People like to say that they live life without regrets. But if we never felt bad about our decisions, how would we ever learn to do things differently? The truth is, many people do have regrets, and those regrets can be powerful learning opportunities — especially in relationships.
Relationships are one area where, no matter how smart you are, you’re bound to mess up. Skills like judging other people’s character, managing strong emotions, and balancing your needs with a partner’s are learned over time. And usually, learning them requires making a few mistakes.
These mistakes can be blessings in disguise. After all, life would be a lot less interesting if we could just read a guide on how to have healthy relationships and then enjoy them effortlessly. What makes relationships — and life — so fulfilling is that as we go through them, we learn to become better and better, and there’s always more room to improve.
To help everyone along in that journey, I asked people what their biggest relationship regrets of all time are. I could relate to a lot of them, and I bet many others can too. From staying in relationships past their expiration date to giving up your dreams for a partner, here are some of their answers.
“Keeping things in.”
“Believing my partner when she said everything was fine, even though her actions made it clear everything was not fine.”
“That my crippling lack of confidence led me to distrust and mistrust those I was dating, and to hurt them, albeit unwittingly.”
“Not leaving abusive a-holes sooner.”
“Not realizing sooner that his OCD was stronger than my love for him.”
“Being with a man I didn’t love for six years because ‘we were such a good couple.’”
“Having long-term relationships when I was in my twenties. I should have been more selfish with my time, as I was too young to know what I needed from men at that point anyway. I should have spent that time traveling, getting involved in groups/activities that interest me, and simply enjoying life on my own.”
“Getting married too young (20).”
“Telling my husband the truth about my emotional affair.”
“Letting someone tell me who I could and could not be friends with.”
“I think my biggest relationship regret is not fully letting my partner know what bothered me and made me feel sad or insecure about him and keeping stuff and feelings to my self. Accumulating all those feelings inside me was horrible.”
“I got into a master’s program at Harvard and went to a West Coast program instead to live with my boyfriend at the time, who had been long-distance. Turns out living with him meant that he would come home from work at 1 a.m. every night and never take me on dates. My career would have been a lot better without him.”
If we can learn anything from these people’s regrets, it’s probably that people regret sacrificing themselves for their relationships. If you want to minimize regrets, then, maybe the key is to honor your own desires, goals, and intuitions.