When things go off in a relationship, people often feel sad and experience the complex emotion of regret. While uncomfortable to accept, this actually can be a helpful emotion. Regret allows us to take a backwards look, to evaluate, to think and to feel. It may arouse many feelings that were ignored in the past. It can be a most beneficial emotion if we remain without negative judgment–both to our self and our partner. Being without judgment opens us to possibilities and the unknown choices we could not see previously. To use the regrets that we carry from the past and bring the unused potential into the present is a valuable aspect of regret.
In addition, regret is not just hard to experience, but can signal that we might have become blinded by our own guilt, shame or self-blame. All these emotions are closely related to regret. They entail behaviors that hide us from our emotions and from being open to our partner. These feelings of guilt, shame and blame can be interpreted that we are not being honest or direct. They can also represent the hurt and upset that we do not know how to express. In other words, the emotion of regret links to other emotions and each one serves as a stepping-stone on the path into our personality. By walking this path, we expose who we are to our partner and in the process gain more intimacy. Not an easy process, but once attempted; definitely worth our time and efforts.
The perception of ourselves is altered when we examine our life with regret. And, maybe we need this alteration if anything is going to move or change. We are faced with the responsibility and truth that we have to expand our relationship beyond what it was. Some of the inhibitors to growth are shame, guilt and self-blame. And, they also are the emotions that push development. The process is two-pronged. A release from the status quo can emerge from regret. It is a powerful reminder of what we have missed and what we desire. The quality of our relationship might depend on the aspects of looking back and bringing forward which is part of regret.
The ability to re-look and use hindsight opens our world. Although it is not easy, regret makes us feel and we can no longer hide in denial or dismay. We can use the past experiences to reflect on what we now want to do, think and express in other ways than before. The feelings of regret bring attention to needs for satisfaction, pleasure, growth, learning and intimacy. We can open to our partner more easily with the benefit of hindsight. In this kind of sight from behind we are able to see ourselves and our situation from another vantage point. So, in essence, regret can be helpful; as it, like every emotion, depends on how we use it.
Susan E. Schwartz, Ph.D.