We all have regrets, right? Even single moms who leave their ex husbands for all the right reasons can find themselves second guessing everything that transpired.
Some of my women clients are brave single moms who have experienced troubled times in their life. They tell me about their past regrets which include ex husbands that they probably never should have married.
Some of these women explained to me that their ex husbands sometimes behaved in despicable ways. But what often hurt the most was they did not feel loved or appreciated.
They shared with me their worries, anxieties and fears. Most are simply looking for some kindness. A light that they can move toward.
I have a special place in my heart for single moms who have experienced rough and choppy relationships.
Either they got mixed up with the wrong guy and he decided to go AWOL or in the case of one of my clients (Alice), the marriage began to crumble and after some time she was content to leave him and become a single mom.
Alice is brave and her situation is somewhat unique. And while she later found herself plagued with regrets over leaving her ex husband, it was not because she chose wrong or handled the separation poorly, but rather it is simply a very sad and hard experience to go through.
And if you are a single mom and are separated or divorced from your ex husband, then I want you to think of the regrets that may wash over you in a different way.
I want you to understand the influence your emotions can potentially have on your mood and how your feelings can take you places you least expect. Thinking too much about the past usually leaves you vulnerable to that dark negative voice in you mind that will try to tear you down.
And more importantly, as we will cover in more detail, what is important for all single moms (or any woman who have left their husband) to understand is that it’s not regret over the past that will define you and your life.
Rather, it is the amount of effort you put into learning from both the good and poor decisions you may have been a part of and leveraging that knowledge to build a better future for yourself and your child.
How Does Regret About Your Ex Tear Away at Your Soul
Regrets can fill up our soul when we start looking back and questioning things like whether we should have even gotten involved with someone to begin with.
You can feel regret splashing all over you when you wake up in the morning realizing that you made a terrible mistake sleeping with your ex husband.
You can feel regret overwhelming you when you visualize in your mind all of the fights you had with your ex husband.
And regret can easily slip into your thoughts when you begin to wonder why you didn’t leave your husband sooner.
This is the way of our minds. They take us on journeys that often only cause doubts and remorse to occupy too much of our mood.
It can be particularly challenging when a child is in the picture.
Such was the case for Alice, a single Mom I once advised, that found it necessary to initiate the break up of her marriage. Since her husband was a bit of a control freak, the aftermath turned a bit ugly, but given his previous pattern of behavior, she was ready for his poor behavior and with a strong family support group, she landed on her feet.
A Single Mom’s Story of Leaving Her Ex Husband
Alice told me:
“Had I known my ex husband was going to turn out to be so controlling, cruel and hateful, I would never had married him. This is what became of our marriage. I could barely tolerate him being selfish and often ignoring me and my needs. But when it came to our views around raising our child and showing interest and love in her development, we were incredibly far apart. That became a marriage breaker in my mind. It wasn’t like I didn’t try. As the marriage unfolded and our need take care of our child became the most pressing priority, I just couldn’t get him to step up. We would talk and plans would be made, but nothing really changed. Just the idea of parceling out responsibilities seemed foreign to him. His view is I should be the complete mother and he shouldn’t have to get very involved. He is heavy into sports, watching it on television all the time. I felt like his beer buddies got more of his attention. When we were dating the guy sure knew how to turn on the charm. Yes, he was a rascal, even in those early days, but I thought it was just him showing off. Maybe I turned a blind eye to it all. We were in love, at least I thought we were. Now I am glad it is over, at least most days. I left him and I know my ex husband hates and despises me for it. But I felt if I didn’t finally take some action I would be forever trapped. Three years of marriage doesn’t sound like much time with someone. I do feel guilty sometimes that we didn’t get some professional help. But I just could not bring myself to spend another day with him. My husband calls me a monster. Truth be told, he was the bad guy in the marriage and now he is showing his true colors. But this is what I don’t get. There are those nights were I have regrets about leaving him. I didn’t tell him I was leaving him until I had moved out. I can’t really explain why I walked out on him in a sentence or two. It would take forever. Sometimes at night I wake up with this sense of desperation. It’s like I have made a terrible mistake and I will never be able to live down. It’s like waves of regret coming over me. I start questioning myself about why I left my husband. I get this gut wrenching doubt and regret over leaving my ex. I know if I wait a few minutes, the feeling of panic will subside. I know in my heart I did the right thing by cutting the cord with my husband. He was draining me and when he paid any attention to me, I felt smothered. I did not want to raise my girl in this environment. I know it sounds crazy, but I am proud to be a single mom. But I do sometimes struggle with the past and how it all came crashing down. I think about whether I could have done things differently. So Chris, do you have any good words for me that can help me understand how I should process these feelings.
