Do Women Regret Divorce?
Regret is paying a toll over and over again to drive back onto a bridge we’ve already crossed and park there, staring in the rearview mirror at a lane we could have taken.
That doesn’t stop most of us from doing exactly that, though, especially after a divorce. There are countless ways to second-guess ourselves over the course of a life, and it seems like 99 percent of those ways offer their dubious opportunities for mucking about with our own peace of mind during the dissolution of a marriage. Until we learn the lessons, clean up the mess, reinvent, and finally, forgive ourselves, regret post-divorce is common.
Navigating Regret: Do Women Regret Divorce More Than Men?
Being divorced doesn’t always mean we’re done with our Ex, that part of our story or all those jagged feelings. We have to decide to be done. If it were as easy as wiping the slate clean — and if doing so wouldn’t also wipe out the learning potential — most of us could point to at least one moment during divorce when we would have wished to do exactly that.
It isn’t just the ending of a marriage and the crumbling of that dream that can cause regret. It’s all the mistakes we make on the way to divorce that also cause regret’s particular mix of wistful, watch-it-slip-out-of-your-hand grief and crazy-making ‘what if?’ self-talk.
One of the things we tend to do when trying to wade through a transition most of us don’t want to face is to find a sense of normality or balance in comparing our story to others. There are a lot of generalizations out there about how men and women differ in their approach to divorce and how well they recover from its upheaval.
A quick scrolling of what the engines and algorithms are producing on-line indicates that both men and women regret divorce, with a higher percentage of men admitting to that debilitating emotion. The initial glance stands at 27 percent of women owning up to regret post-divorce vs. 39 percent of men.
Perhaps this is because men, with that ability to compartmentalize that we’ve stereotype-stamped them with, begin the process of boxing up the marriage and putting it on the shelf long before that actually happens. Therefore, once they are on the other side of divorce, the realization that they checked out far earlier than they needed to may smack men in the face a lot harder. Perhaps it is because women, who end up raising the children and making a lot less money far more often, dive deeper and swim longer in the murky questions of whether we should or shouldn’t grip the divorce nettle by the thorns before we jump.
Check out “Divorce for Women: Why Its Different.”
So, we end up with anecdotal theories. Do women regret divorce? Do men really regret it more? It’s as if we’re looking for that last laugh. After all, there’s no better last-word triumph than happiness, right?
Both Genders Bear Regret
I’ve talked to men who, just like women, are deeply affected emotionally by their divorces. Some are grieving the loss of their exes with genuine sincerity, while others give off the impression of gliding out of their marriages as if the path ahead is not a dead end, but a happy, tree-lined boulevard leading everywhere, adorned with cherry blossoms and bathed in the possibility of sunlight. Additionally, I’ve spoken with women who enthusiastically embrace their freedom from husbands they barely tolerated and who will never entertain the idea of a “permanent” partnership again.
Consider reading “My Husband Destroyed Me Emotionally,” for more perspective on picking ourselves up off the ground.
For myself, the ending of my 13-year partnership was a mixed bag of emotions. I haven’t regretted ending it, but I do regret not trying harder to be better while I was with him – both for my own sake and my self-development, and for the sake of us and being a better mate. By the time we got to the end it was time, but I’ve wondered what we might have created if I had fought harder against my fear and defeatism and if he and I had both worked a little harder at unity.
When he started dating the woman who is now his wife only about two months after our split, I told him I was in pain – that I not only felt easily replaced, but that it seemed like I was the only one grieving the end of us.
I will never forget what he said, the fact that I knew he was right and that he said it with as much gentleness as he could muster.
“I’ve been grieving the ending of us for a long time,” he said.
Regret That Passes vs. Regret That Cripples
Mistakes get made. That’s just part of being human. But when we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, we create behavioral grooves in our individual psyches and in the relationship dynamic. Negative patterns get entrenched over time. They can be broken, but not always in the context of that particular relationship.
We may regret having to say goodbye to our spouse if we’ve given it our all and tried our best to fix, learn, improve, understand, listen and take responsibility during the course of the marriage. But that kind of regret is much easier to release, to see through to the other side where hope and happiness wait. It’s the regret we cause with chronic toxicity, selfishness, denial or those repeated failures we refuse to own up to that comes back with a bitter bite. (Read “How Long Does It take to Get Over a Divorce? And 4 Signs You are On Your Way.”
The pain of regret only hamstrings us when it’s our mistakes – the ones we keep making — that cause pain and loss. Crippling regret swamps us when we finally recognize that had we chosen differently, had we learned from our mistakes, applied that knowledge and taken that other lane on the bridge, we might not have ended in divorce at all.
I suspect that regret goes a bit under-reported. Even if we recognize it for what it is, and we’ve finally learned the lesson and let go, we may not want to admit to the regret that cripples. Sometimes naming the demon helps send it way. But sometimes it just brings it into sharper focus, and that is not the kind of pain that lends itself to being functional.
That kind of pain can lead us to dive deeper into avoidance until we untangle ourselves, or some deus ex machina life circumstance changes our plot line and does it for us.
We can either move forward or we can wallow in the what-ifs.
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and print journalist living in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Connect with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether you are thinking about divorce, dealing with it, or recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner with them through the emotional, financial, and oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing.
Delivered discreetly to your inbox … SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you — and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”