What I wish I would have done: Lessons from my divorce

I wish I would have taken steps to be a better wife and to enjoy marriage before I no longer had it.

I truly enjoyed being married. I liked having a partner in life, someone who was pegged to me. I appreciated having someone to say goodnight to. I enjoyed knowing that every moment of every day I was an important and integral part of another person’s every moment of every day. I was comforted by having someone be that for me, too. I intended my marriage to last for life, and beyond. I entered marriage with the intent to stick it through no matter what.

Looking back, I have regrets about my marriage. There were things I wish I would have done differently while I was married.

I never did anything seriously wrong in my marriage; no huge mistakes that warranted divorce. More, I’m talking about the little things that I left out of marriage that could have made it really great.

I wish I would have taken better advantage of how spectacular marriage could have been, while I was married. That’s what I regret: wasting a bunch of time and energy being unhappy, when I could have, instead, been using that energy to enjoy my marriage.

So, here are some things I wish I would have done while I was married:

1. I wish I would have started each day with affection

My ex-husband and I have different internal clocks, meaning he spent a lot of time awake late at night and into the wee hours of the morning, and I spent a lot of time alone in the mornings (with the kids) while he was sleeping. This annoyed me. So when he did wake up later, I was typically irritated and nasty toward him. No hug and a kiss, or asking how he slept or if I could make him breakfast. I did do this sometimes, but more often he got crusty looks and passive-aggressive comments.

Instead, I wish I would have greeted him with warmth and kindness every day. I wish he could have counted on that. I know it would have helped me feel better about who I was and what I was doing with my marriage. It probably would have helped him feel more interested in being around me as well.

2. I wish I would have made myself feel pretty more often

After many years of marriage, a person can forget that her husband is also her boyfriend. I did. I didn’t try to look my best when he came home. I tried a few things a few times, but not often. Fixing my hair, putting on a little makeup, and wearing attractive clothes really improves the way I feel about myself — and that helps the way I treat others.

3. I wish I would have apologized more

I sometimes make the same mistake twice, or don’t stop myself before making a rude comment. I do, however, recognize when I make a mistake and do my best to apologize to those around me.

I think though, that these repeated mistakes bothered him. So at some point, I stopped saying sorry. Maybe I wanted him to start taking more responsibility for our disagreements, instead of me always being the one to initiate making up. But I shouldn’t have stopped saying it, anyway. I should have said it as often as I meant it, and more often.

4. I wish I would have taken steps to get myself mentally healthy

I had a lot of misconceptions and errors in thinking during my marriage. I wish I would have realized sooner that I — not my husband — was responsible for my own happiness. I should have taken efforts to get myself there, regardless of my husband’s choices.

For me, that required mental health counseling and a lot of scaling back on things outside the home. Once I scaled back, I was able to really focus on real needs to get myself into a good place.

I would have enjoyed marriage quite a bit more if I didn’t rely on the status of our relationship to dictate how I felt about myself and how I treated others.

5. I wish I would have planned more one-on-one time outside the home

We both enjoyed being at home, watching TV or browsing the Internet. But we forgot to date each other. I would have enjoyed marriage more if I had been more proactive about making that happen.

Being mentally healthy would have helped with that. Having a better self-image would have helped me work through the difficulties. I wish I wouldn’t have given up on that, even when it felt one-sided. Because that’s part of the fun of marriage — spending time together!

Had I done these things listed above, I would have enjoyed marriage more, and I would have set a better example to my daughters of how to be a wife.

Now, enough regret — on to learning from the past and making the future better!

Marilee Kellis

Marilee Kellis is a single (divorced) mother to four children, ages 4 to 10, including identical twin girls. She volunteers as a breastfeeding peer counselor, teaches cello lessons, and has been employed as an epidemiologist in public health departments for most of the past decade. Hobbies include researching her family history, cooking, writing, hiking, camping, and running. Marilee has a bachelor's degree in Biology from Arizona State University.