Putting Your Marriage Past in Perspective
If feel for Alice because the aftermath following a marriage break up can be tough. Tougher still is trying to navigate the rough waters of life as a single mom and making decisions that benefit your child’s needs.
It’s perfectly normal to feel a wave of regret wash over you after your marriage has come under fire or worse, has completely broken down. And if you are a single mom and you chose to leave your husband (or boyfriend) or he broke it off with you, just remember that you being apart from your ex most likely occurred for very good reasons.
And if regret creeps into your mind, just learn to say “hello” to this feeling and know that it is only a shadow of the truth. Don’t run from it, embrace it for a while. It is a real feeling and you should not push it down. But here is the important piece. After accepting it and understanding that it comes from a sad place, learn to let it go. It serves you no purpose to dwell on it and roll it over in your mind over and over again. In fact, allowing regret about leaving your ex husband to dominate your thinking will only serve to damage you.
It is OK to feel sorry for ourselves when we are alone with ourselves. Sure, you don’t want to wallow in it. But it is not healthy to keep it caged in. Regretting what happened in the past helps you deal better with the past. But the moment you find yourself trying to should blame for things that went wrong in the marriage, stop yourself and be reminded of the things that you did that were good.
Look at how brave you are in embracing the responsibility to raise your child in an environment you think is best. That certainly was top of mind when Alice decided to leave her husband. She, like anyone else, naturally regrets the circumstances that led to her decision to end the marriage. And likewise, she, along with many women all over, expressed regret for not more carefully choosing her husband.
But as we will discuss, there are some challenges, sometimes triggered by our own emotions and lack of experience, that makes choosing wisely not such an easy endeavor to accomplish.
Don’t Fall For the Slippery Slopes of Regret
It is not unusual to start questioning all of the things you and your husband each said and did. I think of it as the “picture show” of our minds.
You see, we are really all much more fragile than we realize. This applies to both our physical being and our emotional and spiritual side. It can be a painful bridge to cross to move from seeing your husband as the “love of your life” to a guy who no longer fits into your life.
Marriage should not be something that comes to an end easily.
All good marriages, even those we think of as fantastic marital bonds, will struggle. The best of couples will lose their footing. It is what they do with that situation that often sets them apart. It is what they can learn in their journey as a couple that can potentially help strengthen their bond of marriage.
When I got around to finally talking to Alice, she explained that she and her husband had been struggling for a couple of years. She saw herself as the “fixer” and poured her heart into trying to make it work. She bought books, attended seminars, and tried to get her husband to come with her to see a marriage counselor.
Everyone goes through a honeymoon phase and she explained that her guy was eager to please her. But as time went by, she felt him withdrawing. She had been warned by some of her friends about his track record of avoiding commitment.
But early on, she was madly in love and just paid little mind to these criticisms. After the first year of marriage, she began to better understand that her husband’s temperament. She gained greater insight into her husband’s views on intimacy. She found that his belief system around working together as a couple were incompatible with her own.
The Past Can Be our Relationship Teacher
Looking back, it is much easier to see the different paths we could have taken
I guess it would be fair to say that her regrets extended beyond just questioning whether she should had left her husband, but went all the way back to the beginning of her relationship.
And it is a good thing for us to talk about this right now. The beginnings of a relationship is a very important juncture. Chose poorly, and your dream relationship may end prematurely. By the way, a breakup is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if it unfolds early in your life.
If you have had some relationship experiences that went sour, instead of thinking that you are at fault or you have terrible luck with hitching up with the right man, treat it like going to school.
You see, there really is no place for any of us to go to get educated on the ways of love and romance. There is no college or school that teach Marriage 101 or Learning to Live With the Man of Your Dreams. We just don’t have that.
Rather, what we are left with is the School of Little Knocks and Life Lessons. For some the knocks are harder.
So mistakes will happen and you may not choose your “soul mate” (or who you thought would be your soul mate) very well.
Sometimes, you are not really doing the choosing.
