Forgiveness, Part One

Relationship Design

forgivenessMarriage is not a step-by-step journey.
But a logical step in the journey towards creating a great marriage and life is to learn about the road of forgiveness.
Many people don’t understand how forgiveness is actually a skill.
It is something you need to learn, practice, and apply to your relationship.
There are times when forgiveness will be minor, an easy process; and times when it will be a major undertaking. But make no mistake, forgiveness is not an emotion, it is knowledge and skill.

Love . . .

What a powerful experience to know you are with the one person you believe to be the only person right for you! There’s a magical moment when you realize you can’t imagine ever spending another day without this person next to you. Every thought is consumed with fantasies and incredible expectations for the future when you first meet and start dating…then you get married! Sound familiar?
No one can possibly prepare us for the realities of married life.
The joy, the intimacy, the pain, the sorrow; it is all mixed in there to make up the most wonderful (and frustrating, at times) relationship on earth.
But, the most wonderful relationship on earth comes at a price.
With great intimacy comes great conflict. <— Click To Tweet
Great conflict means you need to learn how to properly forgive each other, and as Dr. Ed Laymance, says, “flush out” the bad stuff that happens between you. Put another way, forgiveness is your way to reboot the relationship.
But in order to properly forgive each other, you need a proper understanding of forgiveness.
Countless times in the course of a marriage there’s a need for forgiveness. From the trivial to the monumental wrongs that happen between two people, forgiveness is the way forward.
Six years into my marriage, Pam and I hit the lowest point in our relationship. Our conversation went something like, “If some things don’t change there’s no way we’re making it together.”
We’d arrived at this point largely because of me. I was completely in the wrong and had put our relationship in jeopardy. The only way forward together from this point required forgiveness from Pam. Yes, things that happen in marriage are co-created, but ultimately what happens in each person’s life is the result of personal choice.
For us to create something better, and a relationship that lasts, forgiveness must be part of the path.
Forgiveness is a necessity for any relationship, especially husband and wife.
A privilege of being an adult is to experience life’s greatest joys and its greatest sorrows. We are now capable of very important decisions affecting the rest of our lives and our decisions may require the seeking or accepting of forgiveness.

We live in a broken world.

We are going to make mistakes that not only affect ourselves, but the people around us.
Particularly the people that are most important to us, and there is no relationship more influential than the marital relationship.
But why is forgiveness important?

Three major reasons why forgiveness is important.

The first reason is that you and your spouse are incredibly valuable. There’s an innate value, a deep value bestowed upon us. Because we are valuable, it is important to forgive each other. Forgiveness tells your spouse that she or he is worthy to be forgiven. They are important enough for us to forgive. Think back to a time in your own life when a father, mother, brother, sister, or dear friend asked for forgiveness. What kind of memory do you have of that moment? What feelings did experience? It likely felt like a million dollars (or in today’s economy, a trillion dollars).
Forgiveness is important because it says you are valuable to me.
Secondly, forgiveness is the essence of love. When we decide to forgive our spouse of wrongfully harming us, we are deciding to love him or her. The French writer and moralist, Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, wrote in the 1600’s “We pardon to the extent that we love”. If we choose not to forgive, then we are putting up limits and boundaries to our love for our spouse.
Thirdly, forgiveness is freeing to the soul. Forgiveness allows us to break the bonds of anger, rage, hatred, and vengeance. All these lead down the path of destruction. They are toxins to the soul, and forgiveness is the cleanser. Much of the work in therapy often focuses around the issue of forgiveness. Anger, rage, hatred, and vengeance prevent us from growing to become the mature adults we desire to be. Without forgiveness, these negative emotions will not only destroy every relationship you have, but they will destroy your physical body. Many studies have been done to show the negative effects physically of unresolved anger from heart disease, to liver failure. Forgiveness is the only cure to bitterness.
You may be thinking, “Isn’t forgiveness just condoning bad behavior?”
This is an important question. People confuse forgiveness with feeling like they are accepting or condoning what someone did to them. In essence, they might think, “If I forgive my assailant, then what he did is excused!”
It is important to understand that forgiveness has nothing to do with “condoning” someone’s actions against you. It has everything to do with freeing you to move beyond the offense and gain new and more refined strength and stability only available through forgiveness.
It is never about saying, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” or “That’s okay.”
Forgiveness is about releasing what happened and choosing to move forward in your life and the relationship.
If we refuse to forgive others for their mistakes, we are deciding to build a wall within the relationship. Unresolved anger will destroy the relationship with your mate. Guaranteed. Even more devastating is the fact that it will hinder all of your mate’s future relationships.

