4 Steps To Regret-Proofing Your Breakup

by Pamela J. Hobart

Divorce is supposed to give you a fresh, clean start and another chance at happiness, right? Think again: a new study in the UK shows that divorce regrets are very common, with slightly over half of divorced people reporting that they regret their divorce. Another 40 percent end up considering giving that already-failed relationship another try. In light of these large percentages, should we believe other people when they say they think they'll be happier leaving a committed relationship? Should we believe ourselves? Do we need longer waiting periods for divorces?

Before we grow too newly concerned about the divorce epidemic, notice that the results of this survey are described both as having "regrets" and "second thoughts," but "regrets" sounds much more serious. How could you not have at least a few "second thoughts" about a decision as major as divorce? Even assuming the secret divorce regrets are that common, there's no reason to jump to the extreme conclusion that all of the divorces were a mistake.

As someone who's been through her own "starter marriage" and early divorce, I can tell you that the feelings surrounding these things can be intensely complex, even if no kids were involved. Sure, if asked, there is some sense in which I "regret" the marriage — if I could re-design my life from scratch, I wouldn't include it. There is another sense in which I don't have second thoughts at all: I'm pretty confident our split was for the best, and although it was painful in the short term, it has been worth it in the long term.

At the same time, I still understand why my past, younger, less experienced self decided to marry. She wasn't crazy, just misguided. So I forgive past Pamela, even though it wasn't actually a mistake from her perspective. On any given day, if a poll-taker asked me questions about "regret" and "second thoughts" and if I would have liked to stay with my ex-husband, you might get any and all multiple-choice type answer out of me, because it's just more complicated than that.

I don't wish this experience on anyone, but plenty of us will have to face it. Indeed, many of today's unmarried but long-term and cohabitating relationships are similar to marriages – often leaving those former partners with lingering regrets of some kind too, too. Before you sign that divorce degree or pack your bags, consider these guidelines carefully to avoid taking a plunge that you'll likely regret.

1. Don't Act Impulsively

Many people's divorce regrets began popping up immediately or within a week or two, rather than appearing in retrospect only after additional life experience. This suggests that they acted impulsively in instigating or agreeing to the split. While dragging out a dying relationship is also bad, don't let a dumb straw break the camel's back if it really shouldn't.

2. Put Problems In Perspective

Realize that any prospective new partner will have problems, too — you just don't know what they are yet! For that matter, being single has its downsides too. I'm awfully sorry to break it to you, but life is full of problems. You need to decide which issues are nonnegotiables to you (e.g. alcoholism, lack of sex), and which are to be taken in stride (an annoying laugh, an annoying cat).

3. Realize That The Reconciliation Is Probably Better In Your Imagination

Though everyone knows a happy anecdote or two about a couple rekindling their romance after a breakup or even getting remarried after divorce, most "cyclical couples" report low communication and satisfaction levels, amongst other measures of relationship quality. Your sex life will probably get a boost, because everyone knows that ex sex is hot, but keep in mind that that won't last, either. Breaking up may be hard to do — but so is getting back together.

4. Write It Down

No matter what you end up deciding, you need to assure your future self that you weren't "being crazy." Write down the reasons for your breakup, divorce, and/or reconciliation in a place where you can easily refer to them later. Thankfully, believe it or not, it will become more difficult to get back into the headspace you occupied during the breakup as time goes by. Your past self may not have had perfect information or all the right values, but at least you can know later that your past self did her best.