3 Tips to Embrace Forgiveness in Marriage Nobody's perfect. Even when facing major mistakes, forgiveness is a choice. Here's how to forgive your spouse. BY DENISE J. CHARLES
Nobody's perfect, but you have the power to forgive.
“ The fact that we're living with an individual with an entirely different way of doing things, means that we will often find ourselves at cross purposes with our spouse.”
The sense of betrayal is a powerful emotion to experience in a marriage. When we commit to someone, we expect that this will be reciprocal. We don't only think of relationship loyalty in terms of sexual loyalty, but we expect that our loved one will basically have our back. We want someone who will look out for us, support our efforts, give loving but constructive feedback and commit to standing by our side through thick and thin.
What happens, however, when our spouse does what we perceive to be unforgivable? Maybe he sleeps with someone else, maybe she does the unthinkable and shares your sexual inadequacy with a close male friend, perhaps he forgets an important anniversary or birthday or fails to admit readily that he fathered someone else's child while still married to you.
Whatever the relationship challenge requiring forgiveness is, chances are we will each respond differently based on our understanding of forgiveness and our forgiveness-style. Our intimate relationship may seem unique, but how we navigate it is usually influenced by our initial experiences with love, loyalty, rejection, acceptance and abandonment. Whether these occurred during childhood or previous adult relationships, we often develop a coping or adjustment style which will influence how we continue to respond in future relationship scenarios.
For example, a stable, loving and affirming home environment usually strengthens feelings of self-worth. When an individual feels that he/she is worthy of love, then there tends to be less of a challenge extending genuine forgiveness, since there may be the feeling that there is a lot of love to pass around. At the same time, a stronger sense of self also means that a woman is unlikely to put up with repeated acts of infidelity or abuse because she understands her value.
Outside these fairly serious examples given, common everyday differences will also require acts of forgiveness on the part of both spouses in a relationship. The fact that we're living with an individual with an entirely different way of doing things, means that we will often find ourselves at cross purposes with our spouse. If we want to maintain a healthy marriage, then understanding how we feel about forgiveness and practicing it actively may make the difference between a strained relationship and one that brings deep satisfaction. The following should assist us in strengthening our marriage through the act of forgiveness.
1. Accept imperfection in our partner. Although we hardly admit it, we often expect perfection in our partner even if not in ourselves. We want someone to act as the "be all and end all" of our lives; someone who will make us feel totally loved and meet all of our needs. Recognizing that except for God, this perfect individual does not exist and releasing this unrealistic expectation or fantasy, can go a long way toward our acceptance of our partner's humanity. While this does not mean lowering our standards about significant deal-breakers in the relationship, accepting imperfection can strengthen our ability to extend forgiveness when required.
2. See forgiveness as a process and not an event. Forgiveness between people is unlikely to occur in one fell swoop. It does not mean immediately getting over the pain of disappointment or betrayal nor does it mean completely erasing what has occurred from memory. Many of us forgive unsuccessfully because we do not allow ourselves to grieve over whatever loss has been experienced in our relationship. This is particularly true of infidelity. If we never allow ourselves to really get in touch with our pain and we attempt to gloss it over quickly under the guise of "forgiveness" because we want to save our marriage, then this can come back to haunt us. Grieving may include crying, screaming, sleeping separately for a while, writing about it, talking it over or anything that allows us to focus on how we feel about what has occurred. This is the first step toward personal healing and makes the act of extending forgiveness far more meaningful.
3. Put ourselves in our partner's shoes. Forgiveness is about extending grace to someone else who has done us wrong. When we acknowledge our own humanity and admit that we too often fail, then forgiveness is not such a major issue. We also hurt our partner and will expect to be forgiven. Ultimately, forgiveness is a higher-order skill requiring humility and the ability to extend ourselves. While it carries the risk that we could be hurt again, self-love is also a relationship requirement which allows us to remove ourselves from a dangerous relationship. No matter what type of relationship pain we have experienced, the decision to forgive, which is an act of the will and not a feeling, frees us to live again.