If That's Forgiveness, I'd Hate to See Unforgiveness

Without a doubt, I think forgiveness has got to be one of the most misunderstood words in our language today. That’s especially true as it relates to marriage. In counseling couples, I often hear a husband or wife say things about forgiveness that just don’t add up. They often say things like: “I’ve forgiven him/her, but I just don’t like being around him.” Or, “I’ve forgiven my spouse, but he/she just constantly gets under my skin.” Others say, “I’m a very forgiving person, but this is something I just can’t overlook.”

To the above-mentioned statements, I often respond by saying, “If that’s forgiveness, then I’d hate to see unforgiveness.” I might not say it in exactly those terms, but I address it because forgiveness is a crucial ingredient to the success of a marriage. It’s a subject that is commonly misunderstood and if not more so, difficult to practice. As such, I spend considerable time helping couples to get this part of married life right.

What Forgiveness Looks Like

Forgiveness is not a feeling we merely hold deep within the innermost of our being. Forgiveness is an act of our will, a choice that requires following these six practices:

1. Forgiveness is to reach out and love the other person as if they were already doing what you expect them to be doing. (I Corinthians 13:7,  “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”).

2. Forgiveness is to not bring up the past in a way that makes your spouse feel ashamed, guilty, or inferior. (Philippians 3:13,  No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead...).

3. Forgiveness is to speak to your spouse in a caring way that is unconditionally loving; that is kind, patient, and considerate. (Ephesians 4:29-31; Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them).

4. Forgiveness is to refrain from speaking to others about your spouse in a negative way. (Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over).

5. Forgiveness is to refrain from dwelling on the issue you forgave your spouse for, in a negative manner. It requires guarding your mind and heart.  Ephesians 4:28-29, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

6. Forgiveness is to intentionally choose to dwell on your spouse’s positive attributes and not their shortcomings. (Philippians 4:8, Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things).

In Summary

These principles of forgiveness are based upon the example that God has given us as seen in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. In other words, if this is the way God treats us when He forgives us, then we should be willing to emulate the same behavior when we say that we have forgiven our spouse.

For a couple to walk across the bridge to forgiveness, they must make the key adjustments in their marriage. Our New Beginning Marriage Renewal Retreat deals extensively with how to break the cycle of resentment, anger, and bitterness. It coaches couples in the right changes to break the cycle of toxic unforgiveness in their marriage. For more information about “A New Beginning” contact us and one of our colleagues will be glad to help you.