Be More Independent In Your Relationship

It might seem like making a commitment has to mean letting go of some of your independence, but couples who retain a sense of personal independence may be quicker at resolving arguments and better able to invest in the relationship [1].

There’s something fun about merging your life with your significant other, particularly in the early stages, but it’s important to maintain the qualities that make you who you are as an individual – after all, that’s what your partner fell in love with in the first place.

Having an independent streak doesn’t mean you’re afraid of commitment – people with a strong sense of personal identity can actually be better communicators. They are less defensive, more honest, and more flexible. They find it easier to be open and to put things into perspective [2].

A strong sense of individuality, then, can mean you have stronger relationships. When you and your partner support and nurture each other’s need for independence, you can start to find a balance that means you’re also happier and more confident in the relationship [3].

If you’d like to reclaim a bit of independence as a way of strengthening your relationship, you might want to try the following.

1. Spend some time alone

Alone time gives you a chance to recharge and refresh. We all need a bit of solitude and it’s easy to forget this when we get into relationships. Spend some time reading, or catching up on emails, or just watching something your partner might not be into.

It’s also important to keep in touch with your friends, and do some of the things you did when you were single. If you’ve got a group of friends you used to hang out with, give them a call and arrange something. An evening away from your partner will broaden your experiences and give you more to talk about when you next see each other.

2. Keep your online lives separate

Social media plays a big part in how we present ourselves to the world, and how we interact with our friends and families. Being in a relationship can mean our online lives also intermingle with our real lives.

For some couples, declaring your love online can make you feel closer and more connected. For others, however, it can feel like a bit of a threat to privacy and independence, knowing that a partner can check up on what we’re up to and who we’re talking to [4].

Don’t go snooping, or trying to work out who they’ve been chatting to – maybe even disconnect your profiles, or mute your partner’s feed. Give each other some online space as well as real space.

3. Plan your own future

Life is full of big decisions. Your decisions around what to do with your life – like where to study, and where to work – may be influenced by a number of factors, including what you can afford. If you are in a long-term relationship, you may need consider whether or not to factor your partner into the decisions [3].

Coordinating our life plans with those of our partner can mean having to be flexible and make a few compromises, so think carefully about what’s most important to you and make sure your decisions suit you as an individual as well as you as couple.

These days, many people are choosing to wait until a bit later in life before settling into long-term relationships [3]. This can provide an opportunity to figure out what you want as an individual before making decisions about what you want from your romantic relationship.

4. Try living apart together

One – possibly extreme – solution to the issue of combining a committed relationship with personal independence is the increasingly popular practice of living apart together. Couples are described as living apart together when they are in a monogamous relationship but have chosen to maintain separate homes [5].

For many younger adults, living apart together might be a necessity, based on working or studying arrangements, or finances [6], but it could also be an attractive option for couples who want to be together while enjoying their own independence.

Living apart together means you can have more control over your daily life, your home arrangements, and even your finances. If these are the kinds of things you tend to argue about, then living apart together might also reduce the risk of conflict in your relationship [6].

You don’t necessarily have to go as far as living apart together but, if you’re the kind of person who falls in deep, you might want to take a moment to remind yourself who you are outside of your relationship with your partner, and to support your partner in doing the same. It might just help you get along a little better with one another

Tips For Dating Someone From Another Culture

Keeping lines of communication open can help strengthen your relationship, particularly if you and your partner come from different cultural backgrounds.

Historically, falling for someone from another culture might have been big trouble, but a lot has changed over the last few decades and people are generally much more accepting of young people’s choices of partner these days.

Research shows that dating across different cultures – which includes different races, ethnicities, or different faiths – has become much more common among young people and carries less stigma than it used to [1]. Some studies have shown that couples from different cultures might be more likely to experience conflict in their relationships.

Talking about these difficulties, however, not only alleviates the conflict but can actually help your relationship to develop and grow stronger [1]. In other words, having differences can be a really positive thing, as long as you celebrate them. Making an effort to understand and appreciate each other’s backgrounds can be an enriching experience that also helps you maintain your relationship quality.

If you have a partner whose religious beliefs are different to your own, you may find your differences are particularly pronounced, which could lead to more disagreements that are harder to resolve [1]. This may be because we often develop our religious beliefs from a young age, but also because we feel them strongly and can struggle to articulate them [2].

