126: Regret is Optional

Jan 31, 2023

What is your relationship with the feeling of regret? People talk about regret as if it's this thing that is beyond their control. Dr. Marie Murphy hears this from her clients regularly. They think regret just happens and it’s objectively bad. However, have you ever considered that regret is optional?

Making decisions around your infidelity situation comes with a level of difficulty, which always leaves open the possibility of regret. However, if you can thoroughly examine the considerations that go into making a choice, getting clear on what you do and don’t want in your romantic life, you can create a solid understanding of why you’re deciding on one thing over another so you don’t end up regretting your decision.

Tune in this week to discover why regret is optional, and how you can start preventing or minimizing it when it comes up for you. Dr. Marie Murphy is sharing why getting a handle on your relationship with regret is invaluable in dealing with your infidelity situation, and showing you how to take your preferences and priorities seriously, reducing or even eliminating the possibility of regret.

If you’re ready to take this topic deeper in a confidential and compassionate environment, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with Dr. Marie Murphy by clicking here!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why making decisions around your infidelity is so tricky to navigate.

  • The thoughts about a decision that generate feelings of regret.

  • Why deciding on what you want doesn’t have to be complicated or mysterious.

  • The potential costs of indulging in regret, even over seemingly small things.

  • How people resist seriously considering what they really want.

  • Why you need to be willing to feel the mixed emotions that come with making a big choice around your romantic life.

  • How to organize your thinking before you make a decision, so you can make the best of any outcome your choices have.

  • Why you are never stuck with a decision once you’ve made it and you can always choose again without feeling regret.

  • When to intentionally work toward accepting and enjoying your new reality before making any new decisions.

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy.  I’m a relationship coach and I help people who are cheating on their partners or engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do.  No shame, no blame, no judgments.  A lot of the so-called advice for people who are doing anything 

that might count as cheating is little more than thinly veiled judgment, but that is not what I provide.  I firmly believe that you are entitled to guidance and support that respects the fullness of your humanity, and the complexity of your situation, no matter what you’re doing.  If you’re ready to sort out your infidelity situation in a way that is truly right for you, I can help you do that.  If you’re ready to talk, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  One of the things I hear all the time from new clients is, “I wish I’d scheduled an appointment with you sooner.”  So if you’re ready for change, and ready for relief, I urge you to schedule your first appointment with me today.  


Today we are going to talk about regret.  A lot of people, including some of my clients, talk about regret as if it is this thing that can just happen to us, that’s beyond our control, and is really bad, if it happens.  And there’s a lot we could say about regret, but today I’m going to talk about why regret is optional and how we can prevent it or minimize it, and why it’s so valuable to get a handle on our relationship with regret.  


I think that one of the reasons why we fear regret, and think that regret is something that can just happen to us, is because we don’t know how to make decisions, or perhaps more accurately, we don’t have a process for making decisions that we like, and we don’t have a conceptual framework for dealing with the emotions that may come with decision-making.  And I think this is true – for some people, anyway – in a lot of areas of life.  Sometimes people tell me, “I’m just an indecisive person.”  Or, “I just have trouble with making decisions.”  So challenges related to regret and decisions can apply to anything.  


But when it comes to our love lives and our relationships, I think the business of making decisions seems even more fraught and loaded and even mysterious for a lot of people.  And I think this is the case for a lot of reasons, but two of the main ones are related.  On the one hand, we’ve collectively bought into the idea that being in a relationship is a good thing.  There’s a fair amount of societal pressure to have a partner, or perhaps more specifically, to get married.  And even if you aren’t dealing with direct pressure to get married, there’s a pretty prevalent idea out there that being in a relationship is a good thing – and that being in a relationship is supposed to make you feel good.  But, interestingly, even though we kind of push the idea of romantic partnership on people, we don’t collectively have a great set of resources for helping people clarify what they want in a romantic relationship, or whether they want to be in a romantic relationship at all, or what role or purpose they want a romantic relationship to serve in their lives.  And that leaves a lot of people in this very weird position of wanting and pursuing and committing to relationships for reasons they aren’t entirely clear on.  And then people wind up unhappy in their relationships, and they think that their relationship is the problem, but it’s probably much more appropriate to say that the real problem is they never knew exactly why they wanted a relationship or what they wanted in a relationship in the first place.


