17 Things Divorced People Wish They Had Done Differently
From setting more boundaries to splitting up sooner, here's what people regret post-divorce.
Choosing to get married is a huge step people don't tend to take lightly. And while it's a hard pill for those happy couples walking down the aisle to swallow, as many as 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. So, it's worth considering what steps you can take to lower your risk of becoming a statistic—and also, what you can expect if your marriage is headed toward divorce. Ahead, we've rounded up some of the things divorced people wish they had done differently, from attending couples' therapy to how they communicated. You never know, one of these divorce regrets could just save your marriage.
Didn't depend on their spouse to make them happy
Some divorced people realize after the fact that they had unfair expectations or the wrong intentions when entering their marriage. Kristian Henderson, whose marriage lasted two years, told Women's Health in 2017 that for her, "getting married was a goal and finding a husband was an accomplishment. I felt more adult, more together, and more professional with a husband." But, of course, that didn't last. "What I wish I knew before my divorce is the same thing I wish I knew before my marriage: Getting married wasn't an achievement and it wasn't my husband's responsibility to make me happy. My happiness is my responsibility."
Talked about their feelings
Rather than discussing issues with their partner, many people try to fix their problems on their own and keep their feelings bottled up. "After we got married, I lost my job … I kept up a pretty good facade, but I was really struggling inside, especially with my identity," Richie, a divorced man from Texas, told Fatherly in 2019. "I know [my wife] was on to me, because she always offered to talk. But I was always like, 'Nah, I'm good.' Eventually, she got tired of [it], and it just snowballed from there. She wasn't sure how to trust me anymore, all because I was trying to play it cool."
Been more accountable
Many divorced people often wish that, instead of playing the blame game and ignoring their part in marital issues, they did more reflecting on what role they were playing in the arguments and tension. "I wish I'd thought harder about my own accountability," divorced mom Lisa Ravia Ryan told HuffPost in 2018. "I was so busy finding fault that I didn't pay enough attention to all the things I could have done differently."
Didn't assume not fighting meant everything was fine
Often times, people go to couples counseling when they're already in the throes of relationship trouble. But attending counseling together just to check in, even if everything seems fine, can potentially save a marriage. "I wish I'd pushed harder for regular therapy," Mark, a divorced man from Florida, told Fatherly. "We could've stocked up our arsenal with communication techniques and empathy practice long before we started despising each other. [My wife] didn't think we needed it, because we weren't fighting. It was sort of, 'Don't fix what's not broken.' But, you don't—or you shouldn't—install smoke detectors during the fire. It's preventative. I really do think that regular mental/relationship checkups could've saved us."
Taken couples counseling more seriously
And just because you go to marriage counseling doesn't mean you've challenged yourself to try your best. "We saw a few different marriage counselors. There seemed to be an ebb and flow where things would get batter, we'd stop going, and then old habits and disagreements would come back," explained one Reddit user in 2019. "I do regret that it wasn't taken as seriously as it could have been."
Didn't get matching tattoos
When you're in love, getting matching tattoos can sound like a great idea. But if you end up getting a divorce, that tattoo may become your biggest regret. "I still have mine on my leg and it's my story to my kids I have now in my current marriage: 'This is why you don't do tattoos of people that you're dating or married to,'" divorced and remarried Tracy Spangler told The Cut in 2018. "I think about getting them covered up or removed every time I look at them. It seemed so romantic at the time. And now when people ask about my tattoos it's kind of my little 'ha ha, here's what a fool I was.'"
Set boundaries with in-laws
It's always an unfortunate situation when you can't get along with your in-laws. And often times, those difficult relationships cause serious damage to a marriage. "My in-laws were the worst," David, a divorced man from California, told Fatherly. "Intrusive. Rude. Condescending. They were like movie characters. I genuinely believe they ruined my marriage on purpose because they didn't like me, and thought their daughter could level up. If I'd been more assertive in the beginning, I think I could've saved the relationship. It would've been ugly and uncomfortable in the short run, but I feel like it would've given my ex and me the space we needed to truly work on our relationship."
However, therapist and relationship expert Darlene Lancer, says "the blame usually falls on the child of the in-laws. They're not standing up to their parents and not having their partner's back." She explains that a lot of divorced people wish they had set more boundaries before the situation escalated.