On the other hand, you may also find it’s possible to ignore your religious differences for the most part. They may not affect your romantic relationships at all until you reach major life events like marriage – when you’re younger and still exploring relationships, religion doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge issue.

Generally speaking, it’s really helpful to be open and communicative about any cultural or religious differences you have with your partner, as this can help you both feel more satisfied with your relationship.

If you’re in a relationship with someone from a different culture or religion and you haven’t talked about it yet, have a think about how you might express an interest in your partner’s background and beliefs, and see where it takes you. Let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Tips to Be A Happy Young Parent

As teenagers, we are still figuring out who we are, and what we want from life. We are forging our adult identities, and our romantic relationships set the tone for the future.

Finding out you’re going to become a young parent plunges you into another major life transition just as you’re figuring out how to deal with the rest of life’s struggles [1]. Ensuring you have the right support in place can make all the difference.

If you’re in a relationship, the increased stress of pregnancy and raising a child can lead to putting extra strain on the relationship. One study found nearly half of young parents’ relationships had broken up by the time the child was a year old [2]. You can protect against this by knowing about the factors that keep relationships strong, and where to get extra support.

Getting support

Just having a partner can be beneficial to you as a parent. Studies have shown that young mums supported by their partners feel more satisfied with their lives, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to be stressed [3, 4, 5]. They are also likely to feel more ready for parenthood.

However, if you don’t have a partner, you needn’t despair. Research shows that single young parents who have good support from their parents and other family members can also report feeling more satisfied with their lives, and are less likely to be depressed or anxious [5].

Even if you don’t have support from your family, you can still feel the benefits of external support by connecting with other young parents or expectant parents through online forums. This kind of social support and parenting advice is also linked to stronger wellbeing [6], so it’s worth seeking support wherever you can get it.

Relationship quality

To protect against the breakdown of a relationship, it’s important to think about relationship quality. Evidence shows that the good bits of your relationship not only protect against breakup, but also help you feel more confident as a parent [1]. This is true even if your partner isn’t the child’s biological parent [5].

A positive relationship between you and your partner is also good for your child, as they are less likely to be exposed to conflict and stress [7, 8].

A strong sense of mutual love and attraction can often be enough to protect your relationship, but if you want to do something to make things stronger, consider upping your relationship equity. This means that you both make an equal contribution to the relationship. You can do this by sharing chores and childcare, but also by showing equal affection and support [9].

If your relationship breaks down, and you’re not getting the support you need from family and friends, you can try visiting the young parents section of the Family Lives website or using our forums to ask for tips and social support from other young parents.

Learn More About Sexting

Sexting can be fun, but there’s a lot to consider if you want to get it right. Learning about the risks can help keep you and your partner safe and free from undue pressure.

When we talk about sexting, we’re including anything from sexually suggestive texts to any sexually explicit message sent by text or social media, including those with naked pictures attached [1].

Sexting is fairly common among teenagers, and even more common among young adults and university students. One report suggests that half of adolescents have been asked to send naked pictures of themselves and one in four have actually done it [2]. These figures get higher among students and young adults [3].

OK, so what are the risks?

You may have already heard a lot about the public concern around sexting, as it’s had a fair bit of media attention. There was even a law passed that means under-eighteens could be prosecuted for taking explicit pictures of themselves.

A study in 2012 showed that the majority of teens were not happy about being asked to send naked pictures, and girls were particularly bothered by this [2].

So remember this if you’re trying to convince someone to send you a naked picture. Even if you have a great relationship and really trust each other, your partner is allowed to make a choice about what they will or won’t send you, just as they have a choice about what they will or won’t do.

Before you click ‘send’, make sure you’ve got consent from the person at the other end. Just imagine how you’d feel receiving a picture of someone’s bits and bobs that you didn’t want or weren’t ready to see.

Other risks include sexual harassment, grooming, and cyberbullying [4] [5]. If you send a sext, remember that it’s no longer in your control. Words and pictures can be shared, either accidentally or deliberately, and there’s never a guarantee that your sext will only be seen by the person you sent it to.

Feeling the pressure

A recent study showed that more than half of university age students had felt pressured into sexting, and had sent messages and images that they didn’t really want to [6]. In other words, even if someone says it’s OK, they still might be secretly worried about it.

Another study [7] showed that many young people – men and women alike – had actually been coerced into sending sexts. Their partners had used mild threats and manipulation, withholding affection or playing on the status of the relationship to get them to send sexts.