The good news is, no matter what seems unclear to us in our romantic lives, we always have the option of intentionally creating more clarity, and making decisions accordingly.


When we get clear on what we want and don’t want, we can make decisions for identifiable reasons that we like.  That’s the first thing that often goes wrong when people feel regret after making a decision.  They look back and say, “I don’t know why I did that.  I don’t know why I made that choice.  Maybe I shouldn’t have made that choice.  Oh, I’d probably be so much happier if I made a different choice.”  Those kinds of thoughts can quite easily generate the feeling of regret!


On the other hand, if we can thoroughly examine the considerations that go into making a choice, and identify reasons that we like for doing one thing versus another, we can create a solid understanding of why we are choosing one option vs. all the others.  Let me make it clear that although this process is simple, that doesn’t mean it can always be accomplished quickly.  If, for example, you are married or in a committed relationship and you’re contemplating leaving that relationship, thoroughly considering why you might want to leave the marriage and also considering why you might choose to stay in it might not be something you want to try to accomplish in 30 minutes or less.  But these ARE options that you can systematically evaluate, and come to definitive conclusions on.    


The process of deciding whether or not you want to stay married may be one you want to take seriously, but that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated or mysterious, and it certainly doesn’t have to take forever.  But you do have to be committed to thinking in an organized way, and allowing yourself to take your preferences and priorities seriously.  


Now, for a whole bunch of reasons, a lot of people have a hard time doing this!  People often RESIST doing this.  And this is one reason why it can be so useful to work with me if you’re having trouble making decisions about what you want to do about your relationships.  We can so easily get lost in our own unhelpful patterns of thinking.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that it is not that hard to develop new, more helpful patterns of thinking.


So one part of preventing or minimizing regret is making decisions for clear reasons that we like.  And to reiterate, although we may tell ourselves that it’s hard to come up with clear reasons why we would or would not do a particular thing, and then actually choose one option over others, this doesn’t have to be hard.  It may be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard – or complicated, or mysterious.  


Another part of preventing and minimizing regret is recognizing that we are pretty darn likely to have a lot of different thoughts about any major life change or choice we make, and with different thoughts come different feelings.  So, to use an example that has nothing to do with infidelity, if you are offered a dream job in a different city or even a different country, you may be thrilled about the opportunity.  AND you may be, perhaps, a little terrified.  You may be excited about the new experiences you’re likely to have, and you may be sad to relinquish aspects of your current life that you really enjoy.  Ultimately, probably have to make the choice to either take the job, or stay where you are – or at least, by not making a decision, you will have made a decision of sorts.  And there may be significant pros and cons for each option.  That’s not unusual, and that doesn’t have to be a reason why you “can’t” make a choice.  It’s not unusual to have a lot of big thoughts and feelings about major changes and choices in our lives – and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong if some of these thoughts and feelings seem to be in competition with each other.  


Knowing this is really important, because sometimes we assume that if a decision is “right” for us, we won’t have any doubt.  Or any fear.  Or any apprehension.  We’ll feel 100% amazing about making a particular choice.  And sometimes that happens!  It can.  But I encourage you to expect that this will not always happen.  It’s reasonable to have mixed thoughts and feelings about big choices and big changes in life, and understanding this intellectually is really important.  We also have to be willing to feel the mixed emotions that may come with a big choice.  We have to willing to feel good about making a decision, and also feel uncomfortable with the decision.  If we expect big choices and changes to just feel easy and great, we’re likely to second-guess ourselves or change course the moment any doubt or discomfort creeps up.  If we know, on the other hand, that mixed thoughts and feelings are normal, we don’t have to let them become roadblocks.  


