Forgiveness can be costly. A major step in the process of forgiveness is releasing your offending spouse, giving up on revenge and retribution, and allowing God to work in your spouse’s heart. It means letting your spouse off the hook and giving up your right to hold an offense over his or her head. And if you are the one who caused offense, forgiveness means surrendering your pride, admitting guilt, and seeking restoration. That’s tough stuff.
But the benefits found in a renewed relationship are well worth the cost of forgiveness. In fact, the benefits of forgiveness are so overwhelming that if you cannot forgive for the sake of your spouse, you will want to forgive for how it will benefit you alone. Your choice is to let go of the wrongs done against you or to pay a heavy personal price.
The power to forgive in marriage ultimately comes from God. And what you may not realize is there are some myths about forgiveness.
Myth #1: “When I forgive, I must also forget.”
We don’t believe God intends for you to forget the pain you suffer. To the contrary, you are to remember it so you can value the lessons you learned. Remembering also helps to keep you from repeating the same mistakes or needlessly placing yourself in a position where hurt happens.
Myth #2: “The hurt is too great. It is impossible for me to forgive.”
Forgiveness is always possible. God would never command us to do something that is impossible. Forgiveness can overcome the greatest of offenses, even offenses that threaten to drive couples to divorce. Yes, it will hurt, but you must walk through the storm and experience the hurt in order to be able to experience the healing.
Myth #3: “I don’t feel like forgiving, so my forgiveness can’t be genuine.”
Forgiveness really isn’t about feelings. It’s a choice, an act of the will. If you wait until you feel like forgiving, you are choosing to feed the monster of resentment and bitterness. While the choice to forgive supersedes your feelings, it doesn’t deny them. It embraces them and allows you to express them through effective communication, then you can resolve the conflict by entering the process of forgiveness. Even when you don’t feel like forgiving, you need to ask God for strength to enter the process. He will direct you if you honestly seek him.
Myth #4: “I can’t forgive until the other person asks for it.”
You may fantasize about receiving a groveling apology from the offender, but if you wait for that kind of response when your spouse hurts you, you may have to wait a long time. Besides, forgiveness is an act of grace. It’s unmerited love. Your spouse doesn’t have to jump through all the right hoops to earn it. Your forgiveness of others must be patterned after God’s forgiveness of you: Forgiveness cannot be earned. You must offer forgiveness without any conditions. Simply forgive as God does.
Myth #5: “In order to forgive. I must pretend that nothing bad happened.”
Forgiveness doesn’t pretend that nothing happened or that the offense didn’t hurt. Rather, true forgiveness acknowledges what really happened and how badly it hurt, then chooses to let go of the offense. Forgiveness says, “I know what you did, and it really hurt. But in full view of this reality, I choose to forgive you. I do this because of the example and power of Christ, and because I want our relationship to be healed.” Forgiveness never says that a hurt didn’t happen because if it didn’t happen, there would be nothing to forgive.
Myth #6: “I must forgive right away, or it doesn’t count.”
Often this myth is based on Paul’s admonition, “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). This verse isn’t a formula for the amount of time it should take to forgive. It is a command that you should not let anger fester in your heart. Since forgiveness is an act of the will, it may take you some time to come to the point where you are ready to forgive.
Forgiving is how you bring your relationship into the light. It’s how you set free the offended and the offender and allow for reconciliation. God says you must forgive—because he has forgiven you.
*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It’s available in our online bookstore!