Haunted by the “If Only’s” In Your Marriage?

Haunted by If Only's - AdobeStock_67482120Are you, or have you ever focused on the “if only’s” in your marriage? You wonder, “If only” this were true instead of what’s happening right now in my marriage. Maybe you take it even further and find that you’re haunted by these imaginations. Well, think again.

That’s what Debi Walter, from The Romantic Vineyard, shares with us about this issue. She writes:

“If only” … Those are two little words that can leave a huge dent in your marriage. Are you haunted by these two words? Are the if only’s the first ones that come to mind when your spouse fails you in some way?

Maybe your spouse forgot to do something that’s very important to you. Perhaps it’s something you’ve told them about time and time again. Maybe they didn’t take the hint of what you wanted for your birthday and got you something…dare I say it…practical? Or worse, maybe they forgot it all together!

Maybe they aren’t as thoughtful as your best friend’s husband. Are they forgetting to open the door or stand when you get up from the table?

Maybe…just maybe, the “if only” question is being asked of the wrong person.

Maybe we should ask ourselves the “if only” questions…

Wait! What? You read that right.

I’ve heard it said that when one spouse dies the “if only” questions often haunt the spouse left behind.

• If only I hadn’t been so critical.
• If only I had said I love you more.


• If only I had not taken the things, they did right for granted.
• If only I had been more of an encourager.


• If only I had celebrated all the little moments and not made such a fuss over the big ones messed up.
• If only I had been a better wife/husband.

You get the idea.

“If only” are two very powerful words that can do great harm or great good in a marriage depending on who it is you’re focusing.

But your spouse is still very much alive, and you want to change. How do we turn the tables on these two words and use them for the good of our marriage?

Ask yourself “What if” questions…

• What if I treated my spouse today as if it were our last day together?
• What if I remembered that it’s more important to give than to receive?


• What if I realized that my spouse isn’t like my girl or guy friends–and they never will be; and this is a good thing?
• What if I cherished every small act of kindness done for me, even if it’s not what I’d hoped for, or how I wished it was done?
• What if I made the most of all the things they do right? And then instead, I minimize the mistakes they make.
• What if I maximized my mistakes and sought to grow and change with the same energy and zeal I used to go after theirs?
• Also, what if I made today the best day of our marriage?

How do you think these questions would change your today, your tomorrow, and the rest of your lives together?

Those are important questions to prayerfully consider. We so appreciate Debi Walter’s challenge to all of us. It certainly points to the scripture:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.(Ephesians 5:15-17)

Pining away, wishing and allowing the “if only’s” to possess your thoughts is foolish. We know that all too well. We wasted too much time doing this in our marriage. Here are a few of ours:

Cindy’s If Only’s:

If only the sexual abuse issues of my childhood had never happened! If only I could erase those hurtful memories! Also, if only Steve didn’t come down with Type 1 Diabetes earlier in our marriage! What’s it like to NOT be continually plagued with those issues? If only… If only…

Steve’s If Only’s:

If only I had never seen pornography when I was young! If only I would have grown up with more control over those kinds of pictures in my mind! Would we have struggled sexually in our marriage as much? Also, if only I would have known the things, I know now about being a good husband! How much different would our marriage have been in years past? And can I make up for “the years the locusts have eaten?”

That is a tiny glimpse into our if only’s. There are a lot more we could entertain. (We’re sure you can too.) But why? As we said before, pining away, wishing and allowing the “if only’s” to possess your thoughts is foolish. But praying for, lining up your thoughts, and working with the Lord is fruitful. It’s all about where you put your hope. Where do you allow your hopeful thoughts to park? Are you allowing your perceptions of what you imagine your marriage could be to haunt and hurt you and your marriage? Additionally, ask yourself if envy is feeding your imaginations. If so, that just complicates matters all the more.

The problem is:

“Many couples spend too much time coveting the marriages or spouse of others. As a friend often says, ‘We need to quit looking over the fence at our neighbor’s grass and instead water our own!’ Stop thinking about being with someone other than your spouse. STOP! You made a commitment to each other and when you covet the life and spouse of another, you are in sin. Often, we play the ‘What if’ game. What if I married her? What if he never asked me to marry him; who would I be with? I wonder if they want out as well. I wonder what his muscles feel like and what they’re like in bed?

“Make your marriage a priority (#1) and work to protect your marriage. Genesis 2:24 says, ‘That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ In a one flesh relationship, you belong to your spouse and your spouse belongs to you. You are one with each other. This means you close the door to all other romantic interests.” (Scott Kedersha, from his article, Three Ways to Grow Your Commitment in Marriage)

To help you do this Jane Duncan Rogers suggests:

“Make a list of 50 things you are grateful for. Even though a list of 50 can sound like too much, especially when you are stuck in a case of the ‘if only’s,’ you can definitely find many things to be grateful for. The more you write, the easier it becomes. The amount of energy involved in thinking thoughts that are not useful can be transformed by this practice into thoughts that make you feel good.” (From Jane’s article, “3 Ways to Deal with the ‘If Only’s’ an ‘What If’s’ After 60”)

Transforming Our If Only’s

This can help you to transform wasted energy into thankfulness. That’s a biblical principle that God wants us to practice daily.

