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Top 5 Regrets of Divorced People

Study reveals 'marriage advice learned the hard way.'

By Kristin Wong Jul 31, 2012 3:53PM

Photol: Tetra Images/Getty ImagesIf you're looking for marriage advice, it might be wise to ask your divorced pals--why not avoid heartache by learning from someone else's?

According to a recent piece from the Wall Street Journal, most divorced people can narrow their past relationship regrets down to five areas they would change. With the help of psychologist and researcher Terri Orbuch, some divorcees have shared their lessons learned.

"Divorced individuals who step back and say, 'This is what I've done wrong and this is what I will change,' have something powerful to teach others," research professor Terri Orbuch of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research says. "This is marriage advice learned the hard way."

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Orbuch has been conducting a study on 373 couples since 1986. When the study first started, the couples were between the ages of 25 and 37 and in their first year of marriage. But since then, 46 percent of them have divorced. Dr. Orbuch followed those couples as they entered new relationships—44 percent of them remarried.

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Dr. Orbuch about her past research in a piece titled,

"Divorcé's Guide to Marriage." Specifically, they were interested in what the couples she studied had learned from their past heartbreak. Dr. Orbuch found that most of them had five main areas of regret. Without further adieu, here are the lessons learned from the divorced:

1. Express love: Seems like a simple one, but 15 percent of divorced individuals said they regret not giving their spouse more affection. This includes compliments, cuddling and saying, "I love you."

"By expressing love and caring you build trust," Dr. Orbuch told the WSJ's Elizabeth Bernstein.

The divorcees listed four important components of affection: showing love often, making your partner feel good about who they are, making them feel good about having their own ideas, and making life interesting or exciting.

Dr. Orbuch agrees that it's important to make your spouse feel loved and appreciated every day—even a brief compliment can do the trick.

2. Talk About Money: It's no surprise that money was the top conflict in the majority of marriages Dr. Orbuch studied. 49 percent of those divorced said they fought so much over money in their past relationship, they're certain it will be a problem in their next one. The lesson learned? Thoroughly discuss your money plans and financial goals.

"Talk money more often—not just when it's tax time, when you have high debt, when bills come along," Dr. Orbuch says.

And here's an interesting statistic: in the study, six of 10 divorced people who started a new relationship chose not to combine finances the next time around.

3. Let go of the past: According to Dr. Orbuch, divorcees who still had strong feelings (whether it be love or hate) toward their ex were not as emotionally healthy as those who had moved on. In order to have a healthy current relationship, you can't be emotionally attached to your last one, Orbuch explains. For those who find it difficult to let go, Orbuch suggests writing a long letter to the person who has upset you, and then destroying the letter.

"This is an exercise for you, to get all the emotions out on paper so you can release them," she says.

4. Let go of blame. In the same vein as lesson number three, 65 percent of divorced people in the study blamed their ex-spouse for the divorce. Orbuch says holding on to the blame only makes it harder to move on, even if you're blaming yourself.

In order to avoid blame in your marriage, Orbuch suggests using "we," in discussions rather than "you" or "I."

"There are multiple ways of seeing a problem," Dr. Orbuch says. "By getting your partner's perspective, and marrying it with your perspective, you get the relationship perspective."

5. Open up about yourself. The top behavior divorced individuals said they would change in their next relationship is how they communicate, with 41 percent saying they would do it differently. According to Dr. Orbuch, in order to communicate effectively, it's important to open up about your thoughts and feelings—and not just when you're fighting.

"You need to tell each other about your lives and see what makes you each tick," Dr. Orbuch suggests.

What are your thoughts—have you been through a divorce? What did you learn from it?

Tell us on Facebook: Do you agree with these top 5 regrets?

Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images

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Tags: divorce
12Comments
Aug 14, 2012 12:52AM
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'Open up about yourself.'....Hmmm.  I wish he would have opened up and told me that he was gay in the beginning instead of living on the downlow...for years!  He literally lived two different lives. Women should have a right to decide if they are willing to accept that lifestyle upfront... I just regret it took so many years to find out...and not from him.  Only a real  man - be it gay or straight - will own up to his true identity. I have to look at my divorce as a blessing for only God knows what I was saved from.

Aug 13, 2012 9:18PM
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I regret not having entitlements that come with being married -  Social Security benefits if your hubby/wife dies.  Being married comes with a social cache in some circles and some people judge you for being divorced.    But I am glad I do not have to contribute to my former husband's Grown Man/Little Boy syndrome.....Bigger Boat, Bigger Truck, Newer ATV but What Do You Mean I Need to Get a Better Job Syndrome....
Aug 13, 2012 9:10PM
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So 85% DON'T regret not giving more affection...... Interesting. Might be easy to see why the divorce rate is so high. Leading cause of divorce, imho, selfishness. Whatever you do - don't compromise! After all IAAM!
Aug 13, 2012 8:35PM
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I am married, but we occasionally flirt with the idea of divorce.  We agree on many thing: children (have agreed neither of us want them), we have dogs that we dearly love, we mostly live convervatively, save money, spend money wisely, and most other important things.  Things we still stuggle with:  she has a photographic memory and never forgets any real or imagined slight, I have a temper (but have never laid a hand on her), she has to gift nearly everyone she knows for every holiday on the calendar, I am a cheapskate that thinks we can't afford to gift everyone for even minor holidays, etc.  The biggest problem I have with her is that after 27 years of marriage, she still wants to "improve" me.  I have made many compromises and completely given in to her on many, many things, but she seems to be unable to completely accept me as I am.  This leads to arguments, that lead to, "Well, if you think you can do better......."
Aug 13, 2012 7:52PM
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I'd argue that the biggest regret of many divorced people is believing that marriage is a necessity or has any tangible benefit. I think most people only get hitched because their family and/or society treats marriage as an obligation.

If you're capable of earning a good living, then there's no reason to sign a legally-binding, and frankly, outmoded, contract that promises half of your assets to another person if the marriage fails. And by the way, half of all marriages DO fail!

Just say no.

Aug 13, 2012 7:34PM
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The only thing I regret from my divorce is that we sold our house.  We had a fifteen year loan with four more years to go but my ex just didn't want me to have it and he didn't want me to buy him out, so I agreed to sell!
Aug 13, 2012 7:30PM
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One, I will not be with someone who is dishonest.  Been there and have done that.  Two, I will not contribute the major portion of my salary to someone in a household who spends like the current Government.  Three, if the Woman is reluctant to be intimate because I wear her out sorry, my stamina is too high.  Could go on but, why bother?  Have moved on and have the life I want with whom I want.
Aug 13, 2012 6:43PM
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I think writing letters and burning them up is more symbolic than useful.  One of the key things towards personal growth is simply being honest about how you feel and if you have unresolved feelings then they should be expressed openly in a civil manner but openly nonetheless.  Writing letters not to be read or communicated is a wasted exercise in my opinion.   One of the biggest problems in relationships is that people fail to be honest with themselves and with their partners. 
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