Marjorie JamesAll of us, if we have lived very long, have a list of regrets I call “If Only’s.” They are reminders to us that we are not perfect. Most of the time, we can cope with our regrets; we can even get to the point, in time, that we can laugh at what we did. However, many times regrets can paralyze us. This, I suspect, is especially true during traumatic events like divorce. Clear delineation of responsibility and a path to healing is a vital part of the work of Collaborative teams, including how to handle regret.

There are regrets that represent personal responsibility. “It would have been different if I…” Some of these regrets may have a basis in reality, so I call these “real regrets.” Real regrets are those things we have control over. We willingly do something that we know probably is not the right or prudent thing to do, or we do not do something we know should be done. These are the hardest regrets to deal with, but deal with them we must.

“Misplaced regret” are actions that we have either blown out of proportion or actions that really did not have the effect we think they did. Children affected by separation and divorce express many of these misplaced regrets. “If only I had cleaned my room or helped around the house more.” “If only I had done better in school.” “If only I had not argued with them so much.” These “if only” statements are usually followed by, “…then they would not be getting a divorce.” I call these misplaced regrets because divorces are seldom the result of children’s actions.

Abused spouses, I have read, frequently have misplaced regrets. “If I had been a better spouse, then he/she would not have [fill in the blanks].” Abusers turn what they would identify as regrets into blame. “If would not have done it if he/she…”

Regrets are real, even the misplaced ones; what we do with the regrets is the key. “If only” can take us down a long, dark tunnel that leads to nowhere. While in the Tunnel of Regret, speed bumps playing over and over in our minds slow us down or stop our road to recovery and wholeness. We must find a way to keep those speed bumps, our regrets, from dominating our lives.

I will continue this discussion next week, focusing on what we all can do with our regrets, real or misplaced.

Copyright 2013. Marjorie E. James. All rights reserved.