Have you ever found yourself in a relationship where your man (possibly husband to be) just swept you off your feet? It may have happened so fast that you were not processing everything with the “logical” side of your brain.
It is true that when we fall in love and the chemicals of our brain get all churned up, we mostly think from the right side of our brain. That is your emotional control center and it can be a wonderful place to operate from. But sometimes it can lead you down the wrong path. Just like when you get swept up by the wrong man. You can be carried away with infatuation or misplaced love and the sheer excitement of the entire experience.
So should you regret all of these wrong paths and breakups that may have unfolded in your life, back in the past?
No. I say not.
Especially when you “go to school” on these love and life lessons of the past. You see, the guy you were with (your boyfriend or even possibly your husband) may not be the right man for you.
You should not live in the shadow of relationship regret just because it did not turn out well.
Now, on the other hand, if your relationship history with the opposite sex is defined by a pattern of breakups and poor choices, then it would suggest you are not learning from your experiences.
Is There Hope For A Single Mom in Finding the Mr. Right?
None of us will ever be able to find the perfect partner. You can search far and wide and never find a husband or boyfriend that is perfectly compatible with all the things you think are important.
And by the way, let’s take a moment and talk about another way that you can minimize any regret you might have in the future when you get involved with another guy.
Research into those couples that have successful marriages reveal they almost always possess two key attributes. So if you are a single mom or anyone for that matter, and are looking for a “do over” in the love and marriage department, you would be wise to apply this relationship success formula.
It basically consists of two things that are highly correlated to marriage success. I talk with single moms frequently and many of them are burdened by their responsibilities as mom and caretaker, breadwinner, and all the other demands on their life. Looking to meet a guy is not often top of mind.
Sure, like anyone else, a single mom is searching for solutions about life and love and a great many things. But being stung by a breakup or divorce is tough on the psyche and the forces bearing down on them can feel overwhelming at times. This is generally the case in the early months following a breakup.
It is not unusual for a woman who is taking care of her own child with little or no help from the father to feel beaten down. A certain cynicism can take a hold of one’s dreams and aspirations. Sometimes a single mom who is still smarting from her last relationship doesn’t even know where to start.
So I try to keep my advice pragmatic and easy to understand. There are two key thoughts I want my clients to understand.
It it basically this:
Find a man who has some experience and maturity in dealing both with life and in relationships. Look to see if this guy who you hope will be the right catch has the same or similar value system. And find a guy who is kind.
What do I mean by that?
Studies show that couples who possess the most solid marriages also express and exchange appreciation for each other. It is referred to in the literature as the “Kindness Study” and it followed many couples over many, many years and evaluated what kept them happily married.
The biggest finding was that the most successful couples reach out to each other with kindness. The people studying these couples found that those who exhibited kind acts at a ratio of 5:1 (e.g. five kind acts or words of appreciation to one act that would qualify as unkind) had a much greater chance of a successful marriage.
On top of that, another predictor of a successful relationships is that both parties share the same or similar core values.
Each of us have a value system. The single mom that I quoted above has her set of values and principles that are important to her. For example, she may have a certain faith and religious belief system. She may have a strong belief in eating healthy and allowing a certain amount of her time to fitness activities. The single mom may feel strongly about a certain way of rearing her children. She may feel it is important to travel and explore and discover new things so that she can allow her to spiritually grow. It may be important to her to give of herself to help others who are less fortunate.
So you get the picture, right.
We are all very unique with our own set of personality traits and quirks and so on and so forth. You will never really find anyone that is a “perfect” match for you….that is perfectly compatible with you in every respect.
But you can come close and it helps a lot to find those individuals that have similar core values which are those things that are critically important to you in how you experience the world around you, what you believe and how you treat people in general.
Put Away Your Regret and Turn to the Future
All these things we have talked about can clearly be of help to you in bettering your situation. And if you noticed, many of the things we talk about are forward-looking.
Regret is about looking backward. It is largely an emotion that stems from sadness, worry, and even depression.
A preoccupation with regret or second guessing is not a recipe for a better life. If you allow it, you mind will pick apart many of your past decisions and past outcomes and find fault.
So for all the single moms whose life may be filled with regret about what may have gone wrong with their ex husband or ex boyfriend, please turn away from the dark.
You can learn from the past, but dwelling on what could have been is an exercise in futility. It is a waste of your mental energy. The past is behind you now and what is best is to embrace the present and plan for fulfilling future opportunities.