The One Thing Your Marriage Needs Most Right Now (Fighting for Your Marriage Chapter 15)

Marriage is the closest relationship you will ever have with another person. With that closeness comes the risk of pain: betrayal, neglect, dealing with the other’s immaturity and character flaws, dealing with the other’s insensitive or offensive comments and actions, and negativity.
So, what makes one couple able to fight through all of these problems and another couple tear apart over them? How do couples survive and even thrive in light of the pains of marriage?
In chapter 15 of Fighting for Your Marriage, The Denver Researchers say, “We think the answer is that [successful] couples share a desire to forgive that flows from a deep well of acceptance.”
After love, the most powerful force in all human relationships, and the greatest need in marriage, is forgiveness. The Denver Researchers define forgiveness as “a decision to give up your perceived or actual right to get even with, or hold in debt, someone who has wronged you.”
Forgiveness can’t be faked. It requires a complete engagement of your heart. You have to let go of resentment and free the other person from a debt.
While it might feel satisfying to refuse forgiveness, it is ultimately a power play that destroys the relationship.
The Researchers tell a story that was given to them at one of their conferences. Hunters in Africa used to dig a pit to trap animals. They would cover the pit and an animal would fall in. The animal could not climb out because the pit was too deep.
When a spouse wrongs their partner, they have fallen into a pit. They cannot get out on their own. Forgiveness means helping the partner who has wrong you. It means pulling them out of the pit so that they will again be on equal footing.
“When one of you does not forgive the other, you aren’t on equal ground any longer, and the one is kept indefinitely in the position of debt, with painful reminders of why he or she is now in the pit.”
I think it is important to pause and talk about what forgiveness is not.
Some people say forgiveness requires forgetting what happened.
Some people say forgiveness requires letting go of all painful emotions.
Some people say forgiveness requires the relationship continue on as if nothing happened.
Let’s tackle each of these misconceptions.
1. Forgiveness is not forgetting.
You can still remember. In fact, it is intellectually dishonest to pretend you don’t remember. The point of forgiveness is not to fool yourself into thinking you don’t remember what happened. The point of forgiveness is to prevent those memories from growing into bitter, resentful, unforgiving memories.
2. Forgiveness is not getting over the emotional sting of being wronged.
You can still feel the pain of being wronged and forgive. You can still grieve over the pain and hurt. But you cannot let those pains turn your heart toward negativity until you hold a grudge. Even in pain you need to hold on to a positive acceptance of your partner.
You have to fight memory and pain to keep it in check and not allow them to leave your spouse in a pit.
3. Forgiveness does not mean things go back to normal as if nothing ever happened.
All actions have consequence. If you have been wronged and forgive, there are still practical steps that will take time to bring full restoration to your relationship. If major problems have developed or serious acts of betrayal have occurred, trust and restoration will take time.
Some couples naively believe things can just ‘go back to normal.’ It does not matter with the wrongs are small daily problems or major earthquakes in the relationship, changes need to be made.
If the problem is verbal abuse towards each other, changes must be made in the way the couple communicates.
If the problem is neglect, the couple needs to sit down and seriously work out how things will change.
If the problem is an affair. Everything that led to the betrayal needs to be understood and couples need to understand what needs to change if the relationship can be repaired. A new relationship has to slowly grow out of the pain and betrayal of the old relationship.
Even if it is the minor annoyances and character flaws that require forgiveness, you should lovingly seek to find ways to redesign your relationship to understand each other and act with the other in mind.
Restoration is a process. And that process requires a shift in the dynamics of the relationship.

You need to forgive. Not as a one-time end of story moment. You need to forgive daily. And sometimes you need to reinforce the same forgiveness every day as you beat back a desire to hold a grudge for old offenses.
The other choice is to hold on to grudges and pain. But in doing so you will destroy your relationship and yourself in the process.

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