I like divorced people. Two of my brothers are divorced. I like the way they figured out that it wasn’t just the military that contributed to their divorces. I like the way they openly regret their mistakes. I like how they don’t point out that their regrets will be my regrets if I don’t shape up right now.
Turns out that we really can learn something about happy marriage from people like them who divorce…then do the very hard work of divorce.
In the Wall Street Journal last week, psychologist Terri Orbuch said that divorced people can and do identify behaviors they believe contributed to the end of their marriages. They can and do change those behaviors next time around.
So what are the behaviors people regret after the divorce? In her longitudinal study for the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, Orbuch has identified five regrets civilian divorced couples mention over and over:
- They regret the way they handled money.
- They regret that they didn’t show their partners enough affection—with words as well as actions
- They regret how they couldn’t let go of the past.
- They regret the way they blamed their partner.
- They regret how they didn’t spend the ten focused minutes a day people need to really know each other.
When I spend time with my brothers and their new wives, I find myself trying to figure it all out. Why are they so happy this time? These are just ordinary guys. I don’t see huge changes in their behaviors. They talk to their wives more, certainly. I hear them compliment their wives. When something about an ex-wife comes up now, the ex-wife isn’t evil. Instead, my brothers voice their regrets about what they didn’t know and what they could have done better and what they are doing differently this time.
Maybe my brothers, like so many divorced people, have learned the deceptively simple truth of marriage: you have to put your partners need ahead of your own. You have to talk when you are tired. You have to compliment and praise when you feel unappreciated. You have to put the family’s finances over your own wants. Those seem like simple things to do, yes. They seem like the kind of simple things that you regret not doing long after the first marriage is gone.