adjustment period: Significant life changes like divorce change one's identity and future goals. The adjustment period can be overwhelming, and feelings of regret may arise as part of this process.
  • Social and cultural expectations: Ideals and beliefs around marriage, family, and divorce can also influence feelings of regret. Messages about the sanctity of marriage, the stigma around divorce, and societal pressure to maintain relationships can make you doubt your own choices.

Tips for dealing with feelings of regret about your divorce

I’m almost two years out from my divorce. I’ve moved on to a new relationship, and I’m over the moon happy and secure with my new partner. While I don’t carry divorce regret, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune from those kinds of thoughts and questions popping up in my head from time to time. It’s only natural – marriage and divorce are a big deal!

So, how do we avoid “what if” -ing ourselves into a regret spiral post-divorce? 

1. Silence your inner critic

First, take a deep breath. You are human. There is nothing wrong with you for thinking these thoughts and feeling these emotions. In these moments, it’s important to be kind to yourself and try not to judge yourself because you feel like you “should” be over this by now. Grief is not linear, and these thoughts and feelings can pop up unpredictably for the rest of your life.

2. Remember your “why”

I’m guessing you didn’t just wake up one day and decide you wanted to end your marriage “just because.” There were reasons why you felt the way you did and moved you to make this decision, after careful thought and consideration. 

When regret comes knocking at your door, think back on those reasons. It may seem bleak to think back on the issues and problems in your marriage that led you to divorce. But in my experience, it helps to reaffirm my decision and keep self-doubt at bay. 

3. Write down the reasons your marriage wasn’t working

To take it one step further: Write down the reasons why you decided to end your marriage and keep it somewhere safe. You’ll have a quick and tangible resource to grab when your thoughts start swirling

The day before I moved out of the condo I shared with my ex, I sat down and wrote a list of the reasons why I was moving forward with separation. It wasn’t a list of all the things that went wrong or why we couldn’t make it work. Rather, it was a list of the type of partner and life I wanted and deserved but didn’t have in my marriage. That list helped carry me through my moving day.

Months later, on the day I had to appear in court to get the divorce judgment entered, I pulled out that list and read it again, just before I logged on to Zoom. It helped to ease my nerves, ground myself, and gather my strength to persevere through that surreal and unforgettable day. 

I still have that list to this day, and I read it on occasion. It helps to remind myself that back in the day, I had my back, and I trusted myself when things were really scary and uncertain.

At the end of that list, I wrote the following piece of advice to myself: DO NOT SETTLE. It’s a reminder that I had been settling for a marriage and life that was not fulfilling for me. My past self knew what she was talking about.

FAQ about regret after divorce

What if my divorce ruins my financial stability?

Financial worries, such as adjusting to a single-income household, dividing assets and debts, managing expenses, and planning for the future, are common post-divorce concerns. If this is a concern, you may decide to seek advice on budgeting, planning, and rebuilding your finances.

What if I never meet someone who I love more than my ex?

Concerns about future relationships and the possibility of never finding love again are common post-divorce worries. You may feel anxious about dating, trust issues, and the uncertainty of forming new connections. Give yourself time to heal and remember that love comes from all sorts of relationships, not just marriage.

Maybe I’m being selfish – how will this impact my children?

One of the biggest reasons unhappy couples stay together for too long is because they think it’s better to stay married for their children. Parents often have concerns about the impact of divorce on their children's well-being, emotional development, and future relationships. They may worry about co-parenting challenges, maintaining a strong bond with their children, and providing a stable environment. But the truth is that most children do better with two happy parents, even if that means they are apart.

Will I regret it in the long run?

There’s no way to know the outcome of your divorce years later. Fear of long-term regret is a significant concern for many contemplating or experiencing divorce. They may wonder if they'll look back and wish they had tried harder or made different choices. There are no guarantees either way and only you can decide if staying or leaving is the right decision for you – but don’t let temporary emotions like fear dictate your decisions.


Don’t settle when it comes to your marriage, job, or anything else in life because you’re scared you might regret your decision. Instead, validate your feelings by leaning into and trusting the one person in this world who truly knows you and what you want: YOU.


2016 Annual Relationship, Marriage, and Divorce Survey Final Report. Avvo.
Gold Buscho Ph.D., Ann. 7 Reasons People Regret Divorce. (July 2023). Psychology Today.
Lindner, Jannik. The Most Surprising Regretting Divorce Statistics And Trends in 2024
Pirak A, Negarandeh R, Khakbazan Z. Post-Divorce Regret among Iranian Women: A Qualitative Study. (January 2019). Int J Community Based Nurse Midwifery.

Divorce Coach & Lawyer
Kara is a Divorce Coach for Hello Divorce. A New York-based former divorce attorney turned coach, Kara helps clients build confidence, self-trust, and emotional resilience in the divorce process. With her 6+ years of experience as a divorce attorney and my personal experience with divorce, Kara offers clients an insightful and supportive space in the divorce world.