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NOTE: We will resume the Top 10 Reasons for staying Married blogs, but because of so much that we have been hearing, witnessing and experiencing about forgiveness in marriage, we thought it timely to write about it.
DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…
How much time and energy does it take to say, “I forgive you”? I tried timing it for 5 seconds and was able to say it coherently at least 9 times. The reason that I even thought about timing how long it takes to say “I forgive you” is because of my reflecting upon how long it took me to actually decide to say it.
This is what happened… I got upset with my husband over something that I cannot even remember now. But after missing two TV shows that we regularly watch together, I realized that I missed our time with each other and decided to say, “I forgive you.”
Now when I acted on this revelation, my husband was in the living room while I was in the bedroom. And although he did not hear me say those words, I was satisfied that all was well and I could get back to our good relationship together. Shortly afterwards, my husband asked if I wanted to watch one of my favorite programs, and we were soon united in our Thursday evening get-together.
You may have noted that It was not necessary that my husband apologized first before I forgave him. This may sound spooky (or whatever), but I believe that forgiveness is a spiritual thing. I believe that I must be ready to forgive daily in order to have a healthy mind and spirit.
Most days, if not every day, someone does something or says something that I might find offensive or hurtful. This is something that I recognize as an unfortunate reality for me. Perhaps it is directly related to my having been repeatedly molested from childhood through becoming an adult. Admittedly, I am often quite sensitive to comments and gestures according to my own determination about what they mean. And more than not, when I express my concern, the other party can clarify the real intent to my satisfaction. But since I do not often verbalize my hurt, I am left to process it just enough to draw my own conclusions. Because of this, I found that it is much healthier for my state of mind to process in their favor- and to quickly forgive, so that I can move forward with my life.
Yet I fully understand how forgiving a spouse for the hurt that you experience may appear to be too much to allow. I think that somehow, we feel that forgiving people means that we send a message of excusing them when they should be punished.
I understand the need and even passionate desire to see that someone pays for your pain. Along with the desire for retribution is the need to believe that someone cares about how deeply you have been wounded. Yet, with all of those needs in mind, I have come to realize that unforgiveness does nothing to solve those issues.
Even though the people who hurt you may feel as though they are being punished by your unforgiveness, you will probably agree that this punishment hardly fits the injury. All the while there is too much energy required to remain unforgiving towards the person- that I will refer to as the “hurter”.
For example, you must continuously rehearse the wrong in order to keep it in mind. This allows the hurter to hijack your thoughts while probably not even thinking about you. You find yourself consistently adjusting your life based upon concerns and potential encounters with the hurter. For example, you avoid places that the hurter may go even though you might have the desire to be there. This is especially difficult in a marriage where you share the same friends, places and activities.
You may fight to avoid memories that remind you of the hurter (even if they are pleasant memories). You dislike other people who somehow remind you of the hurter. Your mood is altered according to how much the thought of the hurter influences you. Because of your hurter-induced mood swings, your responses to others become tainted and misdirected causing people to receive your moods as personal attacks. Consequently, your bad mood – influenced by your unforgiveness towards the hurter – contaminated your relationship with others.
There is simply too much control and influence that we allow others to have as a result of unforgiveness. – I grew weary of just typing about it. On the other hand forgiveness is empowering as well as rewarding. As a source of empowerment, forgiveness allows the forgiving person to regain the joy and liberty of living. As a source of reward, it allows the forgiving person to recognize the ability to overcome a crippling mindset, which is a great accomplishment.
I choose to forgive even those who have hurt me by molesting and sexually assaulting me. This is not because I want them to get away with what they did, but because I choose to be released from the bitterness that accumulates from unforgiveness. Additionally, I do not want to be a hypocrite, seeking forgiveness when I am being unforgiving of others.
I know that my words or actions may also hurt others even though this is not my intention. If I step on someone’s foot accidently or spit in someone’s face while passionately speaking, it does not stop that person from being hurt or offended. In either case, I will ask for forgiveness, hoping that the response will be in agreement with my request.