We’re told in scripture:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.(Philippians 4:6)Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and be thankful.(Colossians 4:2)

But what if you are unhappy in your marriage?

What if you have legitimate concerns? This sounds like a simple answer; but it is not. Direct your thoughts to the Lord. Ask Him for direction. Also, “put your hope in God.” (See: Psalm 43:5; and 62:5-8; Psalm 42:11; and Psalm 33:20-22.) Turn your if only’s into “God can; together we can.” It may not happen overnight, and it may not happen as you thought it should; but God can bring good out of the worst of circumstances.

“We need to remember that, in this life, our bucket will always have holes. Life will not be perfect until we get to heaven. Eternal life in heaven will be a perfect bucket with no holes completely filled with the love of Christ and satisfaction—no wants or fears, just sweet fellowship with Jesus and those who have gone before us.

“Today, what is your ‘If only’s…’? Recognize the subtle danger of these thoughts, which can produce self-pity and fear. Make a conscious decision to dump them someplace (down the garbage disposal, in the trash, or fireplace).

“Begin to say His traits out loud: ‘You are my Father; You go before me. You prepare a way for me; plus, You protect me. You bless me. You understand me. And You forgive me. You know me better than I know myself and you love me totally, completely, perfectly. No matter what happens You are still in charge. You will never forsake me.’ This puts your focus on God, where it belongs.” (Susan Yates, from her article, Two Traps to Avoid: ‘If Only’ and ‘What If?’

Concerning our Focus on our “if only’s”:

Teal Swan says, “If we build our life on fantasies or if we can’t escape our fantasies because we keep trying to make them come true in our now or our future, we are stuck in life. We have no stable foundation.” And that is a shaky place to live. It certainly isn’t what the Lord wants for us. No matter what we go through Christ is to be our foundation—not our shaky thoughts.

In closing, prayerfully consider the following. Perhaps you need it now; or perhaps you will need it in the future. These thoughts may well be “A New View on Suffering” that you hadn’t considered before.

“We get lulled into thinking this Christian life should have minimal suffering, but our if-only regrets can be the pathway for God’s glory to be revealed. It’s in our sufferings where God is most revealed as we trust him, submit to him, and rely on him for strength and endurance. Our wounds are a gateway to his glory. When we fully own the pain of our regrets before our gracious Father, we identify with Christ in his sufferings, and we’re strengthened just as he was.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” 1 Peter 4:13. (Jessica Van Roekel, from her article, 10 Ways to Overcome Your ‘If-Only’ Regrets)

Press On!

How we pray you can get to this place! How we pray God helps you to let go of painful, futile thoughts—from the past or present! But in order to get there it’s important to apply the following frame of mind and actions:

This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 3:13-14)

As you put yourself into this mission, and apply it to your marriage:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!(Romans 15:5-6)

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

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2 responses to “Haunted by the “If Only’s” In Your Marriage?

  1. The longer I’m married the more ‘if only’ & regrets I have. My occupation is steady work & good benefits but doesn’t pay much. We’ve always struggled financially. I look back knowing I should have done something else. Every year ticks by, I see this more.

    I guess this is a mid-life crisis. We had to sell my wife’s nice car because we couldn’t afford it. This weekend we drove by the dealership that bought it from us & she said ‘that’s where I turned my car in.’ That was 4 years ago. I really feel bad for that. She drove an old truck I had for 5 or 6 months until we found something I could afford.

    I see other couples doing much better than us; we’ve always scraped by. I see others taking cruises, big vacations, early retirement, nice houses & cars, condo on the beach. We have a ‘nice’ house, being raised poor, our house is nice, compared to others with granite & marble, in-ground pool, it’s not. So, ‘if only’ I had another occupation, made more money,

  2. –If only my wife hadn’t deceived me into thinking she wanted sex every bit as much as I did.

    –If only I hadn’t “saved myself” for my bride only to find it wasn’t worth the wait.

    –If only I had known that 23 years later I’d be a broken, lonely, unfulfilled and utterly defeated/demoralized failure.

    I could go on and on, but who really cares? And who on here can do anything at all about it? After praying for 22 1/2 years for the situation to improve and seeing NO results, l’ve given up hope and am just doing my best to accept that I will most likely die this way. Lonely and unfulfilled. And wondering what else I could have done to remedy it besides counseling (secular and pastoral), medication, helping with the housework (SUCH a turn on that is) reading literally hundreds or maybe thousands of books, articles, “communicating,” etc etc etc….