What If The Other Person Won’t Forgive You?

Dollar Photo Forgive

What do you do if you’re the one who has done the wrong? You have acknowledged your error, but the other person won’t forgive you. Or they say they forgive you, but act like they’re still trying to even the score? Do you have to keep asking for forgiveness? Do you need to beg?

These are tough questions. Most marriages deal with this problem at some point. It’s relatively easy to restore a relationship when both partners are willing —one willing to seek forgiveness and the other willing to forgive. But when the wronged partner is unforgiving, what can the guilty partner do?

First remember the closed hand. The unforgiving partner has probably closed his or her spirit to you, and you need to find ways of reopening it. You can’t do that by yelling, warning, shaming, or threatening. “You call yourself a Christian? You have to forgive me or I’ll tell everyone at church what you’re really like!”

Will that help to open anyone’s spirit? Of course not. The fist will just tighten further.

You do not want to go on the offensive in this situation. Remember your position. You have done wrong. You have caused pain. You are now asking a favor. Even if you are both Christians, forgiveness cannot be demanded. Your partner does not owe it to you. You are asking your partner to take a chance on you, a chance to be hurt again. Your partner has every right to have a closed spirit. Now, is there any way to coax it open?

The first attempt is the apology, which you have already offered. Was it sincere? Did you recognize the full extent of your misdeeds? Was it unconditional?

Let’s go to the example of Wilma. Let’s say her apology went something like this: “I’m sorry I threw away your stuff, but you really needed to get rid of it anyway.”

That’s what we call a conditional apology. These usually contain a yeah-but clause in them. If there was any excuse or but in your apology, then go back and apologize more sincerely.

Or you may have used blame shifting in your apology. Kids are especially good at this technique: “I know you told me not to go in the water, but Joey pushed me.” (That’s one I used as a kid.) Even adults use this technique at times: “I know I said I’d be home by 6:00, but my boss wanted me to..”

While Joey or the boss may have affected your behavior, you still need to take full responsibility for the wrong you committed. “My boss asked me to stay and finish payroll, but I know you told me that you had a doctor’s appointment at 6:00, so I should have called or gotten someone else to fill in for me. I was wrong to come home late today. I know that it really messed up your day, and you have good reason for being angry with me. I hope that you will be able to forgive me.” Conditions, excuses, and blame shifting are manipulative. They erode trust rather than restore it.

But what if this has all happened before? You are late for the umpteenth time. If it’s not your boss, it’s the train or the traffic or the terrorist incident that happened on your way home. You have become adept at apologizing with so much practice.

Do you wonder why you’re not being forgiven? Apologies can lose their effect, after about the tenth or twentieth time. Your partner may be withholding forgiveness because he or she does not trust what you’re saying. That’s why our apologies need to be followed by an attitude or behavioral change. In religious terms, you might call this repentance. You stop the offensive behavior, confess it, and then turn the other way.

This step —repentance —may require some time to demonstrate that you really have changed, such as when Art had to prove to Sylvia that he really could be trusted again. Will your partner’s spirit reopen to you? Maybe. Your only remaining tools are prayer, patience and persistence.

•  Prayer Pray that God will open your partner’s spirit, and that He will give you the strength and wisdom to know how to respond.

•  Patience —When you’re trying to mend fences and your partner is stonewalling, the natural, human reaction is to get mad and resentful. You need patience to continue being nice when you’re getting little or no reinforcement.

•  PersistenceDon’t continue to apologize, as long as you have done so sincerely. But you do need to persist in your attempts to demonstrate love, concern, and the desire to improve the relationship. This can be done by reassuring hugs, persistent nonsexual touch, and affirming words of encouragement—even if your partner is not as receptive as you’d like.

What if Sylvia didn’t accept Art’s apology after he had been unfaithful to her but felt sorrowful afterwards? What if she was cold and closed to him for several months? What could Art do to help her forgive him?

First, he could pray that God would open her spirit. If Sylvia was willing, they could even pray together.

Then Art would need to show patience, treating her gently and lovingly. He would need to make behavioral changes in order to rebuild trust. But he would also need to make spirit-opening gestures as well. He wouldn’t want to do this in a manipulative way: “Oh, I’ll buy her some flowers and gifts and she’ll get over it eventually.”