For those who want to forgive, but wonder “how do I forgive such horrible hurt that has been done to me?”, I say that it starts with wanting to forgive. Next, you must believe that it is necessary to forgive. Then you must believe and convince yourself that you can forgive anything and anyone. Like love, I believe that forgiveness is a spiritual gift that grows the more you use it. However if you reserve a little un-forgiveness for something really bad and evil, then that unforgiveness will manifest even when you would rather move forward with your life. I have found that my acquisition of the Holy Spirit has imparted an attitude that compels me to forgive – even those injuries that I once thought that I would never forgive. This is my ultimate recommendation for those who truly want to break from the bondage of unforgiveness in their marriage.
DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…
- Forgiveness – God’s reset tool to heal your marriage
In an urban apartment in Denver, on any given morning, Sandy, a short, overweight and miserable young women would look at her tall husband and father of their 3 children and begin her daily listing of his faults framed by a litany of profanity laced complaints. The volume of this daily ritual was ear splitting and most of their neighbors and all of their children were already tired of the overflow of violent language that came from their apartment.
John was frustrated, unemployed and suffering from a number of mental illnesses. His addiction to a gaming social network was active and he was not seeking help to break his compulsive behavior. He had an alternative existence that he retreated to that excluded his wife. His coping mechanism was also a huge statement of rejection in her eyes.
This couple experienced trust issues even while dating before marriage. Somehow, they believed that marriage would make it easier to trust one another. They were wrong. In addition to the trust issues they faced, both had a reputation for bringing outsiders into their relationship to deal with things but only to build leverage against the other. Neither of the couple actually heeded the advice of those they brought in. They were only looking for witnesses that would back up their claims against their partner.
Both had support from their respective families. However, neither trusted their in-laws to intervene with objectivity. This power struggle continued to grow toxic and finally violent. The police were called repeatedly and rarely did more than to issue a domestic disturbance citation and warn them to get control of their disputes.
The couple sought help from a local pastor and attended his church occasionally. However, the war continued to escalate. In response to a number of midnight, urgent calls to the pastor, the couple was scheduled for counseling sessions.
Sandy made the first session and used this opportunity to build a case for all of the horrible faults that she was experiencing as a result of her husband’s behavior. She refrained from using profanity, however, there was vivid passion and frustration displayed in her recalling each incident. The pastor listened for more than 30 minutes without interruption. He was listening but did not seem to be moved by her illustrations and appeared to be taking notes. Additionally, the pastor showed very little emotion even when she bursted in to tears. He calmly offered a box of tissue to Sandy and asked; “Is that it?” She was alarmed by the degree of his calmness and shouted back “You don’t understand!” He waited a number of minutes before responding and then after 3-4 minutes had passed he said “Wow!” Sandy looked up to see what the pastor was responding to only to find him looking right at her. With a very calm voice he said, “It sounds like a lot for anyone to deal with.” She nodded but then heard a curious question from him: “Have you forgiven him for all of this?” he said, while leaning forward from behind his desk.
Sandy was shocked and suddenly convinced that this was a complete waste of time. “What? Why would I do that? He’s not getting away with all that ….stuff!” She said; while the blood rushed to her face in anger. The pastor continued remaining calm and replied: “I never suggested he should. However, I thought it was about time you got off the hook for this. The best way for that to happen is for you to forgive him. Why don’t you try to do that and I want you to promise to come back and see me next week. Would you do that for me Sandy?”
