There are many benefits of forgiveness in marriage. In this article, we discuss 7 reasons, as well as the over-arching benefits of making forgiveness a habit in your relationship.
This is part of the marriage forgiveness series.
I recently thought about the story of the man who had gone to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He spent decades incarcerated. Separated from his family and friends.
At one point, he wrote to his wife telling her it was okay if she decided she couldn’t wait for him. He understood it would be a long time before he saw her or the children. In fact, they would be grown by the time he was released.
When finally released and allowed to go home he wasn’t sure what to expect. He didn’t know if his wife had moved on and remarried, or if the children would want to see him.
His last letter to her explained he was out of prison and would come home. If she wanted to see him, all she had to do was tie a yellow ribbon around the oak tree that was in their front yard.
If he didn’t see the yellow ribbon, he would not bother her. He would leave and not return.
As his bus pulled around the corner toward his old house, to his surprise he saw, not one, but hundreds of yellow ribbons tied to the tree.
I realize this story may seem out of context with the idea of forgiveness. This man’s story is not about being forgiven, but about being accepted.
I think forgiveness is like that. It’s about acceptance.
Unforgiveness Is A Burden
It is no coincidence we use terms like burden, weight, and heavy to describe heartache, betrayal, and emotional wounds. They can literally weigh us down.
According to a study done at Erasmus University, carrying burdens like these instead of letting them go (through forgiveness) has a physical effect on our abilities. An article in Readers Digest presents it this way:
Researchers at Erasmus University in the Netherlands asked people to write about a time when they either gave or withheld forgiveness. The human guinea pigs were then asked to jump as high as they could, five times, without bending their knees. The forgivers jumped highest, about 11.8 inches on average, while the grudge holders jumped 8.5 inches—a huge difference and a startling illustration of how forgiveness can actually unburden you.(Source)
Interesting to say the least.
Another interesting research fact is couples who make a habit of forgiving each other experience a longer and more satisfying romantic relationship. (Source)
Some researchers also believe people who easily forgive (and don’t carry the weight of resentment and unforgiveness) live longer lives.Couples who make a habit of forgiving each other experience a longer and more satisfying romantic relationship. Some researchers also believe people who easily forgive (and don't carry the weight of resentment and unforgiveness) live… Click To Tweet
7 Benefits of Forgiveness in Marriage
Besides the physical and emotional health benefits alluded to above, here are 7 practical benefits of forgiving your spouse regularly.
Before we delve into the topic, it’s important to note that forgiveness doesn’t mean we become a doormat for others to walk on. It is not ‘letting people go’ without consequences.
To dive deeper into what forgiveness is, read our article on Forgiving Your Spouse.
This short video from Fearless Soul is a great introduction to the benefits of forgiving others.
1) Forgiveness Makes Sure You Keep Short Accounts With Your Spouse
One of the damaging things that happen in a marriage is letting hurts, disappointments, and wounds mount up. One offense is stacked on another and before long, there is a mountain you have to climb to reconnect and build trust in your relationship.
When we practice forgiveness on a daily (regular) basis we are keeping the record clean and our list short. This allows us to move forward (and move on) when we experience disappointment.When we practice forgiveness on a daily (regular) basis we are keeping the record clean and our list short. This allows us to move forward (and move on) when we experience disappointment. Click To Tweet
In years of talking with couples, one thing I’ve discovered is those couples that talk daily and confess their mistakes quickly, are the ones who have a deeper, more satisfying marriage.
2) Forgiveness Helps Us Affirm Our Trust, Love, and Acceptance Of Our Spouse
When we forgive our spouse, we affirm our love, trust, and acceptance of them. We let them know their mistake is not a defining moment in our relationship.
This is important. If we allow our partner’s missteps to determine the outcome of our marriage, we run the risk of piling up offenses that ultimately unravel our connection.
It’s important to keep the context of this in mind. We are not talking about chronic bad behavior or consistent neglect. These principles apply to those where both parties are working to create a marriage that is genuine and loving.If we allow our partner's missteps to determine the outcome of our marriage, we run the risk of piling up offenses that ultimately unravel our connection. Click To Tweet
3) Forgiveness Creates Emotional Healing In Our Lives
When we forgive others we not only release them from our judgment, we release ourselves from an unhealthy connection to that offense.
We like to use the concept of a ball and chain when talking about unforgiveness. When we fail to forgive others, we keep ourselves tied to them forever. That rarely produces a positive outcome.