This was linked to other coercive behaviours in the relationship, so think carefully before you ask someone to sext you. Or, better yet, don’t ask. If they really want to sext you, they’ll do it in their own time.

And now the fun part

We did promise we’d get onto the positive side of all this, and we’ve finally made it. Hopefully you’ll agree that all that risky stuff was worth being aware of though. Well done for making it this far.

However, despite evidence of a number of risks, there is also research to suggest that the majority of sexting happens voluntarily, within relationships, and between trusted partners [3] [5]. But it’s really worth making sure you’re on this side of the fence and not the other.

Sexting can be a really fun part of your relationship. It can be a way to maintain intimacy if it’s difficult for you to get private time together, or if you’re in a long-distance relationship, or if you just want to have a bit of sexy fun without actually having sex.

If you have religious beliefs or there are other factors that mean you can’t or don’t want to have sex, you may find you can use sexting as a way of being intimate. And, despite the risks mentioned above, you do at least know with a sext that you’re safe from STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

In a new relationship, sexting can also be a way to start introducing sex into the relationship, or just a fun addition to your flirting.

Here’s what you do

So there’s a dark side and a light side to all this. There are some really positive reasons why you might want to share intimate messages with your partner and, if you do it considerately and sensitively, it can add a fun element to the sexual side of your relationship.

  • Be considerate – not everyone wants to see a naked picture of you. Think before you send.
  • Be conscious of consent – ‘no’ means ‘no’. Sometimes ‘maybe’ also means ‘no’. Even ‘yeah, OK’ can mean ‘no’. Listen properly.
  • Be careful – consider how you’d feel if someone else saw the message or picture before you decide to send it. There’s always a risk it could be seen by people outside of your relationship.
  • Be cool – a lot of people don’t like being asked to send sexts. Don’t be the one to put pressure on.

If it’s going to happen, let it happen naturally, and make sure that everyone involved is happy to be involved. And that means really happy – hold out for enthusiasm.

Learn More About Sex and disability

Despite some misconceptions, young disabled people have active sex lives. Some studies suggest that disabled adolescents may even be at greater risk of having unsafe sex.

Dating, sex, and romance are a standard part of many young people’s lives. However, most of us who’ve been through it or are going through it will recognise that sexuality can be very complicated and highly personal.

If you are a young person with a long-term illness or disability, it might feel like there’s a whole extra bundle of complications thrown in.

Disability can be associated with factors like social stigma and a reliance on the support of others, all of which can get in the way of how you meet new people and develop relationships [1]. You may also have important routines around medication and treatments that affect how you manage your free time [2].

Many young disabled people have also expressed fear around being rejected by potential partners, worrying that they might not be considered attractive or won’t be thought of as a romantic partner [3].

Getting on just fine

However, despite evidence to suggest things might be trickier, some research suggests that disabled people are getting on just fine when it comes to sex and relationships.

While some studies showed relatively low sexual activity among young disabled people [1] [4], others showed only minor differences between adolescents with and without disabilities when it comes to having sex, exploring sexual orientation, and the age of first sexual experiences [5].

It depends largely on the type of illness or disability you are dealing with. In one example, a study showed that young people with diabetes defined their relationship more by companionship than by physical intimacy and that relationships were more likely to last longer [2].

So, what do you need to know?

One of the major risks for young disabled people is a lack of proper sex education. Despite what we know about the active sex lives of disabled people, there remains a misconception that disabled people aren’t sexual or aren’t interested in sex [6].

This can mean safe sex practices like STD prevention aren’t discussed by parents and educators as much as they should be [7]. Unplanned pregnancies tend to be fairly high in this demographic too [8].

Some research even suggests that disabled people have more sex than their non-disabled contemporaries and may even be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour [9].

So, while a chronic illness or disability can complicate sexual development, it doesn’t necessarily get in the way of it, or change it. Young disabled people are going through very similar experiences to their non-disabled friends [10], and the more we talk about this, the more we can do to make sure sexual education is available for and tailored to everyon

Tips to Dealing with debt in a relationship

Whether it’s a credit card or a bank loan, help from a family member, a quick dip into the overdraft, or even a payday loan, almost everyone has some experience of borrowing money.

In between borrowing money and paying it back, we are in debt. As long as we have the means to pay it back, debt can be a useful way of managing money – but it can end up costing more than it is worth.

