Couples who divorce will all eventually, we hope, find happiness as they rebuild their lives separately. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have regrets about their marriages.
Nobody goes into a marriage, basically the biggest commitment in life outside of becoming a parent, thinking: No biggie, if this doesn’t work out we’ll just get divorced and all will be sweet again. Divorce — all divorce, with or without children involved — is frightening, emotionally devastating and physically draining. It requires a complete rethinking of how someone is going to live his or her life after making elaborate plans to forge a shared path with someone else. It involves forgiveness, compromise and the ability to continue taking care of yourself and the people around you who may also be affected by the dissolution of your marriage — when all you really want to do is break down and spend a few weeks in bed.
It is, in a nutshell, one of the most difficult hands a person can be dealt in life.
So, naturally, there are regrets. We spoke with several family therapists who revealed the top seven regrets their clients revealed after filing for a divorce.
1. “I wish I had worked harder.”
It isn’t unusual to wonder whether a little more effort on your part could have saved the marriage, even if the reality of the situation is that you needed to split in order to save your sanity. This regret might have more to do with the realization that divorce is difficult, and less to do with actually missing your former spouse, says Dr. Alison Block, a licensed psychologist in New Jersey. “Many wish that they had worked harder to preserve their marriages — I think not so much out of love for their husbands, but because of the difficulties they are facing financially and also being a single parent,” Block says. “Many individuals who are going through divorce are not aware of how hard it is to be a single parent so it may come as a shock to them. In addition to financial and single parent regrets, I hear about the difficulty meeting other men/women and the missing of being part of a couple.”
2. “I didn’t make him/her a priority.”
Hindsight sometimes reveals that one partner didn’t put their spouse before other duties and people they deemed more important during their marriage. Dating expert Julie Spira, who coaches singles on finding love after divorce and is the author of The Perils of Cyber-Dating, says this regret is a common one that she hears from clients: “He would come home from a busy day at work and I’d just complain about mine to him,” Spira says. “He said I didn’t appreciate him and he was right.”
3. “We stopped dating.”
Solid couples never stop wooing each other or enjoying quality time together, and a lot of divorced couples say this is one component of a healthy marriage that they found lacking in theirs. “We didn’t date each other after we got married,” Spira says is something she often hears. “We had a standing date before we got married. Once we were official, everything became a ‘honey do list.'”
4. “We focused too much on parenting and not enough on our relationship.”
Children consume a lot of our time, energy and resources, but it’s important to remember they were the happy product of the love shared between two people who must continue expressing that love in order to stay happy. “Our lives were focused on soccer games and college applications,” Spira says. “We just stopped communicating and when the kids were gone, there was nothing left to talk about.”
5. “I regret not having a life outside of my marriage.”
Spira says many women share that they were more interesting to their spouses when they were dating, as their calendar was filled with activities that they enjoyed on their own. Once they got married, they stopped seeing friends, gave up on volunteering activities, and they became such a unit that the woman in the relationship feels she lost her identity — something she will have to work hard at reclaiming after a divorce.
6. “We didn’t schedule sex.”
In a perfect world, married sex would be spontaneous and hot at all times. But it doesn’t always work that way, particularly when you have children and busy lives. Many divorced couples regret not making sex a priority, even if that means having to pencil it in their calendars. “Our passionate relationship fizzled after we got married,” Spira says she hears. “Sex was reduced to a few times a month, instead of a few times a week. I thought he didn’t care about sex. The problem was, we didn’t make sex a priority and I regret it. Now he’s having sex with someone else and I’m single.”
7. “We didn’t discuss finances before we got married.”
Money issues are one of the root causes of divorce and are something that can often be avoided if you just agree to discuss your finances and keep on top of them as a team. Spira shares one client’s big money regret: “Before we got married, he was pursuing me and courting me aggressively, buying flowers, scheduling fun vacations, and I thought that was how our life would be. Once we got married, I wanted to spend money on things he thought were frivolous and he was penny-pinching. We should have had the talk about money, but we didn’t.”
8. “I wish we had communicated better.”
It takes work and a great deal of patience from both partners to communicate their needs effectively. Dr. Nikki Martinez, a psychologist and licensed clinical professional counselor, says one of the top regrets her clients experience is that they wish they had learned to communicate better and hadn’t become frustrated when their partners couldn’t read their minds. Accepting criticism and being open to the idea that you may not be fulfilling your spouse’s needs but that you could if you listened more and responded with respect and warmth is a difficult lesson to learn — but, according to many couples, one that can save your marriage.