What have you struggled to forgive in your marriage? Do you wish you could forgive and move on, but you don’t know how?
When two people live together in an intimate relationship, there are always going to be things that happen to cause hurt feelings and anger. These things may range from minor incidents involving slights and lack of consideration to major ones such as sexual betrayal.
It’s all-too-easy to develop the habit of repeatedly replaying all the wrongs a spouse has committed and then to start feeling victimized. Resentment, blame, anger, and bitterness are heavy burdens that hold us back, weight us down, and keep us stuck in a view of ourselves as victims.
Forgiving a spouse does not mean that you avoid or repress your feelings. On the contrary, it’s important that you acknowledge your pain and loss so that you can express your feelings, get them out into the light of day, and let them run a natural, healing course.
“Certainly others are to blame for their mistakes,” write John Gray, “but they are not to blame for our feelings. To forgive is to release another from being responsible for how we feel. By finding forgiveness, we are then free to let go of our pain. Although it is true that our partner may make us feel upset, we must also recognize that we have the power to let go of our pain.”
Gray also states, “By feeling gratitude for the good times and forgiveness for the mistakes, the heart is filled with the love it needs to heal itself.” Viewed this way, forgiveness releases the toxins of resentment and blame and allows the heart to recover.
Each spouse faces the same choice: Do I hang on to my feelings of hurt and pain or do I forgive my partner? For some spouses, the decision to forgive is viewed as letting a partner off the hook and minimizing the damage the partner has done.
It’s as though they don’t want the partner to see them laughing and having fun because then the partner might not suffer as much emotionally. Thus, the reluctance to forgive can be a way of keeping control and making sure that the partner keeps feeling guilty and miserable over what has happened.
When you feel deeply hurt by your spouse’s words or actions, it takes time to recover from the wound. It’s important to clearly state your feelings to your spouse and to share just how much the words or actions have impacted you. It’s also important to consider whether the deed was one caused inadvertently by lack of awareness or lack of knowledge or if it was deliberate.
To forgive a spouse is not the same as minimizing hurtful or harmful behavior. It’s also not about pretending things are fine when they aren’t. The goal is not to flash a fake smile and say “That’s okay” when you’re feeling like you’ve been stabbed in the heart.
But there’s a major difference between feeling hurt and struggling to regroup for a few weeks or months versus still being consumed with anger, resentment, and bitterness a year later. The longer the wound festers, the worse it gets.
How Do You Know When It’s Time to Forgive?
The following statements may help you to recognize if you’re ready to forgive and let go:
You forgive when you have a stronger desire to move toward health, healing, and wholeness than you do to keep singing your “She did me wrong” or “Poor Me” theme songs.
You forgive when you are tired of being stuck in the emotional and spiritual desert of despair, anger, bitterness, revenge, and resentment.
You forgive when you realize that your negative emotions are destroying your sense of spiritual connection, your peace of mind, your health, and your ability to laugh, play, and enjoy life.
You forgive when you realize that not only are you suffering, but your resistance to forgiving your spouse is also causing anguish to your children and other family members.
You forgive when you realize that you are no longer able to live in the present moment and to be totally emotionally available when you are with your family members and friends because you are constantly thinking about the past.
You forgive when you want to move on with your life and restore peace and harmony to your marriage and life.
How Do You Forgive?
Forgiveness is a process. Mary Nurries Stearns writes, “We make the decision to forgive, again and again. Saying words of forgiveness is the first step. Reciting the words creates an opening and willingness, and moves us into a body, heart, mind, spirit process of remembering and releasing.” She continues:
“We begin by letting go of our unforgiving stance. We acknowledge the events and feelings that really happened. We admit that the past cannot be changed. However, through healing, we can leave those yesterdays in the past and create a better tomorrow.
“Realizing that forgiveness is our own personal journey, we release expectations that others will respond to our work, even though each person’s healing has positive rippling effects. While journaling, drawing, dancing, breathing, and talking, we face whatever our body, heart, spirit, and mind present next for our healing. Through these processes, we begin relating differently to our suffering.
“We don’t hold back. We gently swathe our pain with love. We allow thoughts and feelings to arise into awareness where they are recognized and permitted to pass on through. Setting aside sacred time daily, we pray and meditate on forgiveness, and we commune with the divine. And we trust–knowing that grace and a great wisdom are embracing our efforts.”
Some individuals feel a dramatic shift when they decide to forgive a spouse, and for others, forgiveness entails releasing anger and resentment in smaller bits over a longer time. But the important thing is to make a beginning before the weight of the negative feelings pulls you under. Make an appointment to talk to a minister or a counselor if you are stuck and can’t move forward.
When you forgive, you open a door that was not open before. This door leads to a field of possibilities for a new kind of relationship with your spouse.
Regardless of how your partner reacts, you are changed by the act of releasing and forgiving. You are holding your spouse in a different kind of heart space–a space where anything is possible, where relationships can be transformed and where love can reveal itself in unexpected new ways.