When we forgive others we not only release them from our judgment, we release ourselves from an unhealthy connection to that offense. Click To Tweet
Recent studies have shown that forgiveness is an essential component of successful romantic relationships. In fact, the capacity to seek and grant forgiveness is one of the most significant factors contributing to marital satisfaction and a lifetime of love.(Source)
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4) Offering Forgiveness Is An Acknowledgement That Your Spouse Is Human
This doesn’t mean we excuse abuse, criticism, or being treated badly. If this is a chronic problem, please read this article. It will help you understand underlying anger issues in your spouse, as well as give you a practical plan to deal with them.
The bottom line: If you are in an abusive relationship, get out, and get help. If your spouse is negative and mean, get the tools you need to deal with them.
If, however, you are in a relatively healthy relationship that is occasionally plagued by mistakes and missteps, offering forgiveness is a way you can acknowledge your partner is human.
Let’s face it, our humanity often interfere with what we want to become. We sometimes say things we don’t mean to say or act in ways that contradict the person we want to be. While we should always seek to be better, it is affirming when our spouse forgives us for these ‘life incidents.’
It is a way of saying, ‘I know you are human, and I love you for it!’
“Forgiveness does not change the past but it does enlarge the future.”—Paul Lewis Boese
5) Forgiving Our Spouse Breaks Shame and Guilt
This goes along with the previous point but expands into the psychological benefits of forgiveness.
When we offer forgiveness, we are offering release from shame.
We know (unless you are narcissistic) when we hurt someone. This generally results in a feeling of shame and guilt. We feel bad about what we did that hurt someone else.
Forgiveness is the path to redemption. It is the doorway we offer that releases our partner from that guilt and shame.When we offer forgiveness, we are offering release from shame. Click To Tweet
Without this release, shame becomes a stone in your emotional shoe. To better understand this concept, watch this video called, ‘Is There A Stone In Your Soul?’ and read this article asking the question, ‘Are You The Problem?’
6) Our Heart Needs Forgiveness
I say this quite literally. Studies show that heart problems are linked to anger, resentment, and unforgiveness.
When people are reminded of grudges, their heart rate and blood pressure can increase. Forgiveness, on the other hand, has been linked to better heart health. Plus, you’ll sleep better when you let bygones be just that. But keep in mind you can’t fake it: Researchers believe that the health benefits associated directly with forgiving apply only to emotional, not decisional, forgiveness.(Source)
7) Forgiveness Helps You Stay Positive
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the practice of forgiving can actually help you stay positive about your marriage.
Perhaps this is due to the fact (mentioned above) that we keep short accounts of wrong, and refuse to allow negative things to pile up. In other words, forgiveness implies we work through our issues before they become relationship altering problems.
We deal with things before they get out of hand. Forgiveness allows us to let go and move forward in our relationship.
In a recent study on What Type of Communication during Conflict is Beneficial for Intimate Relationships?, researchers noted that how we communicate at various levels of conflict has a big impact on marital satisfaction (how happy you are in your marriage, and how well you adapt to problem-solving).
They discuss the difference in opposition and cooperation type communication.
(The research determined) direct opposition is beneficial when serious problems need to be addressed and partners are able to change but can be harmful when partners are not confident or secure enough to be responsive. In contrast, cooperative communication involving affection and validation can be harmful when serious problems need to change, but may be beneficial when problems are minor, cannot be changed, or involve partners whose defensiveness curtails problem-solving.
In laymen’s terms, when the conflict is bad, you need to address it head-on and be clear, concise, and direct. When the conflict is minor, you should be loving, accepting, and affectionate.
If we apply this to forgiveness (when minor issues are involved), the more forgiving we are, the easier it is to maintain and healthy, positive relationship.
Other studies also indicate positive effects between forgiveness and marital outcomes emerged (how happy couples over time).
Final Thoughts On The Benefits Of Forgiveness In Marriage
There are many factors that determine the health of a relationship and how happy a couple is in their marriage. One often overlooked aspect is forgiveness.
In this article, we looked at seven benefits of forgiveness in marriage. While consistently excusing misbehavior (bad actions and negative attitudes) can be damaging to a relationship, failure to forgive can also have severe consequences.
Learning when to forgive and how to forgive is important. Realizing the benefits of letting go can help you move forward in your marriage
Here is a brief recap on the 7 benefits of forgiving those you love.
- 1) Forgiveness Makes Sure You Keep Short Accounts With Your Spouse
- 2) Forgiveness Helps Us Affirm Our Trust, Love, and Acceptance Of Our Spouse
- 3) Forgiveness Creates Emotional Healing In Our Lives
- 4) Offering Forgiveness Is An Acknowledgement That Your Spouse Is Human
- 5) Forgiving Our Spouse Breaks Shame and Embarrassment
- 6) Our Heart Needs Forgiveness
- 7) Forgiveness Helps You Stay Positive
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