Confused by this strange set of requests, Sandy said: “Don’t you want to talk to John first?” The pastor looked at her and said, “There is more for you to share with me before I talk with him. How about 1 week from today at the same time?” Sandy was caught off guard and agreed to the scheduled appointment. She was still not convinced that this was not a waste of time, and she seemed challenged by the request of the pastor to forgive. She struggled with that request all week and came back asking the question: “Why did you say that to me? How am I getting off the hook by forgiving him?” The pastor smiled and said; “I’m so glad you asked that. It appears to me that you are still not getting much sleep and much of your day is filled with stress even when your husband is not talking to you. He is not being punished by your not forgiving him… you are. You are punishing your own peace and sanity by holding on to this plan of vengeance. That just doesn’t seem to be working out too well. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Sandy nodded her head and spoke softly; “How do I do this?” “Well, I want to pray in agreement with you but I need to introduce you to the One that forgave me first.” The pastor began to share from his heart about his relationship with Jesus and led the woman to an understanding that inspired her to surrender her broken life to Jesus. Over the next week, Sandy began to behave differently toward John. The daily listing of his faults was replaced with positive conversation and suggestions about employment opportunities she had read about. She also revisited the sermons she heard on CD.
John was still not changed in his heart and began to take his frustrations out on her until even he acknowledged that something in her had changed. He asked what happened to her and she shared about her new found relationship with Jesus and the church. The husband scoffed at her assertions but was curious enough to go to the pastor and ask for a meeting. The pastor began to meet with him and then together with his wife as they appeared to initiate a treaty of peace, ending the war they had fought in for years.
Sandy learned that the toxic substance of her constant criticism and belittling of John was counter productive to the dreams they had shared when they first met. John began to build trust by seeking help to break free from his compulsive behavior. They began to discuss things and even committed to “fighting fair” strategies that prevented them from ridiculing or making demeaning comments. Most important was their decision and vow to consider the children more and to refrain from violent arguments in front of them.
This couple needed a lot more than a few episodes of the help they received from the pastor, the church and their relationship with The Lord. However, their journey has much more potential to continue moving away from divorce and closer toward their dreams while their help flows through a variety of sources.
Every couple has different needs and this is not the only strategy to solve turbulence in a relationship. However, I am convinced that forgiveness is as essential to the healing process of a relationship as water is to the growth of plant life. Likewise, it must flow without respect to the number of times it has been applied for the sake of the relationship.
For the partner that has endured long term pain from an abusive partner you can trust in this Scripture: “Galatians 6:7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant.” (NLT) and Romans 12:19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (NKJ)
During the airing of a previous teaching I entitled “Unforgiveness – Chains to the Past” I found that many, many people are struggling with this issue. I received calls
from people from different faiths, different cultures, young and old admitting that they were challenged by this issue. However, I have also found that married couples are plagued even to a greater extent with this challenge and often continue a pattern of failed relationships if they do not learn to apply this basic principle of forgiveness. The most important principle of forgiveness to embrace is that it frees the offended from the act of the offender preventing the offended from being re-victimized by the same act over and over again.
So many victims of pain rehearse their pain in such a way that they interrupt their healing process and re-injure themselves. Others repress their stories but hold on to the pain as though some how it will prevent them from being surprised by that type of pain again. However, my experiences indicate the latter strategy orchestrates re-occurrences of similar pain and suspicion that most people want to victimize them again.
Parents consider it critical to provide protection for their children because they appear to be so forgiving and yet, it is through that same resilient attitude of forgiveness that they can fall and get up again even if it means risking another fall. Additionally, many children continue to have hope even after parents break their promises or disappoint the children over and over again.
There are a number of very positive examples displaying the advantages of forgiveness. Scripture tells us “14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
I once read that Mahatma Gandhi contended that “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” This strength Gandhi referred to can also help to facilitate a resetting of the perspectives and motives in continuing any relationship. I am not suggesting that this is the sole catalyst for marital happiness. On the other hand, I do contend that it facilitates better conflict resolution toward a higher level of harmony and overall content.
Embodied in many of the principles that have been handed down to us is that patience and perseverance produce character. This is not a quick fix solution to marital discord. The competencies of conflict resolution will never replace character. Some are more skilled but still dishonest. Others are honest but lacking the communication skills needed to address conflict. But both are needed for sustained trust and harmony and everyone is capable of forgiveness. With great character, forgiveness can facilitate the resetting of a derailed relationship. In my humble opinion, that is a recipe for a long and prosperous marriage.