how to forgive your spouse

In every marriage people get wounded. Your spouse is a flawed human being, a sinner who causes you pain. (You are too! Last week we talked about how to help your spouse forgive you when you cause them pain.) The proximity and intimacy of marriage means the wounds you receive from your spouse can feel especially hard to forgive. But learning how to forgive your spouse in a healthy way provides your only chance of a successful marriage.

Forgiveness has been misunderstood so often. Forgiveness does NOT:

  • Say everything is OK.
  • Minimize the pain you have endured.
  • Consist primarily of a feeling.
  • Accept ongoing bad behavior.
  • Guarantee a “normal” relationship.
  • By itself restore trust.
  • Remove all consequences.

It’s NOT OK! That’s why forgiveness is the only way to move forward. Your spouse’s harsh words, selfishness, rude behavior, anger, rejection, unethical choices, addiction, abuse, or infidelity is NOT OK! That list illustrates that forgiveness is needed for both little and big “sins.” Forgiveness is a choice, it’s a process, and it’s hard.

Forgiveness IS giving up your right to exact revenge, and puts God in charge of the consequences your spouse will receive.  Tweet that.

You can forgive your spouse and still set boundaries. You can extend forgiveness and still base your trust on what your spouse does next. Forgiveness is a separate decision from what you do about your relationship going forward. (Next week we’ll talk more about those difficult decisions when your marriage seems too destructive to save.)

It’s been said that every healthy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. There’s a lot of truth there. Here are some ways to become a better forgiver for the benefit of your marriage.

Check Your Own Heart

Your feelings are real, but they are not the whole truth. Focusing primarily on your spouse’s behavior will cloud your vision. Step back and realize that you have a choice in how you respond to even the worst circumstances. Are you choosing to nurse bitterness in your heart? Or are you choosing to press forward to learn what forgiveness means in your marriage at this specific time?

Your own bad behavior does not excuse the same in your spouse, and this is not about apportioning blame. But it’s important to own your own role in any conflict, dysfunction, communication breakdown, intimacy barriers, etc. Checking your own heart can help you see your spouse with more compassion, more wisdom, more grace.

Keep Short Accounts

Hauling out old mistakes and wielding them as a weapon to hurt your spouse only makes things worse. Learn to let the small stuff go – permanently! And even the big stuff – if you, your spouse, and God have fully dealt with it, it’s gone. Would you want your spouse constantly bringing up your past mistakes? Keep things current.

Learn to deal with stuff quickly. When you sense the Holy Spirit calling you up short on your bitterness, stop right then. Do your own heart check. Choose to turn your spouse over to God again, right now. If there’s something you need to talk with your spouse about, don’t put it on hold. Learn to have that difficult conversation NOW. And once it’s dealt with let it go – forever.

Seek God’s Perspective

It’s hard to see clearly when your feelings (or worse) are hurt. You need God’s perspective to understand your own heart, your spouse’s heart, and the bigger picture in your marriage. Intentionally spend some time in God’s presence asking Him to show you how He sees you, your spouse, and your relationship.

Seeing things from His perspective will change your own heart and help you know what to do next. Remember, forgiving your spouse does not mean everything is OK, but you’ve got to start here.

Go to the Source

God never intended for any human being, including your spouse, to be the source for all your needs. If your spouse harmed you by failure to meet some of your legitimate needs, turning your focus away from your spouse and toward God removes much of the sting.

As for forgiving your spouse – letting go of your right to revenge – you can only truly do that when you receive God’s overwhelming forgiveness for yourself. Intentionally seek Him to fill your heart with His grace, wisdom, love – and forgiveness. Let Him fill you, and then you have something to offer.

THEN Evaluate the Relationship

Once your heart is clear, and you have made the decision to give up your right to determine what pain your spouse receives as a consequence, only then are you in a position to clearly evaluate the relationship. What do you need to know, understand, and do in light of this circumstance? Do you need to be more intentional about filling up your own empty soul in healthy ways? Do you need to completely let this go? Do you need to do some more work in your own heart to become the spouse God needs you to be in your marriage for this season? Do you need to put some boundaries in place to lessen the pain possible in the future? Do you need to take more drastic steps in light of ongoing bad behavior by your spouse?

Getting the toxic bitterness out of your heart through the process of forgiveness makes it possible to think clearly about some of these questions. The point is not what your spouse did; that’s in the past. The point is who they are today. If your spouse is a person of good will who is deeply hurt by how much they wounded you and is committed to a process of growth in the future, the past is past! And if not, your heart is clear to decide how to move forward. (More on this next week.)

And the benefits of forgiveness to your own body, mind, and soul will be more than you can measure. As the commercials used to say, “Priceless!”

I wish for you the freedom of forgiveness.

Your Turn: Have you learned to extend your spouse forgiveness in a healthy way? How can you do that better? Leave a comment below.

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  • Forgiveness in marriage does not mean everything is OK, nor does it guarantee your future relationship. But forgiveness does clear your own heart, and opens the door to the possibility of healing and restoration of your marriage.  Tweet that

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