As part of the marriage forgiveness series, in this article, we will discuss the role of forgiveness in marriage; what forgiveness is, reasons to forgive, and a practical blueprint on how to forgive.
Discussing forgiveness is complicated. There are many factors connected to the idea of letting go of an offense and releasing someone from guilt.
There are also varying degrees of offense.
For many, forgiving is about putting a snappy comment from your spouse in it’s proper place. It’s about realizing they were in a bad mood, or having a tough day. No more. No less.
On the other hand, there are those who deal daily with deep wounds caused by a spouse who is mean, neglectful, and overly critical.
Trying to cover the whole gambit of forgiveness is impossible. What we offer here is a middle ground approach. If you are in an abusive relationship, this article will not be much help. Our recommendation is to seek professional help.
For more help on navigating forgiveness, read this article on six scenarios where forgiveness needs to be offered.
If, however, you are in a relatively healthy marriage, these tips could help you understand how forgiveness can impact your relationship.
Should You Forgive and Forget?
Imagine my surprise when I found an article by a top psychologist saying ‘forgive and forget’ is actually harmful for your marriage.
While researching for this series of articles on the topic of forgiveness, I ran across a few leading psychologist who indicate the ‘forgive and forget’ approach to marital problems can be counter-productive.
Here’s what they discovered: 135 couples were asked to journal their emotions and feelings on a daily basis.
They found that spouses who hurt their partner one day were twice as likely to do something damaging to the relationship the next day. Even though (and specifically ‘because’) they had asked for forgiveness the day before. In other words, they continued their bad behavior (apparently) because they were forgiven without consequences.
In contrast, many relationship experts agree that forgiveness is crucial for a healthy relationship.
Marriage, like other close relationships, needs forgiveness to thrive. Remember that everyone makes mistakes. We all have bad or grumpy days. Most of us say things we don’t mean now and then. Everyone needs to forgive and to be forgiven. (Source)
Forgiveness is a Necessity
We hear the phrase often, ‘Nobodies perfect!’ It’s true.
Unfortunately, the statement is sometimes used to justify neglect or selfish actions. When used this way, it’s often in an attempt to shirk responsibility. It rings with a note of entitlement and self-centeredness.
In spite of it’s misuse, however, the fact that we are all human and prone to mistakes is a reality. We often struggle to live in harmony with what we believe and how we want to be. Especially in our relationships. Because of this, we need forgiveness for our shortcomings and mis-steps.
When you’re in such a close relationship with another human being, it’s inevitable that you’re going to step on each other’s toes. That’s just part of life. The trick is being able to offer forgiveness to one another in a genuine, meaningful way, so that when those times come, you’ll be ready to face them head-on.(Source)
Bottom line: Forgiveness is a necessity if we are to live in unity and harmony with one another.Forgiveness is a necessity if we are to live in unity and harmony with one another. It's an art we need to perfect! Click To Tweet
In the article mentioned above, the ‘downside’ of forgiving is that it can be abused by people who are prone to live reckless and selfish lives.
Family therapist Kay Francis puts it this way:
People must confront negative behaviors and deal with the causes or motivations behind them before forgiving their spouses. If people forgive behaviors without talking about them then the forgiveness isn’t meaningful…Source
The key to genuine forgiveness is to talk through the issue instead of merely waving off the offense as if it doesn’t matter.
The key to making forgiveness healing instead of further damaging the relationship is to understand what is at stake – knowing what the offense is and how it affected you (or your partner).
You can’t just ‘forgive and forget’ in the sense that the event (offense) didn’t impact the relationship. Amends need to be made. Promises established. Trust rebuilt.
What Is Forgiveness?
I’m sure you’ve heard the statement, ‘Nobody’s perfect!’ It’s true.
This doesn’t give any of us the excuse to live sloppy. Rather it is merely a reminder that we all need forgiveness at some point in our lives.
When we talk about forgiving our spouse, it’s important to note that we are not talking about excusing bad behavior. We are certainly not suggesting living with abuse, extreme neglect, or marital unfaithfulness. Those are inexcusable.
As far as this article goes, forgiveness is in reference to our need to feel (and be) forgiven, and our need to release others from our emotional grip.
This applies to what I call the ‘incidentals’ of life. Those incidental things that happen that end up hurting someone even though that was not the intention. We’ve all done it. And we all need to experience pardon for those accidents of life.
