Regrets. No one wants them, but almost everyone has them. What’s more, if divorce has become a reality – or even just a possibility - in your life, chances are you’ve come face to face with regret a few times already. You’re probably not interested in creating any new regrets. And you really don’t want to have your divorce become one of the biggest regrets of your life.
Of course, when most people worry about regretting their divorce, the first thing that comes to mind is regretting that they got a divorce.
Anyone who has ever struggled to decide whether to get a divorce or not understands what it’s like to not want to make a mistake. No one wants to throw in the towel on their marriage, only to discover after their divorce is over that they still love their spouse and wish that they could still be together.
Making a mistake like that could easily become one of the biggest regrets in anyone’s life.
Yet, regretting the decision to divorce is only one of many possible regrets you can have as you go through the divorce process. There are many more.
The Definition of Regret
Regret is a negative emotion.
It has been defined as “feeling sorrow or remorse for an act, fault, disappointment, etc.” It has also been defined as “… the emotion of wishing one had made a different decision in the past, because the consequences of the decision were unfavorable.”
Either way, it’s not something anyone is excited to experience.
Because of that, the fear of regret can be paralyzing. It can keep you locked in a miserable marriage for way too long. You know you’re not happy, but you’re afraid to leave because you’re worried that once you do, you will regret your decision.
The problem with regret is that it’s a backward-facing emotion. You only regret things you’ve done in the past. What’s more, you only regret what you’ve done once you become unhappy with the outcome of your action or decision. If things turn out well, you rarely look back at them.
Ironically, even when the outcome of your decision is exactly what you wanted you can still regret that decision if it doesn’t bring you the feeling you thought that it would. (For example, if you think that getting divorced will make you happy, and it doesn’t, you may start to regret your decision.)
All of these things are what make dealing with regret so tricky.
People’s Biggest Regrets
In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, hospice worker Bronnie Ware identifies the main regrets that her dying clients expressed to her. Those regrets are (in order):
- Living a life that other people expected, rather than a life that was true to themselves;
- Working too hard;
- Not having the courage to express their true feelings;
- Not staying in touch with their friends; and
- Not allowing themselves to be happier.
What’s interesting about these regrets is that most of them involve actions people DIDN’T take, rather than ones that they did. In other words, people tend to feel regret about the things they didn’t do much more deeply than about the things they did do.
Most of the scientific research on regret reaches a similar conclusion. It indicates that people tend to regret the things they failed to do more than they regret the things that they did do. (Although there is at least one study that questions that finding.)
In the context of divorce, when most people are struggling to decide whether to stay married or not, they think a lot about whether they will regret getting a divorce. But they often don’t think as much about whether their biggest regret in life will be that they did NOT get a divorce.
This may because of the way our society views marriage and divorce. Or it may be a result of a person’s religious beliefs.
Either way, thinking about both sides of the marriage vs. divorce equation is important to anyone who wants to make a decision about their marriage that they won’t regret.
The Nature of Regret in Divorce
When it comes to marriage and divorce, your decision to get a divorce is only one of many things you can regret.
You can also regret:
- Marrying the wrong person (or someone whom you now believe was the wrong person!);
- Closing your eyes to what was going on in your marriage for way too long because you didn’t want to face the truth;
- Doing (or not doing) things that caused your marriage to break down;
- Not working on your marriage more while you still had the chance; and
- Not paying attention to what was happening in your marriage before it was too late.
You can also regret:
- Not being better prepared for your divorce;
- Choosing a lawyer who escalated the conflict between you and your spouse, didn’t have your back, didn’t respond to your emails and calls, or generally didn’t perform the way you wanted him/her to perform;
- Allowing yourself to make decisions in your divorce that were based more on emotion, ignorance, or fatigue than on logic or reason;
- Spending way too much money on your divorce; and
- Acting in a way that you’re later ashamed to admit.
If you’re not careful, going through a divorce can make you regret all of these things and more. While almost everyone who’s lived through any marriage that ended in divorce has some regrets, the question is: What can you do to minimize the regrets that you have if you get divorced?
Five Tips for Avoiding Regret
Making a decision with no regrets isn’t always easy, especially when the decision you’re struggling to make is one that will affect the rest of your life. What’s more, many of the decisions that you will be facing as you go through your divorce can have lasting effects on your future.
For example, at some point in your divorce you’re going to have to decide how you want to divide up your assets and your debts. You’re going to have to decide what kind of parenting plan you want to put in place for your children. You’re going to have to decide what you will and won’t compromise on. (… because no matter what you decide, you’ve still got to negotiate to get what you want. Negotiation always involves compromise.)
In short, your divorce will force you to make all kinds of decisions large and small which will impact you and your children in some way for a long time.
If any of those decisions doesn’t turn out well, you may later regret your choice.
In order to minimize the chances that you will make a decision you’ll regret, here are five tips
1. Make Decisions Based on Your Goals and Values
If you want to give yourself the best chance of making a decision that you won’t regret later you’ve got to start by identifying your values and your goals.
- What matters to you in your divorce?
- What is the most important thing you want to get in your divorce?
- Where do you want to be once your divorce is over?
- What kind of a person are you, and what kind of a person do you want to be as you go through your divorce (even when it’s hard)?
