How To Move On From Relationship Regrets (& Avoid Them In Future Relationships)

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How To Deal With Regret In Your Relationship So You Can Move On & Be Happy With Your Partner

“Regrets. I’ve had a few…” Who hasn’t? Especially when it comes to looking back on relationships.

If you have lived more than a minute in this crazy world, you have likely had more than one relationship that didn’t go exactly as planned.

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You may play the "what-if" scenarios or the “woulda-shoulda-coulda” game, ruminating about how you wish things were different. You can find reasons to feel guilty and regretful about things you said, or left unsaid, ways you behaved, choices that turned out to be less than ideal, or chances you missed that could have been great.

The most important thing about having relationship regrets is that you find ways to move on from them and learn how to avoid them going forward.

1. Regrets come in all flavors

Let’s first take a look at some of the things you might regret in your relationship. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, so feel free to add your regrets if I’ve missed them.

And, just nod your head or say check if some of these are yours (and remember, you’re not alone!):

  • Holding things in; stuffing them down
  • Compromising your values to keep the peace
  • Not leaving the abusive relationship sooner
  • Giving up on your dream so he could pursue his
  • Getting married too young
  • Allowing him to tell you who you could be friends with
  • Not making your relationship a priority over work, kids, activities or friends
  • Didn’t participate in keeping the spark alive
  • Thinking he would change
  • Giving up on your hobbies, friends and life outside the relationship
  • Not learning how to communicate better
  • Not showing (or requiring him to show) respect, compassion, fondness, gratitude

2. Remember that moving on can be simple

There are a few simple (not necessarily easy) approaches to follow that will help you move on from relationship regrets. They all require you to take notice of each regret and own your part in the situation that resulted in regret. It always takes two to tango, and you get to take the lead in moving on from the dance.

It was a good choice at the time. Given the information you had, the emotional state you were in, and the set of circumstances, you decided how to behave within the relationship. Accepting that as truth is all you can do now that it is done. Also, accept the fact that you could not predict the future and how the choice was to play out.

You were not in control of the after-effect. Let’s say you helped your husband in a major job search and helped him land the job of his dreams.

He spent long days and evenings at work, you thought, to learn the business and show his passion and commitment.

Within a year, he told you he was having an affair and wanted a divorce. It’s not your behavior that is regretful. There is no way on God’s green earth that you could have known this would happen. Let go of the idea that you can control the ripple effect of your actions.

Second-guessing will not help. “What-if” scenarios can keep you stuck where you are for a very long time. It is what it is. The past is past, and there is nothing you can do to change it. The best thing you can do now is evaluate what happened and learn from it.

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3. Journaling may help

This is a powerful journaling exercise:

  • Write down the decision or situation you regret.
  • What do you regret about it? Be specific. Are there consequences that caused ongoing problems for you?
  • As though you are speaking to a friend with compassion, write why you made the choice or decision you made. For example, if you stayed in a relationship too long, it might sound like this: “When you first met your husband he treated you like a queen. He was gentle and kind and respectful. After a while, there were signs that he was jealous and insisted you do everything he said. Soon, he became abusive verbally, then physically. You took it for longer than you should have because it was your second marriage and you didn’t want to fail again. It’s understandable and you tried everything to make it work.”
  • Next, if you found yourself in a similar situation in the future, what would you do differently? Write about as many examples of different behavior you could have demonstrated.
  • Lastly, focus on what you can control about your relationship regret today. What changes would you make in a new relationship that would avoid the same outcome? What new boundaries might you set for yourself, so you don’t find yourself in the same situation? Before you get into another relationship, is there a book you want to read or a coach you want to talk with, so you are fully prepared and grounded in what matters to you most now?

4. Create new patterns

Being aware that you have regrets is an acknowledgment that you are a different person than you were before, otherwise, you would not feel regret.

If this is true, then you now have the power to change how you will react in the future. The lessons you learned through regret can become the foundation from which you decide how to show up in relationships going forward.

These new patterns can be tested out, again based on the best information you have at the moment. As you grow and evolve through these relationship tests, you’ll get better at keeping this cycle from turning into repeating regrets.

5. Avoiding regrets is even better

No one is immune to making bad choices every once in a while. In my experience, it’s very uncommon to meet someone who has lived a long life with no regrets at all. But, I do believe there are a few ways we can avoid the major regrets that often accompany relationships.

Your inner wisdom can guide you. Those gut feelings about someone or a situation are trying to tell you something. It might be that everything is right with the world. Or, it might be telling you to steer clear and cut a wide path around this one. Your intuition is a strong ally when it comes to sizing up relationships and people. When you get signals, pay attention.

Make sure your values are aligned. I am not a proponent of “opposites attract” when it comes to long term relationships and marriages.

A shared set of values is crucial when it comes to making joint decisions between two committed people. When your values are aligned, and you honor and respect them, most decisions will become easier and there is less room for regret. Ask him what matters most and be sure it’s a match.

Communication is key and something to work on from the start. Open and free. No stuffing the words.

Harboring ill-feelings will only come back to haunt later. Learning how to communicate with each other, setting ground rules and sticking to them will create the compassionate environment needed to share even the most difficult topics that need honest discussion and collective determination.

So many of us live with relationship regret. Many find themselves in a repeating pattern that keeps them feeling regretful over and over again. One way to break this cycle is to recognize what you regret and work through it, so you can move on and not find yourself in the same situation again. Better yet, practice ways to avoid relationship regret altogether.

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María Tomás-Keegan is the award-winning author of Upside Down to Right Side Up: Turning Transition into Triumph, producer/host of the international video podcast Tips for the Transition, and a certified Career and Life Coach for women. To understand how to rebound with resilience when life events suddenly turn your world upside down,visit her websiteand learn more about the impact change can have on your life and how to move through it with more dignity and grace in her free ebookFrom Darkness to Light: Learning to Adapt to Change and Move Through Transition.