How debt affects your relationship

Money worries are one of the biggest causes of stress and arguments in UK households [1], sitting in the top three relationship strains for 55 percent of couples and for parents, it’s 61 percent [2]. A quarter of people have found money worries getting in the way of their sex lives [3] and one study suggests that couples who get into problem debt are twice as likely to break up [4].

If you are worried about debt, it’s better that your partner finds out sooner rather than later. When you are under pressure financially, your partner will pick up on it and bear some of the brunt of that strain. Many people feel ashamed of debt, or think they can handle it better alone. However, keeping debt a secret can just make things worse. By sharing the concern with your partner, you can share the burden and work together towards a solution [5].

Getting into debt

Couples can get into debt when entering a new phase of the relationship, like moving in together, getting married, or having a baby. These times are always challenging, no matter how positive and exciting the change. Your relationship is intensified and magnified as you step up the commitment and costs can escalate.

In these times, couples tend to have big expectations of the future, and how their lives will be [6]. While it can be tempting to load up a few credit cards to get the things you want, it’s important not to borrow more than you can reasonably plan to pay back.

Being in debt makes it much harder to live up to your expectations of the future anyway. The more debt you have, the more likely you are to argue, and the less time you are likely to spend together [6].

How to deal with debt

  • Talk to your partner. Get things out in the open and share the burden.
  • Put all your debts in front of you. Open your post and check your accounts. Hiding from debt won’t make it go away and could make it worse.
  • Make a budget. Look at what you are spending and where you can cut back.
  • Work out how much you can afford to pay off each month.
  • Contact your creditors to can organise a payment plan, even if it’s only a small amount.
  • Speak to a debt advice organisation. Free services like The Debt Counsellors or The Debt Advice Foundationcan help you get all this information together and offer tips on how to negotiate repayment plans with creditors.

Dealing with debt takes time and understanding [7]. You can make things easier by getting help from debt organisations, but keep in mind that money issues can persist. You may need support not only with money issues, but also with the relationship strains that can accompany them.

If you and your partner want some extra support, counsellors such as those at Relate may be able to help you deal with relationship issues, whether debt-related or not [7]. The good news is that once the debt has been paid off, relationship quality has been shown to improve again

How To Working out And be A Parent Together

In stressful times, couples can often find it hard to communicate and may feel misunderstood or ignored by their partner.

During pregnancy and the first few months of a baby’s life both partners tend to cope better if they can find specific ways to support each other. However, you might find that you and your partner have different ideas about how to be supportive.

Some new parents, particularly mothers, might just want to vent their frustrations, perhaps expressing desperation at feeling unable to meet their baby’s needs. You might hear this and feel your partner wants you to find the answers. However, she might just be looking for reassurance that she’s doing her best and is a good mother.

What most new parents want is simply reassurance from their partner

Many parents, often fathers, feel overwhelmed by having to be the breadwinner, particular if they feel that this is their main role. They may be looking for attention or hoping to be let in more to the parenting decisions. When a parent feels left out, they may also feel angry or resentful towards their partner and the baby.

Both parents can be left feeling unsupported and unloved, which can lead to further difficulties if the problems are not dealt with. In reality, you both still want the same things: to be happy together with your baby and to be comforted and supported by each other. Couples who get through the difficult early months and take pleasure in enjoying the baby together, can find a deeper bond emerging.

Working out ‘how’ to be a parent

New parents often argue about differences over how to handle the baby; pick her up or leave her? Feed on demand or four-hourly? Should they follow their parents’ methods and, if so, whose parents?

Mothers, or primary carers may feel they know best because they spend more time with the baby and feel they know them better. However, if you find it hard to let your partner help or question his handling of the baby too much, he may end up feeling undermined and unsupported. So it’s better to talk through your differences calmly – criticism on either side will only make things harder.

As new parents, you may find it difficult to get time to talk, as well as not always knowing what to say. You may just want to bottle up your feelings or you may become more argumentative because you’re tired and irritable. It can start to feel like you’re on different sides and you may start to feel hurt and resentful.

But it’s always worth opening up a conversation. Be honest about how you feel and the part you want to play, both as a parent and a partner. Give your partner the opportunity to talk too. Keep listening to each other and try to agree that you’ll both do your best to support each other in your new roles.

Some Relationship problems after a baby arrives

When you feel like things aren’t what they used to be in your relationship, it can be a sad time. Having a baby can bring this feeling on overnight, so it’s important to recognise and accept that all relationships change and adapt over time.

