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?
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The “okay” marriage: stick it out or refuse to settle?
Sometimes, the fear of regret of 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?
How do you avoid feelings of regret or guilt 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 want and deserve, but which I 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.
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 trust the one person in this world who truly knows you and what you want: YOU.