Another part of eliminating or minimizing regret is committing ahead of time to loving the decisions we make.  Or we could also say that we commit to making the best of the decisions we make.  It helps a lot to organize our thinking before we make a decision, and have clear reasons for making a choice, but no matter how well we organize our thinking, and no matter how much we like the reasons for making a particular choice, it is entirely possible that there will be moments when we are not all that excited about living with the decision we make.  And one reason for that is, as I just said a moment ago, we tend to have many different thoughts and many different feelings about major life decisions.  If we leave our marriage to pursue other options in life, on some days we may feel exhilarated and free.  On other days, we may long for the comfort of our familiar old life.  If we take a new job half way across the world, on some days we may feel confused and alone, and on other days, we may feel intense delight and curiosity and enchantment.  Committing to loving a decision or making the best of a decision means that we intentionally look for what’s great about the decision we made – even as we allow ourselves to have mixed emotions.  We also dedicate ourselves to figuring out how to address unanticipated challenges.  Things may come up, as the result of us making a decision, that we could not have possibly planned for – and that we might not like very much.  And that’s not a problem, that’s just life!  And recognizing this and being willing to deal with this can totally change our relationship with regret.


I will give you a very current example of this from my own life.  If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you may recall that my beloved dog Seymour died last summer.  And for a while, I could not imagine having another dog, I couldn’t imagine having a dog that wasn’t Seymour.  But then, my spouse and I decided that we couldn’t imagine NOT having a new dog, so we went on the search for a Westie puppy.  Westie is short for West Highland White Terrier.  And we wanted to find a puppy SO BADLY.  And the search for a puppy took some time.  In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all, but at the time, the weeks and months of waiting seemed long.  And not knowing when or if we would find a puppy was really uncomfortable!  The uncertainty was just a normal part of the process, but it didn’t feel good!  And then, we finally got ourselves lined up to get a puppy from a particular breeder on a particular date, and we were so excited we practically couldn’t stand it.  And then finally the time came to pick up the puppy, whose name is Julius, and he is this amazing little creature, and it’s totally wonderful and great to have a sweet little baby animal in our home again.


AND it has also been a total fucking nightmare.  Although I of course knew on some level that we were getting a puppy, i.e., not a mature dog who is trained in various things and reasonably well behaved, I also kind of didn’t know that, in a sense.  Or put differently, I wasn’t fully prepared for the chaos of having a puppy, OR for the experience of co-parenting a puppy with someone who has, at times, very different ideas about many things in life than I do.  And the thing is, I’ve done all of this before.  My spouse and I have had a puppy together before.  But in a sense that matters, and in a sense it doesn’t.  This experience is what it is, and there was no way for me to fully anticipate what it would be like, even though I was as sure as I could possibly be that I really wanted this.


And I will tell you that there have been moments in the past few weeks when I have sorta wished we had not gotten a puppy, or sort of wished that we could just send the puppy back to where he came from.  And at times over the past few weeks, dealing with my spouse has not been fun at all.  He is a wonderful human, and I love him very much, but there have been some moments amidst the chaos of puppy life that have been incredibly unpleasant between us.  


But.  Here’s the thing.  I don’t think of any of this as an indication that anything has gone wrong.  I don’t consider having moments of not loving having a puppy a problem.  I don’t make my occasional doubts into a big deal.  I don’t make the intensely unpleasant moments with my spouse mean that he’s terrible, or I’m terrible, or our relationship is terrible.  The way I think about this situation is that it’s a big change for everybody, it’s wonderful in many ways, and stressful in others, and even though we’re all doing the best we can, it’s pretty much bound to be a shitshow at times.  I’m going to behave in ways I don’t really like, my spouse is going to behave in ways I don’t really like, and the puppy is going to be a puppy.  And even if it’s uncomfortable, which it has been, that’s okay.  I made the decision to get a puppy for reasons I really liked, and I committed to loving this experience, even though it isn’t 100% pleasant or easy or fun all the time.  


Now, there are times when we make a decision for reasons we feel great about, and then we start living in the results of our decision, and we’re like, wait a second.  I don’t think I like this AT ALL.  I don’t think I want to keep this decision, so to speak.  I think I might want to make some different decisions.


