When I discovered Star was having an affair just 18 months into our marriage I was distraught. I could barely contain the rage and anger. The thought of my wife being with another man made me want to vomit, scream, crawl in a hole, and lash out in anger….all at the same time. I never thought I would forgive her.
I didn’t think I, much less my marriage, would ever recover.
But, not only did God restore me, he restored my marriage as well. And, “restore” is an understatement. God made my marriage stronger than it ever was before and the intimacy and closeness my wife and I now share is almost unbelievable given what we went through.
How did this happen? Forgiveness was a key ingredient.
Regardless of what you’ve been through in your marriage, you’ve undoubtedly been put in a position of extending forgiveness to your spouse.
Some opportunities to forgive are harder than others, but regardless of what your spouse has done to you…forgiveness is possible! It might not happen overnight, and it will likely take personal work and community of people around you, but you can forgive your spouse.
Here are 10 thoughts to consider if you’re struggling with forgiving your spouse.
- Forgiveness is a miracle of God – The Bible describes our heart as wicked, deceitful, evil, and only able to produce good works worthy of equating to filthy rags (Gen 6:5, Jer 17:9, Is 64:6). Any good that comes from our heart is not of us, but rather a gift of God (James 1:17). Struggling with forgiveness? Of course you are. It isn’t of you. It can’t be. It can only happen as a result of God working a miracle in your heart. Forgiveness starts by acknowledging this and asking him for help.
- Receiving forgiveness precedes granting forgiveness– Forgiveness isn’t something you do as much as it is something you receive and then give away to your spouse. Forgiveness isn’t yours to hold on to and then give away if and when you feel like it. It is something given to you freely by God with a responsibility attached to it – to freely give it away (Matt 10:8). You have been forgiven so you can in turn go and forgive your spouse (Eph 4:32). Your struggle to forgive your spouse is an indication that you don’t understand how much you’ve been forgiven (Luke 7:47).
- Initiate forgiveness regardless of who is more at fault– Clearly there are certain situations where you are being sinned against more than you are sinning against your spouse. But that isn’t justification to delay extending forgiveness. As the offended party, you are to imitate Christ and initiate forgiveness with your spouse regardless of who’s more at fault. The truth is that we are all in need of the same amount of God’s amazing grace all the time (1 Tim 1:15).
- Forgiveness is about past events, not the future – Don’t withhold forgiveness of past events for fear of being hurt in the future. One of the goals of forgiveness is to create the best possible environment for your spouse to experience repentance, or change. And, the best possible environment for change is one filled with kindness (Romans 2:4). When you withhold forgiveness, or kindness, for fear of repeated sinful behavior, your lack of love may end up having the opposite affect you desire…a lack of future change.
- Forgiveness is an event and a process – Saying the words, “I forgive you” is only the beginning. These words are an important and necessary beginning, but not the end of the process. It is unrealistic to think that 1 spiritual moment of forgiveness is needed to wash away all the hurt, pain, and bitterness that resulted from a particular event(s). Although this moment does happen on occasion and certainly is possible, when it doesn’t happen, don’t minimize or question the forgiveness you’ve already extended. Rather, let the recurrence of pain alert you that more forgiveness may need to take place. Frequently, many redemptive conversations need to take place over a period of time in order to experience full forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is more than a decision – Although forgiveness is a decision you make in your will, full forgiveness involves our emotion and our mind as well. This often takes repeated comfort, understanding, clarity, and multiple conversations with God and our spouse. 9 times out of 10, this doesn’t happen all at once…especially with big hurts. It usually happens over time.
- Forgiveness remembers and doesn’t forget – This isn’t license to re-hash the past or to use your spouse’s past sin against them. Rather, this acknowledges the impossibility of completely forgetting how your spouse has wronged you. As these thoughts of hurt and betrayal spring up from time to time, don’t try and forget them, try and work through them. Forgiveness is our goal, not forgetting. Tell these thoughts to the Lord and ask for comfort, healing, and possibly forgiveness. Then, share these thoughts with your spouse. This could simply look like saying, “I’m struggling with thinking about…..would you pray for me?” Again, don’t share with a motive of throwing it in their face, but rather to give them the opportunity to be used by God to help comfort you, and ultimately to help them grow in their ability to love you. Full forgiveness talks about the past in a redemptive way with God and others and doesn’t stuff it away never to be talked about again.
- Forgiveness gives up the right to seek revenge, or show wrath towards our spouse – Being sinned against doesn’t justify sinning against someone. Although it is very tempting to retaliate, the Bible clearly says retaliation and judgment is reserved for God himself. The reason we struggle with wanting to take this into our own hands is because we don’t trust that God will do his job (Rom 12:19).
- Forgiveness has a goal of restoration but doesn’t require it– Although forgiveness is a step in the restoration process, it doesn’t always equal restoration. We are called to live at peace with our spouse as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is not being a door mat or a punching bag. Nor does it turn a blind eye to sin. This isn’t an excuse to move towards separation or divorce at the drop of a hat, but is rather speaking to extreme cases of abuse, infidelity, or an unrepentant spouse (If you’re dealing with this you need a multiplicity of counselors to help you make decisions along these lines).
- The Ultimate Goal of Forgiveness – Star will frequently say that my forgiveness and pursuit of her during this season of our lives taught her more about Christ’s forgiveness than anything else. Star’s experience highlights the focus and central motive of extending forgiveness to your spouse…Christ. Giving forgiveness to your spouse reflects and points to Christ’s forgiveness for the both of you – and that’s the ultimate goal. Extending forgiveness is all about pointing your spouse to the ultimate forgiver – Jesus Christ.
Need help with forgiving your spouse?
Hans co-founded Marriage Revolution with his wife, Star, in 2010. He counsels couples in The Woodlands, TX, speaks at marriage conferences around the country, and provides leadership and direction to Marriage Revolution.