- What kind of an example do you want to set for your children?
- Asking yourself these types of questions will help you identify your values and your goals. Once you’ve done that you can use those values and goals to help you make each and every decision you face.
- Ask yourself, will making this decision in this way move me closer to my goals, or farther away from them? Will making this decision in this way harmonize with my guiding values? Or will it violate them?
Decisions that are in sync with your values and goals are less likely to be decisions you will later regret.
2. Use Your Head, Your Heart, Your Gut and Your Soul
Human beings have a variety of different mechanisms they can use to help them make wise decisions.
First we have our brains, with their logic and reason. Making any big decision that isn’t well-grounded in facts and tested through our own critical thinking is dangerous – especially in divorce! Your brain will help you analyze your situation and think through the pros and cons of every decision. But using your brain isn’t enough. You also need to use your heart.
No one should make decisions in divorce (or any other important area of life) based solely on emotions. But if you think that you can leave your heart out of the decision-making process entirely, you’re fooling yourself. That’s because ALL decisions are emotional. No matter how “well-reasoned” some course of action may be, if your heart is screaming at you not to take it the bottom line is … you won’t.
Most people think that it’s only your head and heart that are involved in any decision-making process. But if you’ve ever tried doing something that you feel in your gut is wrong, you know there’s more to it. Our bodies are a gateway to our intuition. The way your body feels about a particular decision can tell you a TON about whether making that decision in a certain way will work out well, or whether it will turn out to be one of the biggest regrets of your life.
Finally, when you’re making a truly big decision, it doesn’t hurt to check in with your soul. It may sound a bit “woo woo,” but if you can get really quiet and ask yourself what you should do in a certain situation, you may be surprised at the answers that come to you.
3. Use an Effective Decision-Making System
The most common decision-making tool people use is a standard “T Chart,” better known as a list of “Pros and Cons.” Unfortunately, while the list of Pros and Cons may be the most well-known decision-making tool, it is also the least effective. (That’s because we invariably “stack the deck” when we make it.)
What most people don’t know is that there is a science of decision-making. That science has identified a number of different decision making tools and strategies that you can use to make better decisions.
For example, in their book, Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work, Professors Chip and Dan Heath outline the WRAP decision making process. This process involves:
W – Widening Your Frame
R – Reality Test Your Options
A – Attain detachment
P – Prepare to be wrong.
While this decision-making tool was designed to be used in business, it also works well in relationships, too.
The WRAP process is just one of many techniques you can use to help yourself make better decisions. There are many, many more techniques you can use.
The point is, when you’re making big decisions you don’t want to just “wing it.” The more you can use proven tools and techniques to make your decisions, the less likely you will be to regret those decisions later.
4. Get Control of Your Mindset.
Nothing is more important in making a good decision than approaching that decision with the right mindset.
If you approach a decision with a scarcity mindset, you will be operating from a place of fear. Decisions made from fear are never good decisions.
Fear limits your ability to see options. It causes stress and anxiety. That stress and anxiety impair your ability to think clearly. All of that causes you to make poor decisions … i.e. decisions that you’re likely to later regret.
On the other hand, if you approach a decision with a mindset of abundance and gratitude, you will put yourself in a much better frame of mind for making big decisions. Instead of experiencing fear-induced stress you will have peace of mind. That in turn enables you to relax and think clearly.
Clearer thinking allows you to make better decisions.
The problem with controlling your mindset, though, is that if you’ve struggled with a decision for any length of time, you may be caught in a decision-making “loop.”
You keep thinking of the same things over and over again. You bounce back and forth between your options, changing your mind every other day. One day you’re convinced you’re going to get a divorce. The next day you look at your spouse or your kids and think, “Maybe this isn’t so bad. Maybe I’ll just stay.”
Getting yourself out of decision-making loop requires you to step back and approach your decision differently. It requires you to think differently.
Sometimes you can break that loop yourself. But often you need help.
5. Get Help
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your fear of making a decision that you will regret paralyzes you. That’s when you get stuck.
No matter how much you try to think things through, adopt the right mindset, and make a values-based decision, you just can’t seem to do it. No matter how much you check in with your head, your heart, and your gut, and no matter how many decision-making tools you use, you just can’t break through.
That’s when you need help.
A good therapist, a divorce coach, or a decision coach can help you stop looping in your head and finally make a decision you won’t regret. S/he can guide you through a decision-making process that will actually be productive, rather than frustrating.
As you go through that process, you will be able to think clearly, identify your goals and values, and start analyzing your options with confidence.
Once your head is clear you will be able to use your brain, listen to your heart, feel what your body is telling you and make a decision that aligns with all of you.
Making divorce decisions isn’t easy. The stakes are high, the decisions are complex, and the emotions you feel often cloud your best judgment. Because of that, it’s not unusual for people to get stuck.
While getting stuck happens a lot, staying stuck can cost you dearly.
That’s because divorce is FULL of decisions. If you have a sound decision-making system in place, then facing those decisions isn’t nearly as scary or overwhelming as it is if you don’t.
The tips in this article will give you the foundation for creating a decision-making process that works. Ultimately, that is what will keep you from making decisions that will later turn into your biggest regrets.