Didn't have children
Most parents agree that their children are one of their greatest gifts. But after a divorce, caring for children together is a huge challenge, sometimes making people wish they didn't have kids at all. "People wish they didn't have children because later on, they find out they're not happy with their spouse and now they're tied forever," says Lancer. And if one reason you're holding off on getting divorced is because of your kids, read up on these 33 Important Ways to Prepare Your Children for Divorce.
Didn't combine their finances
Everyone has different approaches to their finances, but it's often assumed that married couples will combine their funds. However, this decision could be a couple's ultimate downfall. According to a 2018 survey from Ramsey Solutions, money fights are the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity. That's why many divorced couples wish they had kept their money separate.
"When we got divorced, we had two credit cards, one for the home and one for his 'business' that never got off the ground," one reader told The Guardian in 2014. "The agreement was that I would pay off the family card and he would pay off the business card. Of course, he never did and the creditors came after me—I wound up paying both of them off. My credit was wrecked for seven years."
Put their family ahead of their career
Advancing in your career and making a living is no doubt important. However, putting all your time and energy into your job can hurt your marriage. Matthew, a 35-year-old divorced man from New Jersey, told Fatherly he had a job that made him miserable, and his wife repeatedly urged him to quit for the sake of their marriage. "I couldn't stomach the thought of being unemployed. So, I kept going in. Eventually, she'd had enough, and we split up," he says. "I miss her every day, but I can't say I blame her. I was insufferable to be around, and she didn't deserve that."
Not been so wishy-washy about a separation.
Many couples who decide to separate before their divorce wish they'd made their feelings even more clear. "I didn't realize that being nice meant the door would be open for my ex to revisit and for us to question our choice constantly," single mom Laura Lifshitz wrote for Popsugar. "When you separate, close the door unless the knock is so strong that you're willing to consider the changes that have been made and work to save the marriage."
Listened to their gut feelings
Listening to your partner is essential, but listening to yourself is too. Many divorced people realize later on that there were early signs their marriage wouldn't work or that they weren't compatible with their spouse, but they ignored them. "When we first fall in love, we tend to over-idealize our new partner," Gary Brown, a couples therapist in Los Angeles, told Bustle. "Even when there is evidence to suggest that there are and will be potential conflicts, we can tend to avoid them because we don't want to lose the wonderful feeling of being in love."
Stayed off social media
So many of us are plugged in to social media all the time. But a lot of divorced people wish they had been more present in their marriages instead of studying the opinions of everyone but their spouse online. "People are going to social media reaching for validation outside of the relationship," says counselor Michelle Delevante, LCSWR, of Commack, New York. "And being on it frequently, they get distracted when their partner is sitting right in front of them."
Ended things with civility
When you think of divorce, the first word that probably comes to mind is "messy." But, no matter how hard ending a marriage is, it doesn't have to be ugly. "People get too caught up in the emotion and end up burning bridges and they regret leaving the other person with a toxic feeling about the relationship and a sour point of view about the other person," says Delevante. Many wish they handled the situation differently, especially when children are involved.
Realized how painful divorce would be
Some people might look at divorce as a chance for freedom, but there's a lot of loss and mourning to get through first. "I wish I had known that even a completely amicable divorce with no children and no money issues is still overwhelming," Stephanie Craig, who's divorced, told Women's Health. "I chose to leave, and my ex-husband agreed it was the right thing. We had separate finances and no children, and neither of us regretted the decision at any point, so I was shocked by how emotionally devastating it still was. You lose your family, your sense of home, and your best friend. Even when you know you have to do it and that things will be better, it's so rough."
Gotten divorced sooner
Making the decision to get a divorce is a big step. But some people wish they were quicker to pull the trigger instead of wasting time in a flailing marriage. "My regret is that I allowed a bad situation to go on too long," divorce coach and divorcee herself Tara Eisenhard told HuffPost. "My husband's expectations for our relationship and our life together shifted not long after we got married, and we fought about it a lot. In hindsight, I wish I'd had the courage and self-awareness to confront the issue itself. Instead of standing in my power, I avoided the ugly truths of our existence together and allowed the relationship to languish while we both suffered."
Not gotten married at all
Delevante says she's come across many people who say, "I knew when I was walking down the aisle that it was a mistake." Some might feel compelled to go through with a marriage because of family, religion, or other factors. But when a marriage ends in divorce down the line, they realize they shouldn't have said "I do" to begin with. And to learn about the positive sides of getting a divorce, check out the 17 Major Upsides of Divorce No One Ever Expects.
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