Having a baby is such an exciting time with so many positives that it’s easy to see why couples expect to feel happier together and it can come as a real shock to find that you are not getting on. But research shows that this is normal – parenthood is often the most difficult transition anyone will have to make.

Struggling with new roles

You may struggle to hold onto a clear sense of who you are when you first become a parent. You have to get used to a new identity and sometimes the other roles in your life become secondary, at least in the beginning. This includes your role as a partner.

New mums may also find it difficult to adjust to changes in their body like increased weight, stretch marks, sagging and scarring. The demands of breastfeeding can be difficult to adjust to and many new mums find themselves feeling unattractive or at odds with their body.

However, while some mothers and fathers may feel the loss of their old selves, others are happy with their new identity.

Loss of freedom

The demands of having a baby to look after can leave you feeling like you no longer have any individual freedom. Many parents struggle with not being able to come and go as they please, to go out and to enjoy their own interests.

Life with children brings a new routine of mealtimes, nap times and bedtimes. Adjusting to this new lifestyle with no letup can feel very suffocating for some parents and may take a lot of adjusting to.

Changes to other relationships

Having a baby can also change your relationships with other people, including your family, friends, parents and in-laws.

Many couples find they develop a stronger bond with their own parents and their in-laws. This often comes from a combination of enjoying a shared interest in the baby, and a reliance on support with childcare. But it isn’t all plain sailing. There are often difficulties with partners’ families, particularly if they interfere with your way of doing things. Some couples struggle with interference or criticism from their own parents, and difficult relationships may become even more strained.

Some partners want to go back to the traditional ways of doing things that they were brought up with, which can lead to conflict between couples because they each have different ways of doing things.

New parenthood can stir up past childhood experiences and feelings and it may also stir up old memories of parenting for the new grandparents.

If you have difficulties with your parents or in-laws, it’s often best to discuss them with your partner first and work out what you’re going to say. That way you can present a united front and avoid letting your in-laws or parents create any difficulties in your relationship with your partner.

Relationships with friends

It can be hard to keep up with old friends, particularly if they don’t have children of their own. They have different schedules and may not understand the demands on your time – especially at the beginning. But having a baby gives you lots of opportunities to make new friends with other new parents, who can be a great source of advice and support.

What else helps

Remember to look after yourself. This means eating well, resting when you can, and exercising if possible. Most importantly, though, try to recognise that things will get easier.

Meet other new parents Being with a baby can be lonely and isolating; other new parents can offer support or just be someone to talk to from time to time. Your health visitor or GP may know of local groups, or you can try your local Children’s Centre, library, NCT group, or faith centre.

Don’t expect too much of yourself. You, your partner and your family are the most important thing to care about, especially when the baby is small. Don’t worry too much about the housework or cooking fancy meals. Most other things can wait.

Take time to enjoy your baby. As parents of older children say, the time when your baby is small will fly by (although it may not seem like it!). It won’t be long before they’re off to school or leaving home, so enjoy this time while it lasts.

Tips to Supporting a Partner With An Eating Disorder

If your partner has an eating disorder, you may be feeling lots of guilt, frustration and stress. You may also feel pressure to keep an eye on your other half’s eating habits and behaviours, and feel guilty and responsible if they have a relapse.

If you don’t have an eating disorder yourself, you may also feel isolated and confused about the situation and its effect on you and your relationship [1] [2]. However, there are some things you can do to help.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week runs from 27 February to 5 March. This is an international awareness event which challenges the myths surrounding eating disorders. You can find more information about the week and about eating disorders in general at the website of the UK eating disorder charity, Beat.

The term ‘eating disorder’ covers a range of conditions, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. They can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background [3], and can have a physical, psychological and social impact. However, it may help to know that you can play an important role in supporting your partner and possibly in helping their recovery [4].

Eating disorders can affect couples in a number of ways. Concerns about body image can lead to anxiety around sex, and reduced sexual desire [5]. Your social lives may also be negatively affected, particularly when planning activities that involve food (like going to the supermarket, preparing a meal or choosing a restaurant to go to). Your partner may worry about who will be at social events, what food will be available, who will see them eating, and the body sizes of those present [6].