Instead he might discuss how he knows that he’s hurt her deeply but that he’s committed to rebuilding the relationship. He might even ask her to give him hand signals from day to day, showing how open or closed her spirit is toward him-a closed fist, a partially open fist, and then a hand which is steadily opening.

In a solution-based model, we would ask, “How did Art win Sylvia’s trust during the very beginning of their relationship?” While they were dating, Art paid close attention to her needs, listened to her ideas and concerns, and sent her little cards and notes. They went on special dates, held hands, and exchanged reassuring hugs and kisses. Now Art needs to do all those things that he did to win her over in the beginning.

This article is edited from the book, The Marriage Mender, by Dr Thomas A. Whiteman and Dr Thomas G. Bartlett, published by Navpress. This book gives solution-based tools to begin rebuilding your marriage. With illustrations and exercises, it teaches how to look to the future of your relationship instead of focusing on the past with its problems. 

Dr Thomas A. Whiteman is a licensed psychologist who practices with Life Counseling Services in Paoli, Pennsylvania. Dr Thomas G. Bartlett is also a licensed psychologist who practices with Behavioral Healthcare Consultants in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They both work with troubled couples and have conducted seminars on marriage and divorce recovery through Fresh Start Seminars.


Filed under: Bitterness and Forgiveness

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127 responses to “What If The Other Person Won’t Forgive You?

  1. My wife of 7 years won’t forgive me for calling her terrible things and accusing her of cheating. I found texts to another man that were sent when I was in bed with our twin boys and she in bed with our daughter. We have 3 children and she has 2 from prior boyfriend. I brought them up.

    1. If what you say is true about the messages… then you have a spouse that suffers from knowing how to take responsibility for her actions then. However, if this is bothering you so much that you need to bring it up, then your APPROACH to how you bring it up could be the problem, and/or the solution, on how she responds. If you attack, and say something like “I found these messages, who do you think you are texting other men?”, the spouse will natural put up the defenses. However, if you want to to bring it up in a softer manner, something like “I’m aware of the texts on your phone, and I’m not sure what I’ve done to cause you so much suffering that you’d reach out to other men for care and affection, but I want you to know that you can always talk to me about anything and I’ll accept your heartfelt words with open arms, and if I’m not providing you with something you need, just tell me and I’ll work on it… (and more)”

      THEN, she might not only be willing to accept responsibility for what she’s done, and ask for forgiveness, but also find out the underlying cause of why she did it, and work to better herself in that respect, and better your marriage in the process… see? :)

  2. I am 19 and my boyfriend are 21. We aren’t married but I could still use advice related to this. I told him I could help him out with a project for a class. I thought my part would be completed in time to spend time with my mother and sister. When my part was pushed back, I decided to leave and spend the time with my family. It turns out, though, that my boyfriend had been “hyping” it up to his classmates and had requested for more time because of me. I didn’t realize how important this was for him, and I feel horrible already. He asked for a day to cool down and think about it so he wouldn’t say something he would regret. The next day, he said that we were okay and that he still loved me, and that we could move on past it, but he said he could never forgive me. Can our relationship really move on and prosper without his forgiveness?

    He was raised in a faith he does not affiliate with anymore. I was raised in a faith I’m still close to. I grew up with the thought that forgiveness is essential to any relationship or friendship. I don’t see how he can trust me if he doesn’t forgive me. I have prayed to God asking for the strength and power for me to understand why and how to deal with this. I have asked him to help my boyfriend find forgiveness for what I did. In retrospect, what I did wasn’t to the level of cheating, but he is almost treating it as if I betrayed him in that way. I don’t know how to move forward without his forgiveness.

    1. Dear Ellie, This may be a very telling time in your relationship –a fork in the road BEFORE your relationship progresses any further. If you read through the quotes and other articles in the “Bitterness and Forgiveness” topic, you will see that getting to the place of forgiving someone is often a journey one has to take –sometimes a long journey. Someone may have a difficult time giving up their right to punish the other person when they hurt them, but eventually as God speaks to their hearts they can come to the place where that is possible. Some people find it more difficult to forgive and some situations make it more difficult to people to forgive. But ultimately, it’s important to eventually get to that place because holding onto unforgiveness discolors all future interactions. And how is love to grow if the seeds to it are discolored and distorted?

