All marriages need forgiveness.
For many, that means forgiving small slights or rude words. Some marriages face the decision of whether to forgive bigger offenses, such as infidelity.
I’ve had the privilege to meet an d hear the stories of a dozen couples who have faced various challenges and who now have remarkable, loving marriages.
One such couple is Ron and Nancy, who overcame infidelity 30 years ago and now have a completely changed marriage. I think one of the more remarkable parts of their story involves the moment the husband decided to forgive his wife for an affair she had with a coworker.
Nancy didn’t ask for or expect forgiveness immediately when she told him about the affair. Her parents invited them for a visit so they could guide them through reconciliation. They helped her to truly confess her wrongdoing to Ron and to ask him for forgiveness.
Then, they gave Ron the time to decide if he could honestly do so without using it against her in the future. The next morning, Ron decided he would indeed forgive her and they would move forward with whatever they needed to do to repair the damage.
Ron explained his feelings while choking up, saying, “The minute she asked for my forgiveness, God passed the pain and sorrow out of my heart.” He adds that the change for him was like being miraculously healed of cancer. Many men have asked him how he was able to be free of anger and jealousy. Ron says they avoided discussing the details of the affair, and he saw the pain and regret in his wife. He also took responsibility for all the ways he had pushed his wife away and treated her poorly.
Another couple’s story includes a husband who was a closet cocaine addict. When he confessed his addiction to his wife, she became very angry and ordered him to move out of their home. He later informed her that he had put them in serious financial debt due to the drug use.
She insisted on a separation and demanded he seek treatment if he would be allowed to visit their son. Thankfully, he did seek and obtain treatment and accepted full responsibility for his actions. Over time, he did his best to repair the situation and apologized profusely. He knew there was only a small chance she would forgive him, but he worked hard knowing the marriage may or may not end up working.
Many months after he completed rehabilitation, his wife did decide to forgive him and to attempt reconciliation.
Free from his cocaine addiction, he became a model father and husband who is eternally grateful for his family and marriage. He helped his wife battle breast cancer years after he became clean. They are a very positive and loving couple and have been open with their children about their struggles.
Today, he says his wife offered forgiveness before he felt he deserved it.
How to Seek Forgiveness
Author and speaker, Dr. Scott Haltzman, offers this advice on forgiveness: “Forgiveness frequently comes at the tail end of an apology, once you have completed the process, and may include spelling out your plans to make amends. It may only be at that point, if at all, that your spouse may be ready grant absolution. He or she should never feel forced to forgive you. Saying, ‘I hope that one day you’ll be able to forgive me,’ or ‘I’d like to ask your forgiveness if that’s possible,’ leaves the door open for your partner to withhold clemency. Granting forgiveness is entirely in your partner’s hands.”
Just because we are married to someone doesn’t mean we can demand immediate forgiveness for wrongdoing. However, expressing remorse, attempting to repair the damage and allowing space and time to the one who was offended can help make forgiveness possible.
Forgiveness can certainly be a gift to the giver and to the receiver.
Withholding forgiveness and holding grudges can be toxic to the offended person.
Forgiveness research by sociologist Greg Easterbrook concludes that “people who do not forgive the wrongs committed against them tend to have negative indicators of well-being, more stress-related disorders, lower immune system function, and worse rates of cardiovascular disease than the population as a whole.”
In short, these emotions poison us from the inside out.
We inherently know that these emotions are bad for us. We feel it when we allow ourselves to be taken away by these feelings (think about the stomach ache or headache that often occurs during a conflict). While we don’t want to become doormats or become taken advantage of, most of us know that we could be more graceful toward our partners when they make a mistake, especially a minor one. Sometimes a spouse doesn’t even know when he or she has done something wrong, and we are already holding a grudge.
Each person has to decide whether or not to offer forgiveness. Often — even when the offense was major – forgiveness can pave the way to an even stronger marriage.
The topic of this post is one of 12 overarching lessons shared in Lori’s new book: First Kiss to Lasting Bliss. For further details on the book, visit LoriLowe.com. Or connect with Lori at Facebook.com/LastingBliss.