But there are ways you can help your partner deal with these difficulties. One study found that couples who educate themselves about eating disorders understand the experience better, and may be better able to support each other. Focusing on positive communication skills, such as listening, being open and being understanding, also helps. It is much better to use “I-statements”, than “you-statements”, as they will make your partner feel less judged. For example, try saying, “I’m worried about you” instead of “You are making me worried”.

Your partner may have received some support for their eating disorder (whether that’s therapy or less formal support), but partners and loved ones rarely report receiving help for themselves [6]. Beat currently provides fortnightly online support for loved ones aged 18 or over, as well as a Youthline for those under 18. Beat also has a useful and comprehensive guide on supporting a partner with an eating disorder.

We encourage you to check out and find out more about Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Although there are significant challenges for couples dealing with an eating disorder, it may help to know that in recent research studies, people have reported that going through the experience and recovery process as a couple has ultimately brought them closer together

Know A Good or Bad Thing In Life

“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations – one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it – you will regret both”–Soren Kierkegaard

Most people have regrets about something in their lives, particularly those who are dying. There are conflicting views as to whether having these regrets serve a purpose and are a healthy. Is it possible to have no regrets? Which regrets are more powerful—the ones that involve mistakes we have made, or the ones that involve things we didn’t do?

What are Regrets?

A regret is defined as when we feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over something that we have done, or something we haven’t done or a loss or missed opportunity. We can feel remorseful and sorrowful over an event, behavior or decision.

Janet Landman, author of Regret: Persistence of the Possible, defined regret as a “more or less painful cognitive and emotional state of feeling sorry for misfortunes, limitations, losses, transgressions, shortcomings or mistakes. It is an experience of felt-reason or reasoned-emotion. The regretted matters may be sins of commission as well as sins of omission; they may range from the voluntary to the uncontrollable and accidental; they may be actually executed deeds or entirely mental ones committed by oneself or by another person or group; they may be moral or legal transgressions or morally and legally neutral.”

Some research seems to suggest, therefore, that a definition difference is that of action vs inaction. The data seems to suggest that people not taking action that they regret had a more powerful impact on them then the actions they took which they regret. Also, regrets of action more often involved a decision made at a specific choice point than did inactions, which were more likely to to result from an accumulated, unfocused pattern of inaction.

Thomas Giloviqh and Vitoria Husted Medvec argue in their published study that there is a temporal pattern to the experience of regret and document the importance of psychological processes that decrease the pain of regrettable action over time; bolster the pain of regrettable inaction over time, and; show how a person’s cognitive processes impact the difference.

Giloviqh and Medvec conclude the following:

  • More compensatory actions are taken to ameliorate regrettable actions;
  • The passage of time brings an increase in retrospection, and belief that the failure to act was inexcusable;
  • The consequences of regrettable actions tend to be finite; the consequences of regrettable inaction tend to be psychologically infinite;
  • Regrettable failures to act tend to more memorable and enduring than regrettable actions.

Some people argue that we should “regret nothing” or that they “wouldn’t do things differently,” if they could live their lives over again. While not doubting the sincerity of those beliefs, that’s hard to accept at face value, Giloviqh and Medvec argue. First, living a life where you haven’t made mistakes is either extremely difficult to accomplish, or the person is not telling the truth. If the mistakes we made resulted in harm to others, society or the environment, there’s a good reason to be regretful. With that reason is the realization that other choices could have been made with less negative results. Similarly, failing to take action in a situation that may have resulted in harm could also be a situation where regret is understandable, and another choice could have been made.

Other research studies show that we do have short-lived regrets for our mistakes, but usually within two weeks. But the regrets for things we didn’t do, the missed opportunities? Those can last for years.

What Are the Most Common Regrets?

In the various studies of people who are dying, there are some common themes. For example, Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, and author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, describes the following regrets as being in common among her patients:

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” A lot of people live a life they think should be living according to society, friends, or family and end up with the realization that it was not the life they wanted to live. Connected to this regret is an unspoken wish that they had discovered and followed their purpose in life sooner (or at all).
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” We’ve all heard the expression, “no-one on their death bed says ‘I wish I had worked more at the office.’” People on their death bed more frequently talk about wishing they had spent more time with their family, friends and doing things other than work.
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” While there some wide variations in personality and culture regarding emotional expression, there is considerable evidence that it is a fundamental part of emotional intelligence which is a significant contributor to mental health and well-being.
  4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” As we age, friendships change, friends are lost and our lives become so busy with other things, that nurturing friendships can often be neglected. Yet, research shows the power of friendship gets stronger with age and may even be more important than family relationships.
  5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Life can become a continuous focus on activities, goals, lifestyle and material possessions, and there are times when we don’t take the time to truly examine what really contributes to long-term happiness and meaning in life. Considerable evidence now exists to illustrate the factors that significantly make an impact on our happiness.
A common thread that runs through these five regrets of the dying is that there are all omissions (things that were not done), as opposed to commissions (mistakes we have made for which we may also feel guilt).

