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Finding Forgiveness in Your Marriage: A Christian Counselor’s Guide

By Rick McGregor, MA, LMHCA, Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC

I was recently struck by Ruth Graham Bell’s statement that, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” Forgiveness is something incredibly powerful. If it could somehow be packaged and sold, a daily dose would probably save a lot of marriages – for so many marital problems  can be traced to issues of forgiveness. Yet if we are honest, we should acknowledge that most of us are stubborn and struggle to lay aside our pride. We don’t like to take ownership of our failures and we certainly struggle to do so when we cannot see our spouse doing so. The truth is that every marriage has conflicts and hurts and the challenge for us is what we do with these hurts. In this article, I invite you to consider some positive steps that you can take toward finding forgiveness in your marriage.

Forgiveness is a Decision, Not a Feeling

We often do not feel as if we want to forgive. Disappointment and conflict are common in marriage, and the anger and hurt that they cause can easily take on a life of its own. But it is important to understand that forgiveness is a choice. Although we often confuse forgiveness with our emotions, forgiveness is in fact the choice to let go. When our emotions ebb and flow, forgiveness ebbs and flows. When we don’t feel angry, we think we have forgiven. But when our anger resurfaces, it seems to take us back to square one. This is why we have to first decide to forgive and then begin to work through our feelings. Forgiveness means letting go of the whole thing, instead of carrying around a bitterness that we do not need. Knowing how to forgive is less important than being willing to forgive.

Forgiveness is not only important to the person who receives it, but also to the person who offers it. Some people assume that forgiveness will eventually occur as time passes, but that is not how it works. Forgiveness is always a choice rather than a feeling. If you wait until you feel like forgiving, you will never forgive. You have to choose to forgive, and as time goes on you will realize that you actually have forgiven. You will find that you are free to love and to give yourself to your mate. It is this realization that can lead us to the powerful next step.

Forgiveness Means  Choosing to See Your Spouse Rather than the Offense

As you begin the process of forgiving, the first barrier you encounter is yourself. You have to decide to let go of the offense, together with the desire to punish the offender. This means deciding to see your spouse instead of the offense. This decision to let go and forgive often has to be renewed daily, hourly, or even more often. The bigger the offense, the more difficult it can be to let go. But the less you consider the offense and the less you feed your anger and hurt, the easier it becomes.

It is important to understand that forgiving is not the same as forgetting. God does not ask us to live as if we had no history, or to pretend that offenses never happened. In fact, being able to look back and see how God has helped us to walk through marital difficulties in the past, can empower us to be open and forgiving. It can strengthen us to overcome future challenges.

Forgiveness Involves Sacrifice

Image 2God’s forgiveness involved sacrificing his Son to pay the penalty for our sin. Our forgiveness also requires sacrifice, though of a different kind. It means that you need to be prepared to accept the suffering that your spouse’s offense causes. Deciding to accept this sacrifice occurs in different ways. Firstly, it means accepting the wound that you have received. You need to face the pain of the offense and the difficulty of talking about it. Your spouse needs to know that you are hurt and needs to have the opportunity to change and to receive your mercy and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a sacrifice because it involves choosing the more difficult path. You sacrifice the temporary comfort of ignoring the problem, and the temptation to erect a wall of bitterness, and decide to move instead toward your spouse.

Secondly, forgiveness also means that you  relinquish your right to any future payback. You are sacrificing all the future moments when you may want to remind your spouse of how they have wronged you. You are sacrificing the possibility of wanting to cause your spouse the same kind of pain that you have experienced, or making them feel that they have to earn back your love and affection.

Forgiveness Means Trusting God

It is important to understand that we have to trust God when we choose to forgive. You have to trust that God will both heal your hurts and use your sacrifice to restore your relationship. When you offer forgiveness, you need to trust that you are doing the right thing and that God will work through your actions. Your forgiveness does not guarantee a change in your spouse, but it does guarantee that you will grow and will not give in to resentment. You need to trust that forgiveness will renew your marriage.

A Christian Counselor Can Help You on Your Journey to Forgiveness

I hope that these steps can help you on your journey to forgive. Forgiveness can be an extremely difficult process, but not forgiving will hurt you more than the person who has wronged you. You may feel very alone as you struggle to forgive your spouse, but you do not have to work through this issue alone. Many people have found Christian counseling helpful as they seek to forgive and to move on with their lives. As a Christian counselor, I would welcome the opportunity to help you in this process so that you can move forward in your life in a healthy and positive way.

Photos

Images are from freedigitalphotos.net

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