      You say that he is not embracing the faith “he was raised in” where you are “still close to it.” The fact that he is not embracing the forgiveness offered him through Jesus Christ, makes it more difficult for him to give it out, as well. It’s difficult to give out something you do not have yourself. So that is why I’m saying this is a fork in the road for you. Pray for him to embrace forgiveness from God, and then be able to give forgiveness to you. If he can’t come to this place, then it shows what you would be facing in the future. I can tell you without any doubt that where one places their faith will determine how close they can become to each other in the future –especially if your relationship ever leads to you both thinking about marrying. Marriage will test your faith in ways that you cannot comprehend. And if he can’t forgive you for something that is not a real “biggie” at this point, how much love and grace will he be able to extend to you when the bigger stuff happens, which I can guarantee it will? What is happening to you right now is a starting of a proving ground for future growth in your relationship. You REALLY don’t want to permanently bond yourself together with someone who isn’t forgiving –giving grace through the tough times and the toughest of times. Marriage demands lots and lots of grace to be given.

      Ellie, pray for this guy and pray for yourself that God will reveal to you if you really SHOULD “move forward” with your relationship. Withholding forgiveness is a real biggie –no doubt. Also, I recommend that you start visiting a web site that I HIGHLY recommend to those who are single. It can be found at http://boundless.org. Their ministry describes themselves as “a community for Christian young adults who want to grow up, own their faith, date with purpose, and prepare for marriage and family.” They cover GREAT topics. We highly respect their honesty and how they cover some of the toughest of subjects. You may even be able to pose questions to them, such as you proposed here, under appropriate blogs, where you may get an answer from the standpoint of being single and wondering what to do in certain circumstances.

      I pray for you Ellie, and I pray for your boyfriend, that BOTH of you will know if you should “move forward” and that both of you will embrace forgiveness as God would have you. I love your heart and pray the Lord works within you to continue to experience His love in amazing ways. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ —to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

  3. I only wish it was only months for me. When was first married I was not faithful to my wife. Being 19 and in the military did not help at all. That being said I’ve been faithful for over 30 years and have worked hard, been a good father, been a decent financial supporter of my family. I’ve never made the demand that my wife work so she stayed at home raising our children. I’ve prayed and prayed she would forgive me to no avail.

    I was not a Christian when I was unfaithful. My wife says she is a Christian but evidence says otherwise, especially when she questions me as to how can I forgive others that have wronged me so terribly. I come from an abusive childhood, raised by a mother who was very mentally ill. I cannot even fathom divorce, my heart is completely shattered. Except for my children I wish I had never been born and I will be glad when I go to the next life where all my sins have been forgiven and I can finally be at peace.

    I’ve always loved my wife and even more now to the point where I would give my life for her. But I guess I have to live with what I did in the past and realize that in this life sometimes there is no forgiveness from others no matter how hard you try or how much you love. Please pray for me. I know suicide is wrong and it would devastate my family and I could never do that to them. I do not want to cause them anymore pain than I have. Again other believers please pray for me and my family. I love them more than life itself.

    1. Kevin, I am praying for you my friend. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope! Jesus was crucified and resurrected for your pain.

    2. Hi Kevin. My name is Luis and I have a very similar situation. I’ve been married for 22 years, and for the last 5 years I’ve been separated from my and wife and daughters. This has definitely been the hardest time in my life. I was not a Christian when I cheated on my wife and I was also a liar. By the grace and mercy of my God, He saved me and now I can see what a sinner I really am and who I really was without Christ. I know now that I can be Holy through my Lord and Savior, and I know that I can only be righteous through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.

      My wife won’t forgive me either but by God’s grace He showed me how to build a closer relationship with Him. Through this time I have learned to see all the blessings He has given me, even when I never asked for them. He has also blessed me with greater things when I’ve asked for little things. My God is so good, and I would like to encourage you as a brother in Christ to reflect the smallest of blessings so He can reveal all of His goodness. Our God is a good God, stay faithful and true and He will carry you, that’s His promise to all who believe in His Holy name.