Now, notice that I did not say, “sometimes we make a decision for reasons we feel great about, and then we realize we made the wrong decision.”  This is important.  There’s really no such thing as a “right” decision or a “wrong” decision.  Not in any objective sense.  And when we tell ourselves that we made the “wrong decision,” we only create more problems for ourselves.


But that said, we’re still totally allowed to come to the conclusion that we really don’t like the consequences of a decision.  For instance, I COULD decide that I just don’t want to deal with having a puppy right now.  I could decide that I want to leave my spouse and my dog and run off somewhere without telling anyone where I’m going.  I could decide to insist to my spouse that we find a new home for the dog.  Right?  These are real options, and it would be totally legitimate for me to say, you know what, I WAS as sure as I could be that I wanted a dog, but now that I have one, I have decided that I really don’t like this, so I want to make a change.  We tend to think that that’s not okay, or that we’re not allowed to do that, but we ARE allowed to do that.  We are not stuck to a decision forever once we make it.  We can always choose again.  


But before we decide to do that, before we decide to make a new decision, it is often really really really helpful to commit to making the best of the current situation, AND to commit to riding out what may be a strange transition period.  It’s one thing to think about having a puppy.  It’s another thing to live with a puppy.  But we may not want to make any major decisions when we’re in the thick of riding out the strangeness of change.  We may want to commit to making the best of things for a while before we even consider considering changing course.


One example of how this can apply to infidelity situations is sometimes people leave one relationship to pursue a relationship with another person, and they made that decision carefully and thoughtfully, and they were really confident in their choice.  But then they move in with their new partner, and they’re like, wait a minute, this isn’t as great as I thought it would be.  Especially when we’re transitioning from a secret affair to having the freedom to be with someone all the time, and even live with them, there’s only so much we can do to prepare for that transition ahead of time.  We may know that our relationship with our former affair partner is going to be different when the relationship is no longer a secret, and we’re doing laundry together, and paying bills together, and navigating the more mundane aspects of life together instead of just having really exciting stolen moments.  And knowing that there will be a difference ahead of time is great.  But actually living it may be different than anything you could have anticipated.


My recommendation is usually to slow down.  Let the dust settle.  Give yourself time to live into the new reality you’ve created, and intentionally work on making the best of it before you make any new choices.


There are exceptions to this, of course.  Let’s say you move in with someone and they start doing something that you’d never seen them do before that you are 100% not okay with.  Like, let’s say as soon as you move in with your new partner, they start hitting you.  You may want to make a new decision right away!  You have every right to have firm and clear boundaries that you are not willing to negotiate on.  That’s important, but that’s not what I’m focusing on right now.  For today’s purposes, my point is that if you want to have a different relationship with regret, being willing to make the best of a decision is super important.  That doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever, but you make the best of a decision before you make a new one.  And then you can make a new one, and move forward!  No choice ever dooms you for good.


Now I’m going to switch gears a little bit and talk about the potential costs of indulging in regret, and why it’s so very worth it to develop a new orientation to regret.  I can very honestly tell you that I don’t have any big life regrets.  And this isn’t because I’ve lived my life in a way I consider perfect, but because of how I’ve chosen to think about my life, and my choices.


But I do have a lot of regrets about little things, and I will tell you that even though these regrets are about relatively minor matters, they do have an impact on my life that I do not consider positive.  So, I don’t know if this is a particular thing that I personally am cursed with or what, but I tend to fall madly in love with particular products, only for them to be discontinued as soon as I have decided that I never want to live without them.  And there are lots of examples of this, but the ones that seem to happen over and over are cosmetics, and hot sauces.  I will become a rabid fan of a particular line of nail polish, or lipstick, and then it will go away.  The company will go out of business, or completely change their product line, or whatever.  I will find a new hot sauce I love so much that I will literally drink it from the bottle, and then it will be discontinued.  This has happened to me so many times with products I’ve loved that at one point, it occurred to me that if I really like something, I should just buy a lifetime supply of it as soon as I fall in love with it, but for various reasons, I have resisted actually doing this.  Hot sauce doesn’t stay good forever.  Neither does lipstick.  So it seems kinda crazy to me to actually buy a few years’ worth of a hot sauce as soon as I decide I like it, just because I’ve had products I like disappear on me in the past.  But then “it” will happen again, and by “it,” I mean a product I love will vanish.  And I will cry and complain and curse myself for not having bought a lifetime supply of whatever it was, and I will feel regret when I think that way.