Neal Roese published a study in which he examined this question, and concluded the following most common regrets:

  • Lost loves
  • Family relationships
  • Insufficient education
  • Career dissatisfaction
  • Financial concerns
  • Parenting issues
  • Personal health
  • Friendships

Roese noted as well, that women had most frequent regrets about romance, whereas men had work regrets. He also concluded that regrets were balanced between omissions and commissions.

Other studies have identified the following regrets as being shared by many people:

  • “I wish I had taken more risks”
  •  “I wish I had touched more lives and inspired more people”
  • “I wish I cared less of what others think of me”
  • “I wish I hadn’t worried so much about things.”
  • “I wish I had lived in the present/now”
  • “I wish I hadn’t taken life for granted.”
  • “I wish I had stood up to bullies in school and life.”
  • “I wish I had let go of old resentments towards family or friends
  • “I wish I had trusted my intuition more.”
  • “I regret choosing the wrong people for friends when I was younger.”
Should We Take Action To Eliminate or Reduce Our Regrets?

The answer to that depends on whether the regret is related to an act of commission on our part, or an act of omission, as previously mentioned. Regret for behavior or actions we may have taken in the past where harm was done to others serves a healthy purpose if we subsequently take responsibility for our actions, and where feasible, do something to make amends to those injured. In that way, we are taking responsibility for the present, and not being mired in the past.

Mark Coleman in his book Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic, says we encourage feelings of regret by feeding our inner critic, and by saying “not enough,” “not good enough,” or sometimes “too much.” All are judgments and second guessing yourself.

Fellow PT blogger, Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., argues “The pain of regret can result in refocusing and taking corrective action or pursuing a new path. However, the less opportunity one has to change the situation, the more likely it is that regret can turn into rumination and chronic stress that damages mind and body.” Certainly, continuing regret over actions taken can be psychologically damaging. Greenberg says “Regret can have damaging effects on mind and body when it turns into fruitless rumination and self-blame that keeps people from re-engaging with life. This pattern of repetitive, negative, self-focused ruminative thinking is characteristic of depression and may be a cause of this mental health problem as well.”

Neal Roese argues that regret is rated favorably as a useful process because it can be the impetus for positive action. In his research regret was helpful for individuals in, among other things, avoiding future negative behaviors and gaining insight.

Psychological and emotional pain often accompanies regrets. The research seems to indicate that people engage in strategies to deal with regret involving action more readily than regrets about inaction.

Regrets over missed opportunities, or decisions or choices that are not made, are different, partly because there may not be a causal relationship between the inaction and the resulting harm that was done either to others or to self. Yet, as mentioned, these regrets of omission tend to be persistent and long-term, if not as intense.

Often, people who harbor regrets of omission think they would do things differently if presented with the same scenario, decision, or choice again. But this is faulty logic. First, we can’t revisit the past and have a do-over. Second, if a future similar situation arose, it would never be completely the same as there are too many variables to replicate. Finally, ruminating or obsessing about a regret of omission assumes 20/20 retroactive vision—that we could see then what we see now—which is not possible. We often make the choices and decisions in life at the time given what we know. The focus of dealing productively with the consequences of our choices and decisions is just as important as the decision or choice itself.

In addition to some cognitive psychotherapy, mindfulness can be very helpful as a strategy in dealing with regrets of omission. In particular, mindfulness emphasizes living in the present, and not focusing excessively on the past or future. Second, mindfulness teaches us to accept the feelings and emotions we have without agonizing over them, or blocking, avoiding or pushing them away. Accepting that we may feel regret, but not letting that regret control our emotional state is critical. And finally, embracing non-attachment—to things, people, events, choices, and decisions—and seeing them all as clouds floating by, or leafs on the stream of our lives, will give us a healthy perspective.

In the final analysis, life just is, not what we wish it to be, or as my teacher taught me: “It is what it is, and it’s nothing more.”