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Learning Forgiveness

Have you ever had to forgive your spouse but really didn’t want to? What happened when you didn’t? When you did?

One of the lessons we have had to learn repeatedly in our marriage is the art of forgiveness. We are both first borns and our basic nature is to be driven, focused, goal-oriented, have a desire to win and dominate until we succeed. When we are focused together on an outcome our drive is a powerful force for good. When we are focused on getting our way….well, that’s a concoction for a marital nuclear disaster!

Through our 30+ years of marriage we’ve grown in grace, patience, and the art of forgiving. As we coach couples, we watch them struggle to forgive one another. It’s usually not over the huge sins that can devastate, but the daily irritants that we allow to get under our skin.

As couples, we all need to learn how to forgive.

Why is forgiveness so important?

Quick! If you know it—rattle off the Lord’s prayer right now—GO!

Alright, now about that “and forgive us our sins/debts as we forgive those who’ve sinned against us (our debtors).”  We can’t appreciate the depth of God’s forgiveness given to us until we are willing to experience what it’s like to forgive. Even if it’s forgiving repeatedly. Even if we were unjustly treated. Even if what was done was deliberate.

The only person we hurt by not forgiving is ourselves. Forgiveness protects our heart from bitterness. Anne Lamott writes that, “not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is an act of the will. It is saying, “I am not going to hold this against them, but instead I’m going to trust God to deal with the situation in his time and his way. I’m choosing to show grace.”

How do I show forgiveness in injustice?

Injustice will happen in marriage. You’ll be accused of something you didn’t do. A confidence will be broken. Money spent without mutual agreement. Betrayal of trust at any level may occur.

Peter writes about this using Jesus as an example saying, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)

You may hurt. You may grieve. There may be consequences to your spouse’s actions (i.e. a rebuilding of trust, or possibly the loss of a marriage). But the choice to forgive is about your heart before God.

Forgiveness is often not a once and done event. The indignant feelings of being done wrong can come up at any moment. Each time, you make the conscious choice to say, “I have chosen forgiveness. I will not hold this against them. I am trusting God who judges justly.”

Do I tell them?

Often the question arises of whether or not to tell someone that you forgiven them. Our answer is: it depends.

  • Will telling them reveal to them a hurt that they unknowingly caused you? If so, it’s better to discuss with them what took place and why it hurt so that there is better understanding. In that context you will have to discern if you need to verbalize your forgiveness.
  • Are you telling them you forgive them to induce guilt in them—as a form of payback? Then it’s better to remain silent.
  • If they have expressed repentance on their own initiative to you…then offer forgiveness immediately and be willing to talk about what broke down between you and how to guard against it.

It’s up to you, and our challenge is to make the choice to forgive in the little or big things as you Build Your Marriage!