“Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”
~ Genesis 19:17 (NIV)
If only we hadn’t married so soon. If only we had more money. If only I had married Jake instead of John. Regrets in marriage are damaging. They keep our eyes fixed on the rearview mirror instead of on the road ahead. While reviewing the past and assessing what we’ve learned through mistakes can be a healthy exercise, regretting the past only serves to fuel discontentment and impede growth.
When Dan and I decided to close a three-year-old business, I struggled with regret. I had used up all of our nest egg to pursue a business venture I had believed in. When the business failed, I regretted so many decisions I had made, especially not listening to Dan’s advice along the way. My failure meant that we would be struggling financially again after having enjoyed several years of monetary comfort. Even though I knew God had walked us through this difficult time and taught us invaluable lessons, it was tempting to think, “If I hadn’t tried to start that new business, we’d be financially set right now.” Instead of keeping my eyes focused on God’s plan for my life, I chose to get stuck in my tracks with if-only thinking.
Lot’s wife had a similar problem. She and her husband were running for their lives from Sodom and Gomorrah, knowing that God had judged the culture they were living in and was about to decimate everything they had ever known. While Lot was running full steam ahead, his wife kept looking over her shoulder. Eventually, the distance between them became so great that Lot literally left his wife in the dust.
Regret is like that. We keep looking over our shoulder, wondering if what we’ve left behind might have been better than what we’re moving toward. God’s angel warned Lot and his wife not to look back, and it’s a warning for us too.
If you routinely catch yourself starting a sentence with “If only,” regret may be an issue you need to deal with. While dwelling on what might have been is never healthy, regret can be an important signal to stop and examine your emotions. For instance, if you catch yourself thinking, “If only I had married Jake instead of John,” it may be time to evaluate why John isn’t measuring up. In your private time with God, pray about the emotions you’re experiencing. Perhaps you’ll discover that your disappointment is springing from unmet needs. With these needs clarified, you can then have a forward-thinking conversation with your spouse about how to improve your relationship.
When I caught myself saying, “If only I hadn’t tried to start this business,” I realized that my fear of God’s inability to meet our needs in the future was driving my regret. Once I discovered that, I could stop looking to the past and begin focusing on a vision for what God might accomplish in our future.
Marian V. Liautaud
- What, if any, regrets do either of us have in our lives?
- What unmet need might those regrets indicate?
- How might we use regrets to improve our relationship with each other? What do we need to entrust to God to move forward in our marriage?