Fresh Start in Relationships – Part II
Stan had an emotional affair with a woman at work. Laura, his wife, caught him and confronted him. He ended it. He apologized to his wife and committed to doing what he could to fix their relationship. He took steps to make it right as much as was possible. Again and again, he sincerely asked for her forgiveness. He even gave her a pass to be angry and withdrawn for a considerable period of time, figuring that he deserved it. But when four months turned into six, and then nine…it became clear that forgiveness and restoration were no closer at hand than they had been on day one. Stan was emotionally exhausted, and his remorse was giving way to frustration.
Whether it’s a stereotype or truth, injured spouses have a way of remembering everything and quoting often to the offending spouse from the figurative “Book of Blame.” While anger or sadness are justified, holding onto the emotional pain forever isn’t. Even when the mistakes your spouse make are significant, forgiveness is essential if the marriage is to survive. Today, I want to share the second most important skill next to prioritizing your spouse: forgiving your spouse. Consider the following points when you feel hurt by your spouse:
- Remember that you will need forgiveness one day too.
When one spouse stumbles in a major way, you may feel like there’s nothing you could ever do that would be as bad. The danger in putting yourself on the pedestal is that you are not God. Scripture is very clear that no one is perfect. We have all sinned. Thankfully, God has given us His Son, Jesus, to take away our sins. Also, your spouse may have hurt you now, but you have no idea what challenges and temptations await you in the future. One day the tables may be turned, and it could be you who needs forgiveness, understanding and restoration. Give your spouse the same amount of grace that you would want extended to you if you’d made a mistake for which you were truly remorseful.
- Acknowledge that forgiveness is a decision—not a feeling.
If you’re waiting for all of the hurt of the wrong to complete dissolve before you pronounce your spouse “forgiven” and try to move forward, you may be waiting a long, long time. You can forgive your spouse while your heart and mind are still sorting out what to do with the anger and resentment that may be lingering. Often making the decision to forgive is the very thing needed to spur you on toward letting go of the negative feelings.
- Do the hard work of forgiving.
It may seem unfair that you, the one who has been wronged, should have to do anything to repair the relationship. You didn’t tear it up, right? But only you can unpack and discard the feelings and emotional garbage that the incident brought into your life. If that means talking to a counselor or pastor, and spending more time praying and meditating in order to find peace, it’s an investment worth making. And only you can make it.
- Be objective enough to learn something from what happened.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. In other words, everything has some contributing factors or circumstances that started the dominos tumbling. Rather than putting all of your focus and energy on your spouse’s mistake, look around and ask what might have opened the door for it. Sometimes in doing this, we learn that we, too, played a part in the poor choices of those we love. By acknowledging any ways in which you may have contributed to the problem, you’re not excusing your spouse’s mistake, but you are owning your part of it, and that is a step in the right direction.
- Remember that even the remorseful have a breaking point.
Is harboring your anger and your right to have the “upper hand” in your relationship important enough to you to lose the relationship over? Because your unforgiving spirit may turn out to be the thing that sinks the ship of your marriage. The Gottman Institute has 40 years of research which show that contempt is the number one cause of divorce. We understand that forgiveness is a process, and healing from major hurts does take time and work on both parts. But at some point, the game changes. Your spouse is no longer the one in the wrong for his or her action. Instead, you are in the wrong for your refusal to forgive.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12–14, ESV)
See you next time, here at the corner of faith and mental health.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Chad Wright