Roadblocks to forgiveness

“Why can’t I forgive?” is a question on many people’s minds. “I know I need to, but I just can’t find the strength to go through with it.”
Forgiveness is not an easy task. There are typically three main road blocks to forgiveness. The first is a lack of responsibility when it comes to owning up to our dysfunction. If we are unable to see our own faults and mistakes, how can we possibly move toward forgiveness in our relationships? We must first be able to admit that we are not perfect and that we are capable of hurting our spouse.
Secondly, unresolved anger is a major hindrance to the healing power of forgiveness. If we refuse to let go of bitterness, rage, or hatred we are holding on to very destructive forces. These forces are in direct contrast to the power of forgiveness. The two forces cannot exist together. They are too much of a dichotomy for there to be harmony between them.
Finally, many people have great misconceptions about what forgiveness is; and therefore struggle with forgiveness because they’re on the wrong path. Delusions about forgiveness are dangerous because they are not the truth. The truth will always set us free, like forgiveness. But if we believe the lies about forgiveness then it is natural that we would avoid it at all costs, especially in the light of real emotional pain.

What are the common erroneous beliefs about forgiveness?

First, and most importantly, forgiveness is not forgetting. How many times have we heard someone say, “Forgive and forget!” This is next to impossible, barring serious brain injury of course. Luckily our brains are not wired to completely forget painful events in our past. Not forgetting allows us to remember saddening and hurtful experiences from our past. Kin Hubbard once wrote, “Nobody ever forgets where he buried a hatchet.” Which means we can grow and learn as individuals from the pain we go through in life. Why would we want to forget? That assumes that bad things that happen to us made our lives worse off, but that is simply never true. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. Right?
If we believe we can stuff away our hurts, we are only prolonging the inevitable. By stuffing our hurts deep down in our inner self we are simply waiting for the explosion to occur; like a volcano the intense heat and pressure from past hurts builds up, hoping for release, until it finally erupts. Watch out, these eruptions are extremely damaging to family and friends. The ashes and lava will cover everything in its path.
William Meninger wrote: “Forgiveness, then, is not forgetting. It is not condoning or absolving. Neither is it pretending nor something done for the sake of the offender. It is not a thing we just do by a brutal act of the will. It does not entail a loss of identity, of specialness, or of face. It does not release the offenders from obligations they may or may not recognize. An understanding of these things will go a long way towards helping people enter into the forgiveness process.”
Seeking forgiveness from your mate will be a huge part of your marriage. The need to seek forgiveness in a marriage is natural.
There will be times of hardship or times you’ll be under emotional strain but as along as the two of you are committed to seeking forgiveness the hard times become benefits, not deficits.
When seeking forgiveness, you will want to keep three things in mind. First, remember your approach sets the tone of the conversation. Your voice should be soft and receptive to your mate’s feelings and attitude. Everything needs to be soft from tender touch to the sincerity in our voice. Ask yourself, “How humble am I right now? How willing am I to hear what my spouse might say.”
An important point to keep in mind: If you have rehearsed a rebuttal, you’re probably not ready. Too many times we want to blame others for the hurt WE cause. Blaming only invalidates our mate, and as you learned, lack of responsibility is a major factor in divorce. This is not the time to come with guns blazing and the pulpit roaring.
Second, ask specifically how you hurt your mate. Often we can be wrong about how we hurt our mate. This is a major step toward honoring our mate’s feelings and needs when we ask them how they were hurt by our words or actions. This allows our mate to share their feelings, and if they don’t want to share them at the moment, then take time to let them build their thoughts. Or, you can even ask questions that might help your mate understand more clearly how you hurt him or her.
Third, don’t consume your energy worrying about what your mate did to you. We are not in control of our mate, and thus we can’t make them seek forgiveness nor accept our own forgiveness. We can only control our own lives and how we behave toward our mate. By humbly seeking forgiveness, acknowledging every aspect of wrong doing on your part, you are cleaning up your end.
To be continued …