Men who cheat on their wives and then leave the marriage cause a devastating ripple effect throughout the whole family. Most of us wonder if they ever regret it. We ask ourselves, “How could he do this after everything we’ve been through together…and with these amazing children we have?” It’s normal to wonder why your husband left your family and if he ever regrets the destruction that he caused.
When divorce happens – especially after infidelity, most men say they are not abandoning their family. They say to us, “This divorce is about you and me, not about our family.” They say they aren’t leaving our family…just us. When infidelity or abuse or addiction is involved, they also often say they didn’t leave us, but that it was our decision to file for divorce. Sigh.
The thing is, when a man leaves his wife, or decides he wants another woman (who often has children of her own), that usually means not being a daily presence in his own children’s lives. It means he isn’t going to be taking a full part in helping with his family. It creates a sense of uncertainty in so many ways.
Whether our culture acknowledges it or not, the loss of a good, strong man in a family is destabilizing on many levels. But do guys regret divorce that they caused or the abandonment of their family and their responsibilities? I’m not sure.
Throughout history, the father of the family was thought to be the “protector” of the family. Family roles in our time have changed and are constantly in flux…and some change is good. But deep down, I think many realize that having a good, strong, caring person who is there as the final defense in a family is reassuring and makes the family feel safe. It also helps children be more secure and optimistic and successful in life.
A strong, good primary family has a better chance of launching strong, confident children into the world. Do cheating husbands ever think about that? Do they regret the losses they create all around?
Everything I am going to say is a generalization. But I think men have an innate makeup that is different from women. We need good men. (We don’t need men who put themselves above everything else…including their children!)
Women are better off when a good man is there supporting her as a woman and as a mother.
Children are better off when a father helps set (and enforce) the rules of good behavior.
Young men are better off with strong, positive, dependable male role models.
Young women are better off with strong fathers to help them develop their own confident identity.
Our neighborhoods, churches and social groups need strong men supporting each other to do the right thing and be the right kind of person. Life is usually better, easier and more secure for everyone when there are strong, good men involved. Do men who cheat and abandon their families regret not filling that important role in their family? In their society?
Men taking responsibility to be that strong support for their family is less likely today. Our culture tends to make men either irrelevant or demeans them as being a threat to all of us, simply because they are men. Our entertainment world depicts some fathers as incompetent, incapable, nincompoops. Others are shown as overbearing, authoritarian, know-it-alls.
As women, we wonder how a man we have been with for 15 or 20 or 30 or more years can just leave us and our children. I wondered that myself. All I know is that it is a great loss for our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches and for our country as a whole when good men abandon their family for whatever reason. It’s a loss we should all regret.
The question is, how do we deal with this increasingly common, but very significant, cultural and personal loss? Do men even realize what damage they are doing by leaving us and their children? If they ever do feel regret, when does that regret kick in?
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How Long Before Men Regret Leaving?
From my own experience through talking with the women we help, it seems as if there is a lengthy “honeymoon” phase in the ex’s new life after he starts his affair or marries his new woman. He has done so much damage to himself, and to his first wife and family, that he usually tries extremely hard to make his new relationship work.
Men who break their promises and betray their families usually have no room or time to think about regret. Occasionally, they may have pangs of regret when milestones with the children are missed. Or when their family moves forward without them. But they seem to not allow themselves to go to that regret space very often. Instead, they blame us and our children for excluding them, and so regret doesn’t have a chance.
Men who leave relationships also don’t allow themselves to consider the fact that they may have made a mistake. Instead, they go full speed ahead to make everything in their new life seem perfect! Admitting that they may have made a mistake is very hard to do after the destruction and disappointment they have left in their wake everywhere.
For a man to regret leaving his wife and to admit that there is something to be sorry about, he would have to be vulnerable enough to be honest with himself and to have an active conscience. Most men are unlikely to share their regret with anyone. It would be too painful to admit.
Why Do Men Regret Leaving?
After we ask the basic question, Do Men Regret Leaving? We then have a smaller subset and can also ask, “If men do regret leaving, why do they regret it?” He may have second thoughts if his new love isn’t as wonderful as he thought she was. Maybe her children are mad at him, like his children are mad at her. Maybe, it’s simply that he may have two households to help support now. Maybe when the chase was over, the catch wasn’t what he hoped for.
Men are unlikely to spend much time asking themselves, like women do, “What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently and better? Why didn’t I understand what he needed?
I can’t personally get inside of a man’s thoughts. I can only go by what I hear from the women I help. Men are unlikely to ever admit they are hurting in the first place. If they do, it’s rare that they realize it’s usually because of bad choices they made. In Psychology Today, a therapist has information to share for why a man might leave and whether he might have regrets later.
Most women going through divorce get support. We sign up to get help. We go to the self-help section in the bookstore. In our resources, I often ask women how many of them think their ex-husband is snuffling around the self-help section at Barnes and Noble? Hardly any woman thinks her husband is doing that.
Instead, he acts like his life is amazing! His Facebook page is full of smiling, happy pics of his new love and him together. (She’s usually in something sexy!) He’s doing whatever he wants with whomever he wants whenever he wants. What is there to regret about that?!
Men and women tend to react differently when we have harmed someone. One of the ministers at our church said he hated to say this about men because “I are one :)),” but “men tend to go to a divorce recovery class to find a replacement for their ex. Women go to work on themselves, learn new relationship skills and get better.” (That’s another reason I strongly believe that divorce recovery groups need to be gender specific!)
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It Doesn’t Matter How He Feels
I always tell women who are going through divorce to stop ever expecting their ex-spouse to come to them and say, “I am so sorry. I made such a huge mistake. Can you ever forgive me?”
In my work with Midlife Divorce Recovery, women yearn for some sort of closure like that. They have visions where their ex or soon-to-be ex-husband admits he had some responsibility for the failure of the marriage and that he regrets leaving, and that she didn’t cause it.
I know from personal experience helping hundreds and hundreds of women, that it is very rare for a man to ever admit, especially to his wife, that he regrets that he left or regrets anything he did to make a divorce happen.
I did find an article, by a man who was full of regret and who felt so badly that he wrote an article telling men to think twice before having an affair and/or leaving his wife and family. If only men would see this article before they destroyed a family or left a good marriage.
If you’re a woman going through divorce or already divorced, stop hoping that your ex will ever admit to you that he regrets the divorce or regrets anything he did that led to the divorce. STOP EXPECTING THAT! It’s a waste of time and only leads to sadness and disappointment.
Don’t worry about whether your ex regrets leaving or not. It doesn’t really matter! The damage is done. You have your hands full trying to pick up the pieces. Don’t focus on something you can’t control…like some statement of regret from your ex-husband that wouldn’t change where you are, even if he had the guts to say it.
Your primary job now is for you to take care of yourself as you do the divorce grief work and healing work you have to do. Focus on YOU getting stronger…physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, financially and in every other way you can think of. That will be the best thing for your children, too. We can help make that happen.