Nothing prepares you for the next great love of your life quite like reflecting on what went wrong in past relationships. And there’s a wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from the knock-down, drag-out experience of divorce.
Below, divorced writers reflect on the one regret they have about their marriages and explain how it’s made them better equipped for future relationships.
“The one thing I would do differently in my marriage is not interrupt. I’m not saying my husband never interrupted me back or that he was this great listener, but I interrupted. Why? I’d like to think it’s not because I am a jerk, but because growing up, I felt I had to fight to get heard. And so I fought for him to hear me and defend myself. Isn’t that the big issue? I got defensive. I didn’t listen. I prepared for my rebuttal. Most of the time, neither of us ‘heard’ each other. Why was I defensive? That’s another layer of the onion. I felt misunderstood by him. I was thin-skinned and fearful of his rejection. I hated disappointing him or anyone. And so I interrupted and petitioned like a lawyer to get him to see my side. To dismantle his anger and bring him back to loving me, in some ways. If I could do it over, I would shut up, listen more — and I mean really listen — instead of preparing a speech and talking.” – Laura Lifshitz, married 5 years
“I couldn’t grasp that conflict is actually a good thing. Prior to and during my marriages, I thought conflict was the worst thing. So I bent myself into a pretzel in my marriage to avoid conflict. I became resentful and upset because I couldn’t express myself and my ex lost respect for me because I didn’t speak my mind. Now I’m speaking my mind all the time and learning to ask questions in ways that the other person has space to think them through and communicate their feelings.” –Bill Lennan, married 10 years
“I locked myself into the role of strong, even-tempered woman in my marriage. I wish I had been more at ease expressing my vulnerability and allowing my ex-husband to witness the ebbs and flows of my strength. Sometimes I didn’t feel strong. Sometimes I didn’t feel calm or even-tempered. Sometimes I wanted to smash my keep-it-togetherness into sharp-edged broken pieces, curl up under the duvet, and be held in comfort. He rarely — if ever — saw this part of me. They were saved for moments of solitude during long business trips. I didn’t allow shards of vulnerability to seep through. He wasn’t often greeted with unabashed warmth and joy when he’d arrive home from the 17 hour flights, face pale, eyes dry and red. I could’ve said I missed him, but rarely did. I had to be The Strong Woman. But that’s not really true. I didn’t have to be. I could’ve been more myself. I could’ve been more vulnerable, expressive, and uninhibited…That’s what real strength is.” -Becky Cavender, married 12 years
“I poured myself into planning a life together right from the beginning. Between the wedding, pushing for a promotion at work and searching for a home, it’s safe to say my stress levels were through the roof. It hindered my focus a little bit and put a strain on us. Looking back, I wish I would have enjoyed the process more. I tried to do too much, too fast and it put a strain on me, on her and on our relationship. I am certain if you ask her, she would say the same thing.
We kind of forgot the reasons why we were getting married. I adored her, but for the first time in our long-term relationship, my focus shifted elsewhere because I wanted to give her a good life. I tried my hardest, but I lost myself a little. Granted, we had a home we would have never imagined we could own, a wedding that was beyond our wildest dreams and great careers that allowed for it all to happen, but we lost sight of each other. So much, in fact, that it tore us apart.” –Anthony D’Ambrosio, married 10 months
“I am a loving, compassionate person. But I am also vulnerable. I allowed him to convince me I was the problem. Instead, we both were. If I could go back, I would not allow my fear and his passive aggressive nature to fester. I would question why I pulled away. Maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe I should have paid attention to the warning signs he gave me or been more conscious of my fear and self-imposed isolation. As I started to stand up for myself and realize my strength, the dam burst and he exploded. I will learn from the past. I will keep my strength and my voice. I will mother my children and trust my instinct and my heart without reservation and if I ever marry again, I’ll speak up.” –Jenny Kanevsky, married 17 years
“There was a lack of authenticity from the very start. When you’re young, few things are more important to you than the love, acceptance and validation of another. So you seek it at all costs. Even if it means masking who you really are on the inside. Take a lesson from me: Hiding who you really are for the purposes of another’s acceptance is a fool’s errand. An errand that never works out well in the end.
I define authenticity as the daily practice of letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embracing who you truly are. Or, as Shakespeare once wrote, ‘This above all: to thine ownself be true.’ Said another way, be yourself. Always. Nothing in life will ever be more important. And that’s a lesson it took me almost forty years to learn.” –Austin Blood, married 12 years
“My parents have been married for 45 years. My ex’s parents, 47. Prior to our own marriage, we believed we’d done all the due diligence. We dated for four years, we lived together, we had careers and pets and traveled. We were on the same page in so many ways, even on our ideas on divorce. We knew it was a reality… just not in our family. We didn’t believe in leaving that door open so neither of us imagined it would ever happen to us.
But life is unpredictable and messy and bad things happen to really good people. We all make mistakes and our futures never ever turn out like we think they will. There is something to be said about having and working toward specific hopes and dreams in life. But when you put blinders on to all other paths, as I did, the fall is so much more painful. Because you’re not just losing a spouse, you’re losing the only future you ever planned on having. This aspect of my divorce has left me more wrecked than any other… it’s falling alone without a rope. If I could go back, I wouldn’t hang all my dreams on one hopeful ideal. I’d also have faith that I’d be OK if life unfolded differently than we’d hoped.” –Shannon Lell, married 8 years
“The way I see it, a marriage is like a garden. The more you tend to it, the more it will thrive. Romance is the vitamins and nutrients. Shared values and joined purpose are the soil in which every plant finds purpose and strength to grow and make the most of the opportunity the garden affords. Everything else is weeds: All the jealousies and distractions. All the unresolved misunderstandings that linger past bedtime. All the disagreements over nothing that will ever matter in the long run. All the fights over territory and superiority, and who was right and who was wrong.
There will always be weeds. Every garden has them. But if you can pull them out the moment you spot them, it will reduce the chance for them to spread and grow and bring your garden to its knees. My mistake? I should have paid more attention to the weeds.” –Tom Sturges, married 15 years