Regretting divorce

Dear Toni-

I'm a divorced woman in my early 40's with two tween aged kids. About 3 years ago I initiated the divorce action due to feeling overwhelmed as a working mom, a perceived lack of support from my spouse, and a belief that the grass would be greener on the other side of marriage. After almost two years as a single mom, I have found that belief to be completely untrue.
Yes, there were challenges. I was angry and frustrated and felt I had tried my best to get my husband's attention and cooperation; but in reality what I did was criticize and lash out and didn't look at what I could have done differently and how we as a couple could have tried other options. I went to counseling alone and after expressing how very unhappy I was and how I had fallen out of love with my spouse and my therapist encouraged me to follow my heart. That turned out to be a big mistake.

My spouse did not want the divorce, he suggested we go to counseling together and he told me he still loved me and was willing to try. He honestly seemed to be completely unaware of how miserable I was which led me to believe even more firmly that he just didn't care. I looked forward to moving on, taking on the new responsibilities as a single mom, and thought I would meet someone new who would be everything my spouse hadn't been. Again, I was so wrong.

Not only is life much more complicated now with having to handle my household responsibilities alone, split custody and deal with the emotional fallout on my kids--I have felt extreme loneliness, and as it turns out all those friends and others who encouraged me to go for it have distanced themselves. I'm no longer part of our old social group, my married friends socialize with their spouses and other couples and dating after divorce has been awful. While married I got a lot of attention from men which I now realize was possible in part because I was "safe", meaning married and unavailable.

I have tried online dating and can't believe how many dysfunctional guys are out there. It seems all the good ones are taken. Apparently this is true as my ex who was too devastated at first to even consider looking for a new relationship, has drawn a lot of interest from single women. He has just begun dating and I feel jealous and territorial towards any woman he goes out with.

I desperately want another chance but fear it's too little too late. I have truly had an epiphany and believe we could be a happy couple and family again. It's not unheard of for couples who divorce to remarry. I'd love your thoughts and honest feedback on what I have shared and any suggestion you may have for how I could approach my ex about a reconciliation. --Divorce remorse

Dear Dear Divorce Remorse,

Your situation is not that unusual--and the outcomes for those who want reconciliation vary, depending on a number of factors, including how amicable or not the divorce was, how much hurt the "defendant" in the process has been put through, how much respect and trust has been lost between the two people, and timing. To sum up your particulars, you initiated the divorce, communicated clearly that you did not want to be with a man you didn't love anymore, happily moved towards your new life and began dating fairly quickly in hopes of finding the Mr. Right your spouse was not. Then, reality set in and life in general was harder and lonelier, Mr. Right doesn't seem to exist or is a rare breed indeed--and you now want to go back and get the good guy before some other smart woman snaps him up. Does that about cover it?

Now imagine seeing all this through your ex's eyes. He thought he had a good marriage only to be told his wife didn't love him anymore and wanted out. In the process, she was critical and often lashed out in anger and resentment as she insisted he didn't care and was not a good partner, period. He wanted to try, but she was not interested. Her goal was to move on, start over, and find the right man this time around. How you would feel if you had been on his end of the divorce? Would you want her back? If this time apart has allowed for healing and even relief from living with someone so unhappy and critical--could your feelings towards your ex and the marriage have changed? Wouldn't you want to explore the possibilities with someone new who could love you for who you are and be the partner you desire?

I don't say all this to heap more pain, regret and remorse onto your plate. Instead, I believe it is crucial that any successful fresh start begin with taking responsibility for your actions, gaining a clear picture of how your feelings and behavior impacted your partner and what it was like for him, and addressing that along with the attitude that accompanied your exit. If he believes you want back in because the other side was not greener, how could he trust that the marriage wouldn't have the same problems and/or that this wouldn't happen again somewhere down the line? The timing part is important if he has had enough time to heal and feel differently and to have met or even briefly dated a woman who he is very attracted to and who he feels a real connection with. If so, this alone could cast doubt on his old belief that you are the only one for him.

Therefore, if you are sure you want a second chance because you have really seen the light and are willing to work at being a loving and loyal partner, like you said you wanted him to be--then you approach him with vulnerability, modesty, true regret, and DON'T make it about YOU. You begin with a sincere apology for what your decisions did to your marriage and family. Acknowledge that you didn't own your part in the problem, you cheated him out of the chance to work on it with you, and you know that all that has happened could be a deal breaker for him regarding any possible reconciliation. Talk about the good you have always seen in him and how blind you were to it when you made the foolish decision to walk away. Recall the reasons why you loved him and chose him in the first place and how much you regret throwing that away.

Then give him space to respond. Don't try to illicit from or press him for the response you want to hear. Don't express anger when he talks about the changes he has gone through and his doubts about you, which he will probably have. Let him share these openly and listen with an open heart always remembering it is not just about YOU. It might take more than one conversation to air everything and then begin the talk about taking the next step together or agreeing that it is indeed too late.

Don't try to rush him, don't use the kids as a bargaining chip, don't cast your mistakes as a response to what he did or didn't do and then ask him to own it. He already has and has paid a very high price for what he missed the first time around. He already said he was sorry and wanted to try again, now it is your turn.

The success or failure of any potential reconciliation will hinge on a sincere apology, taking full responsibility, asking for forgiveness and a willingness to work towards a marriage that meets both of your needs. If he's willing to try again, and/or go to counseling together--put your family's needs on a par with yours and never lose sight of the fact that there is no perfect guy and real keepers can be hard to come by.

(from January 2015)


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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