It is not the relinquishing of your boundaries and dignity, and it is not a cheap or easy thing to extend.(Source)
Before we discuss the practical aspects of how to forgive, let’s look at four reasons we need to forgive each other in marriage.
4 Reasons To Forgive Each Other In Marriage
Forgiveness is a conscious decision and a practice of releasing feelings of resentment. Forgiveness can provide you and your partner with the tools to process and move on. Even though you may find it find it difficult, being able to forgive is crucial for the long haul.(Source)
Here are Four Reasons You Should Forgive Your Spouse. You may also want to read this article where we deal with other reasons to forgive your spouse.
1. Forgiveness strengthens our love.
When we forgive one another, we extend sacrificial love. When we are forgiven, we are humbled and determined to love our spouses better going forward. This cycle challenges us to love one another more fully, completely, and selflessly. And over the years, as we continue to practice this dance of forgiveness, our bond grows deeper and stronger.(Source)
What does real love look like? Whatever definition you prescribe to should include the element of forgiving. Forgiveness (as many note) is love in action.
It’s easy to love when things are perfect. Real love is forged in the fires of struggle. Not the kind of struggle that revolves around manipulation, abuse, or control. Rather, the kind that struggle that is the fabric of everyday life.
Authentic loven comes from being open, honest and vulnerable with your spouse, and knowing you will be accepted and loved regardless. It doesn’t excuse bad behavior. But it ‘keeps no record of being wronged.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13%3A4-7&version=NLT
Forgiving and letting go may be one of the most important ways to keep you and your marriage going strong. Some transgressions are so harmful that a marriage can’t survive, but forgiveness can still play a role.(Source)
2. Forgiveness Benefits Both Parties
Forgiving others has many benefits. Here are two things forgiving does:
First, it acknowledges the wrong you’ve done, and offers your spouse an apology. This offer is the bridge to reconciliation (regardless of how deep the wound is).
Second, it frees you resentment.
Forgiveness benefits the forgiver as much as, if not more than, the person who is being forgiven. It sets us free from being dragged down by unforgiveness, which eventually turns into resentment. And when you hold onto resentment, it does no good for anyone–especially you.(Source)
3. Forgiving Holds Life Lessons That Are Valuable In All Of Life
If you don’t learn from your failures and painful events in life, you are wasting your life.
There are many lessons we can learn from our relationship struggles.
When we forgive, we model a life of love and generosity to our spouse, children and extended family.
Forgiving others strengthens our character and teaches us how to find our security in the right places.
4. There Are Health Benefits in Forgiveness
Lack of forgiveness can also wear you down. Being unforgiving takes both a physical and mental toll. Resentment gains momentum and chips away at the foundation of your well-being and your relationship. Instead, share your feelings.
Health experts at Johns Hopkins report that the act of forgiveness can reduce the risk of heart attack, lower cholesterol levels, improve sleep, reduce pain, lower your blood pressure, and decrease levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. (Source)
A Practical Blueprint On How To Forgive
It’s not easy to forgive at times. This is for those who need to forgive a spouse who has hurt you (intentionally or inadvertantly).
Here is a practical blueprint for releasing those who have hurt us.
1. Make a Conscious Decision
Everything starts with a decision.
I’ve seen couples say ‘I forgive you’ but they never made a decision to truly let go of the offesne. The decision (choice) to forgive is yours. It can only go into affect when you decide to let the offense go.
2. Find Your Center
Refuse to allow your emotions to control your decisions. It’s easy to let our feelings run wild when we are hurt.
We tend to nurture our wounds, rather than seek healing. It’s easier to focus on how we feel instead of what we should do.
Finding your center means moving past the raw-ness of your feelings, and thinking through the issues in a calm, meaningful way.
It’s not always easy, but it is necessary if you are to move past the ‘event’ and regain stability in your life.
3. Don’t Close Your Heart
The greatest tendency we face in times of emotional pain is to close our heart.
We don’t want to run the risk of being hurt again, so we shut down emotionally. It feels safe, but it’s actually more damaging than helpful.
I often put it like this:
The same door that keeps out people from hurting you, also keeps out those who want to love you. The door is either open or closed. It’s very difficult to close the door to only one person.
This doesn’t mean you offer blind trust to the person who hurts you. It means you refuse to allow them to control what comes into your life.The same door that keeps out people from hurting you, also keeps out those who want to love you. The door is either open or closed. It's very difficult to close the door to only one person. Click To Tweet
An open door indicates your willingness to experience love again.
