By Ann Gold Buscho Ph.D.
A third to 80 percent of people regret divorcing after unexpected consequences.
- While divorce can be a healthy option for some people, others might experience pain and regret.
- It’s not uncommon to underestimate the effects that divorce will have in various areas of life.
- Therapy, communication, and time can help heal the wounds.
According to a study that didn’t include divorces due to intimate partner violence, affairs, or addictions:
“Statistical data suggests that at least one-third of people regret their marriage dissolution. That number can rise to 80 percent for ex-spouses who chose the wrong reasons to get divorced and feel that it could have been prevented if both parties had put forth more effort.” (1)
Why do some people regret getting a divorce?
1. Sometimes, the emotional upheaval of the divorce far exceeds what people might expect.
The unraveling of a relationship may cause extreme and long-lasting grief, anger, anxiety, guilt, and depression. Some may find it so painful that they regret their decision to leave or regret the decision of their spouse. This is especially true with the emotions that overwhelm the person’s ability to cope. Don told me he felt he would never recover, and he wasn’t sure life was worth living anymore. “I’m sticking around for my kids, that’s all,” he said.
2. The effects of divorce on children
In my work with divorcing partners, I have often heard parents say that their children are “strong” and “resilient.” Parents have told me, “I don’t want my kids to see an unhappy marriage,” and “If I am happier, my children will be too. And I’ll be a better parent if I am happier.”
Parents often underestimate the impact of divorce on children, both in the immediate term and in the long term. When parents see that their children are struggling, especially over the long term, they may regret the divorce. Another client told me, “I regret the divorce because of how it hurt my kids, my ex, and many others. But I don’t wish I’d stayed married either….”
3. The financial consequences of divorce
Dividing assets, paying or receiving child support or spousal support, and other property or monetary settlements during divorce almost always require a reduced standard of living, and this is especially true for women. You or your spouse might have to return to work or postpone retirement to make ends meet. Some people find this so difficult that they may regret their divorce.
Dorothy had to find a job at 63 years old to make ends meet. She hadn’t wanted the divorce in the first place and regretted that she hadn’t worked harder in the marriage “to make my man happy. I never believed he’d leave.”
4. Additional failed relationships
Some people divorce believing that the marriage, or their spouse, is the problem. When they find that the same problems (or new ones) emerge in subsequent relationships, they may realize that they are bringing the same personal issues or negative dynamics to new relationships. This realization may cause them to regret their divorce.
For example, Jack’s partner left after years of begging Jack to stop drinking and work on his anger control. Jack found the same complaints and conflicts in every relationship after his divorce and finally realized he needed to address his own issues. “I had to stop being the drunk party guy,” he says. He deeply regretted his divorce.
Some people regret their decision to divorce when they miss the companionship of their former spouse. “She was actually my best friend and knew me better than anyone. I left because I wanted more romance, but now I think that was a mistake,” one client told me. “I hate this online dating, and as an introvert, I’m no good at it,” he added.
6. Some people regret the divorce when they face the stigma, rejection, or judgment of friends and family.
They may find that they are no longer included in invitations or get-togethers. “I was close to my mother-in-law and felt left out of holiday celebrations, especially when my children were included,” one client said. “But I was specifically uninvited to her funeral.”
Laura had imagined a post-divorce life that was inclusive. “I guess I was naïve to think people wouldn’t take sides. I thought we’d all be able to be friends when the divorce was over.”
7. How the decision was made
Some people regret making the decision to divorce when they believe they didn’t try hard enough to make it work. They regret not seeking counseling or not putting more effort into resolving the issues that led to the divorce. Some realize that they made the decision impulsively. They realize they didn’t take enough time to think through all of the possible outcomes. They may also regret how the divorce itself was conducted, their decisions to fight for unimportant things, or making the process more conflicted than it needed to be. Later, they, too, have regrets.
So what do you do if you have regrets?
1. Acknowledge the emotions and spend some time exploring them.
A few sessions of therapy might help you uncover the reasons for your regrets and clarify your options.
2. You might reach out to your ex and talk about it.
Perhaps reconciliation is possible. Reconciliation and remarriage are not unheard of.
3. Focus on your personal growth.
It is never too late to learn better ways of being in relationships, new communication skills, and tools to cope with disagreements.
4. Give yourself time to move on.
Healing from divorce takes time and patience, and working with a therapist can help you learn from your past relationships and divorce. Then therapy can help you turn to focus on the future.