Now I realize how trivial all of this may sound.  It’s just makeup and hot sauce, right?  Well, yeah.  But I love makeup and hot sauce.  And I’m not kidding when I say that if you added up all of the minutes of my life I’ve spent being pissed off that my favorite makeup whatever thing went away, or my favorite hot sauce vanished and cannot be found even on eBay, it would add up to a number of hours I probably would truly prefer to have spent on other things.  


I’m totally comfortable with my love of makeup and hot sauce.  And I’m okay with being sad when my favorites of those disappear.  BUT.  All of the time I spend nursing my indignation that every hot sauce I truly love always disappears or every nail polish line I get really excited about gets discontinued, I take time away from searching for the next hot sauce I’m going to fall in love with.  Or the next awesome nail polish I’m going to fetishize.  And although I COULD tell myself that I have this weird track record of things I love getting discontinued and I really SHOULD know to buy a whole lot of anything I really like, telling myself that simply is not helpful after the fact.  By getting into a whole bunch of mind drama about how I should have known that because I loved something it would be taken away from me and therefore I should have bought more of it at the time, all I’m doing is creating a bunch of negative emotion for myself.  And from that emotional state, I don’t do anything that enhances my life all that much.  For example – and I am totally serious about this, for better or worse – my neighbor’s husband died recently and suddenly, and she’s blind, and she needs help going to the grocery store.  And I spent about an hour the other day searching for a discontinued hot sauce that I could have spent taking my neighbor to the grocery store.  It’s IMPORTANT to help my neighbor.  But in that moment, I just got sucked into that crazy rabbit hole of desperation and regret.  


And I am not saying this to shame myself.  I can live with the fact that I spent some time the other day searching for a beloved hot sauce that I could have spent taking my neighbor to the grocery store.  Humans do this stuff sometimes, and I am definitely human, and it’s okay.  But, when I think seriously about what’s important to me, I DO want to spend less time lamenting the disappearance of discontinued lipsticks and more time doing things like taking my blind neighbor to the grocery store.  Not because taking my neighbor grocery shopping is inherently better, or better in some absolute or moral sense.  Hot sauce and lipstick are important things, people, and I firmly believe that time spent seeking out things you love and enjoy and appreciate can be time well spent.  But in my experience, chasing things that are gone, and regretting that you didn’t get more of them while you could have does not constitute time well spent.


And that’s the big point here.  I can still take my neighbor grocery shopping, even if I missed an opportunity to do so.  But the more time we spend regretting things that have already happened, or lamenting what we think went wrong in the past, or chasing things that are already gone, the more time we DON’T spend engaging with what is currently available to us.  When we’re investing time and energy into regret, that’s time and energy we are not investing into creating the life we want to live NOW.  A little time squandered here and there does not have to be a big deal.  We don’t have to be obsessed with optimizing every moment.  That is NOT the point here.  But there is a point to be made that the moments we spend in state of regret can add up to quite a lot of time indeed, and that can have an impact on our present and our future that we don’t really like.


This episode is related to episode 59, which is called, “Is the grass always greener?”  If you’re grappling with regret, or concerned that you might make a decision that you would later regret, I encourage you to check out that episode, too, if you haven’t already.  And of course, if you are in the midst of regretting a relationship decision, or you’re afraid of making a decision about your infidelity situation that you might later regret, let’s talk!  I can help you change your relationship with regret so that you can get busy living a love life that you are truly in love with.  When you’re ready to work with me, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  You can also learn about my current coaching packages and pricing on the services page of my website.  I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, which means we can work together no matter where you’re located.  I can’t wait to meet you.


All right everyone!  Thank you all so much for listening.  Bye for now.


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