This is part of a series based on anonymous questions we have received at Build Your Marriage conferences across the United States. Some details may be modified to protect the identities of individuals.
“I’ve forgiven my spouse for ___________, but I just can’t get past it.”
C.S. Lewis wrote that, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” The very decision to forgive is a huge hurdle for many because the offense, pain, and consequences we bear have created deep wounds.
But once we either say out loud or in our heart that we have forgiven our spouse, how do we experience the release of their offense against us? Our spouse moves on and we are stuck with the hurt. So now what do we do?
Here are five things to know about forgiveness and moving forward after the “inexcusable” has been done to you:
1. Sin has consequences.
Jesus’ hands, feet, and side still bore the scars from being crucified. Unfortunately, you will bear scars as well.
Some sins, like infidelity, will forever mark your life. Acknowledging that fact actually helps you move ahead because you aren’t expecting things to return to normal or be wiped from your memory.
2. God is a healer and restorer.
While there are consequences and scars, God can take the broken pieces and build a stronger, healthier and Christ-honoring marriage than before. In our own marriage, we have witnessed God bring healing and deeper intimacy than we ever imagined possible through the deep waters of forgiveness and grace.
3. Forgiveness is a repeated choice.
Just as we make the initial choice to forgive our spouse, there will be repeated attacks by the enemy reminding you of your spouse’s offense. In fact, the enemy wants you to be offended because that allows seeds of bitterness to be planted in your heart (Hebrews 12:15).
Sometimes there are simply “triggers” that will remind you once again what your spouse did that brought you pain. It could be a date on the calendar, a song, a place, or just a certain phrase or smell. Be on the lookout for these and identify them as “triggers” when the pain of the offense rises up in you.
Each time an attack or trigger comes, make the declaration out loud that, “I have forgiven my spouse for that. I have released them and choose to no longer hold it against them.”
Jesus told Peter that we’re to forgive an unlimited number of times (Matthew 18:21-22). You may have to say this several times as you are declaring it not only for your ears, but also for the enemy to hear and know he will not have a foothold in your marriage.
4. Replace the thought with Scripture.
Memorize appropriate verses from the Bible. Verses like:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
“…as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven may forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)
Whenever the offense comes back into your mind, pray the prayer above in point #3 and then read or repeat one of these verses or another of your choosing.
5. Reinstill appreciation.
Take time to dwell on the attributes you appreciate about your spouse. Perhaps you can make a list of the traits and qualities that mean a lot to you. Communicate those things to your spouse. Hearing you say those things brings healing into their life and redirects your heart toward your spouse as well.
Taking these steps will help you move ahead in forgiving your spouse and set you up for deeper intimacy as you build your marriage.