When life gets stressful, it can make you think twice about how things could have been different--but too much questioning can turn toxic. Here's how to break the pattern. By Brie Schwartz, REDBOOK.
Stop putting past relationships on a pedestal
We've all been there. Those days, when your husband won't pick up his phone all day, two of your friends booked anniversary trips, and you get offered a job you can't take because it doesn't fit your family's schedule, it's easy to float back to a time when things were easier with an ex who quoted you poetry and seemed to know exactly when your shoulders needed a rub. All of a sudden, you could find yourself wondering what life would be like if you'd stayed with the co-ed who got away. "It's easy to romanticize someone that you broke up with because your memory is not of the reality," says clinical psychologist Dr. Melanie Greenberg. "You don't have the experience of doing errands and all of that mundane stuff that's a part of a lasting relationship." The key is to remember that you found a husband who loves you and has been there through it all. It's not fair to compare your college boyfriend to your partner. The other guy is just a fantasy. Your partner is a reality who never gave up on you.
Related: The 10 Phrases That Make Men Go Ballistic
Accentuate the positive
Fixating on "what ifs" can spiral you into a dark, unproductive place. "If you spend your whole day questioning why you married your husband, you're going to look for his bad qualities and fail to notice the good in him," says Greenberg. For instance, when he comes home after a stressful day of work, his first stop might be to check the score on Monday night football, not the kitchen to do the dishes he promised he'd take care of. If you're fixated on his annoying flaws, you may take this as a sign that he's willfully ignoring your wishes. More often than not, it results in an exaggerations-filled fight about how he never listens to you, followed by more false thinking that if you'd married any of your friend's dutiful, loving husbands, you'd never have to remind them to clean. When you aren't dwelling on regret, you can more clearly see that your husband just needed to decompress for a minute before he started his chores. His desire to take a moment for himself isn't a reflection of how much he cares about you.
Sign off social media
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great tools for keeping in touch with your old kindergarten buddies, but it's not so awesome when you find yourself spending hours scrolling through your ex's photos, noting how happy he looks with his wife and twins. But this is all perception-and you don't have the full set of facts. Just because your former flame appears to be a great dad who's laughing hysterically on a beach does not mean that he's better off than you are. Don't be fooled by the perfectly-posed pictures or the happy hashtags. Instead, actively focus on the good you have in your life by taking stock of all of the things that make you smile off-camera-whether it's your husband's homemade pizza, unexpected texts, or the fact that he willingly watches The Bachelorette even when baseball's on. These little things can't be Instagramed. (That is, without the pizza getting cold.)
Related: 10 Things Men Are Too Scared To Ask Women
Consider what you can change
Often if you're steeped in "what ifs," it's because something else is lacking in your relationship, like you're feeling rejected or underappreciated. Say the only way you ever go on dates with your partner is if you make them happen, which makes you feel like he doesn't find you as attractive as he did when you first started dating. It might sound cliché, but it's true: He's not a mind reader. He might assume that you like planning dates, or be worried he'll disappoint you if he picks the wrong activity. If you're feeling neglected and insecure, ask your husband for what you'd like so that you can figure out how to make each other feel better.
Get out of your own head
Keeping your thoughts secret from your husband can feel like a form of cheating, but the burden of harboring these emotions could seriously weigh you down. Regret can also result in chronic stress, which is bound to negatively impact your relationship. "Regrets and 'what-ifs' ruin relationships because you never get to know how your here and now could have unfolded should you have put the past aside," says Dr. Marc Muchnick, author of No More Regrets. Don't be afraid to take risks or be vulnerable. Dare to be completely honest with each other (in a non-critical way). If you do this, you could find that everything you've been looking for is just underneath the surface.
Related: 11 Things You Do That Make Him Crazy - and Not in a Good Way
When your brain is stuck in the gear of regret, it's like a car caught in reverse. You literally can't go forward until you shift. Sometimes you need to rotate backward for a bit to get yourself out of the mud, but once you've dislodged your tires from all of that dirt, it's time to return to first gear. "Regret does nothing but hold you back and keep you from the love you deserve," says Kailen Rosenberg, author of Real Love, Right Now. "Without it, you are able to see all of the gifts and the beauty around you, which brings a newfound sense of awareness into the relationship you already have." Only then can you start looking ahead to where all of the great possibilities in your lifelong road trip lie.
More from REDBOOK:
25 Reasons Why Married Sex Is Better
5 Unusual Ways Men Become Better Husbands
Foreplay Moves All Men Secretly Crave
8 Ways to Make Sex a Little Better Tonight