4. Be Honest About How You Feel
Jennah Dohms (in a TEDxWhiteRock Talk) discusses the value being transparent and honest with others.
I share this because it reinforces the idea that we are most authentic and open to healing when we are honest with others.
5. Verbalize Your Forgiveness
Say the words, ‘I forgive you.’
There is power when we release others who have wronged us. Something happens on the inside when we say the words.
If you want to dive deeper into the practical aspects of how to forgive your spouse, watch these five videos to help you let go of offenses.
How To Ask For Forgiveness
Let’s shift gears and talk about how to ask for forgiveness when you have wounded your spouse.
Asking for forgiveness isn’t always easy. Pride gets in the way and we fall into the trap of justifying our actions rather than owning our mistakes.
Imagine forgiveness as a locked box. Your spouses trust, emotional connection, and respect are buried within the box. To open the box you need the right keys.
Here are four keys that will help you unlock the forgiveness you desire.
1. Be aware of the damage you’ve done.
Too often spouses fail to realize the depth of the pain they’ve caused in the relationship. Being aware of how you have wounded your spouse is the first ingredient of forgiveness. Without this awareness, your words fail to produce the healing they should.
2. Be specific.
Never offer a general, blanket statement of your sorrow. Be specific. If you said something that hurt your spouse, acknowledge that specific act and ask for forgiveness.
Blanket statements (I’m sorry you feel hurt, I know you are mad, I shouldn’t have acted that way) are too general and have no ‘umph’ in making things right. The real power of forgiveness is in the details.
When you state specifically what you did that hurt them, it carries more weight than a generalize acknowledgement that you did wrong. Being specific helps your spouse know you are serious and are aware of what you did.
It also helps you clarify what you did, so you can avoid that behavior in the future.
3. Don’t place blame; own it
Making excuses diminishes the value of your request for forgiveness.
The minute to attempt to justify your actions, the credibility of your acknowledgment decreases. Simply put, when you give a reason for your actions, you lose credibility. Just own it, and ask for forgiveness. Don’t make excuses.
4. Re-establish trust.
It’s not enough to ask for forgiveness. You need to re-establish the trust and confidence that has been damaged.
Depending on the severity of the offense, you may need to assure your spouse that this behavior will never happen again.
Sometimes a simple acknowledgment is enough.
The other day Michelle and I were discussing holiday plans. I was frustrated and snapped when she asked me a question.
A few minutes later it dawned on me that I had responded in a snarky way. I walked into her office and said, ‘Honey, I realize I snapped at you when you asked me a question earlier. I’m so sorry. ‘
Of course she forgave me, we hugged and went on with our day. It wasn’t a major deal.
There are other times when couples offend each other on a much larger scale. The response to those wounds has to be different. A simple, ‘I’m sorry’ is usually not enough to heal the wound.
The rule of thumb is, your apology (repentance) must be equal to (or more than) the level of offense.The rule of thumb when it comes to apologies is, your apology (repentance) must be equal to (or more than) the level of offense. In other words, if you hurt your spouse deeply, you need to build a bridge that will help them cross… Click To Tweet
In other words, if you hurt your spouse deeply, you need to build a bridge that will help them cross back over to trust you again.
Final Thoughts on Forgiveness in Marriage
Forgiveness in marriage is essential for a healthy, successful relationship.
The statement ‘nobody is perfect’ isn’t mean to suggest we can live reckless lives that harm others. It should be used as an acknowledgement that we all need forgiveness, and we all have opportunity to forgive others.
Understanding the role of forgiveness in your relationship will help you create a bridge you and your spouse can cross together to create a deeper, more meaningful life together.
Here is a brief recap of we covered in this article:
- 4 Reasons To Forgive Each Other In Marriage
- A Practical Blueprint On How To Forgive
- How To Ask For Forgiveness
To get more help creating the marriage you desire and deserve, check out these resources:
- Learn how to move on when the other person refuses to change and never says they’re sorry.
- Walk through a step-by-step process to free yourself from the hurt of your past and feel less offended today.
- Discover what the Bible really says about forgiveness and the peace that comes from living it out right now.
- Identify what’s stealing trust and vulnerability from your relationships so you can believe there is still good ahead.
- Disempower the triggers hijacking your emotions by embracing the two necessary parts of forgiveness.
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