  4. It was 4 years ago, 3 years into dating when I brought up the issue of taking the relationship to the next level. She was hesitant, pulled back a bit and decided on treading a different path. She wasn’t clear enough so I stayed on, and attempted to build the relationship more into a permanent one, hoping she’d identify the value and love and change her mind. Things got worse and I couldn’t take the disregard and hurt from her actions any longer, I broke down in spirit and gave up on love all together.

    In my vulnerable state, I met someone else and began doing things for all the wrong reasons, and convinced myself I was no candidate for the marriage institution. Things quickly became physical and not long, she got pregnant with a handsome baby boy. A few months after the delivery, her parents and family decided they had other plans for her, to which she agreed, none of which would allow me be a permanent figure in her life other than fathering my son and being a responsible daddy.

    We parted peacefully and I have a great relationship with her and my son. This whole time, my first love kept checking on me and I made no meaning of it since I was convinced she wasn’t ready to go the long haul. I retracted into my shell and put all my energy into helping out raise my son and building my career. After a while of just doing me, my first love came back into my life, this time with apology about how she treated me unfairly and how she really loves me. It took me a while, but I believed her and gave her a chance, explaining my current family situation and also my intent to be very responsible and give my son the best, also assuring her it won’t take away from the love I was willing to give her.

    Things went pretty smoothly and I introduced her to my pastor. We went for pre-marital counseling and eventually got married. I was happy and made some changes and committed to being the best husband I could possibly be, by the help of God. I started noticing the very strange dynamics of our arguments and her utterances. Something was always off and intimacy was greatly reduced, and I am talking about less than 5 months into marriage. I suspected she might be holding on to something from the past so I practiced a lot of patience and wisdom in dealing with our differences until one night, I couldn’t take it anymore so I threatened to take the issue to her parents and our pastor and tell them all about how unfairly she’s treated our marriage and how much she judged me.

    I reminded her of what happened in the past and how she gave up on our love and I wasn’t strong enough at the time and I let it get to me. Thank God for strength, I am a much better man today. It was at that point that she burst out in tears and knelt down apologizing for how unfair she’d been to me and how much anger she’d been harboring against me. She said she always wanted a perfect picture and each time she remembers the fact that I had a son, especially during an argument, all she thinks of doing is to say things to spite me and hurt me and disregard the issue even if it was clear she was wrong.

    I listened on as she said she was willing to let go and give herself a chance at loving me and not judging me. I prayed with her that night and we went to sleep. I love her so much and would love to honor God and make this relationship work but I don’t know how to turn the situation around to be the loving and caring man I’d always been. I do NOT have room for divorce either as I am a strong believer in God. PLEASE ADVISE!!!

    1. Hello Starr, I am a husband married 36 years with my wife… we have two adult children and three grandchildren. I had to read your account several times to really appreciate the course of events… it seems you have been very open with your first love who understands that, because she was unwilling to commit to you, you two parted ways, and you met someone else, and had your son by your second relationship. Your second love then, with her family, had plans which did not include you, other than being the father of your little boy.

      At this point, your first love came back, and you told her everything about your second relationship and your son. It seems that you have handled a difficult situation as well as you could. Your wife (first love) always wanted a perfect picture, but she has not gotten over the fact that you have a son now, by your second love whom you met after your first love (with whom you are now married) would not commit at that time. I hope I have uderstood this correctly.

      Your wife needs to understand that you appreciate and empathize with the hurt she is carrying, because you have a son by another woman, even though she (your wife) would not commit to you earlier, before you knew your son’s mother. This seems very unreasonable, but it is what it is. Thinking about it, perhaps it is very likely that your first love (your wife) is very scared of commitment, but loved you very much nonetheless… and still oves you now. All you can do is love your wife, understand her, spend time with her, listen to her, pray to God ALOT, seek support from other Christian friends, and perhaps go to Christian counselling if your wife agrees…

      These websites may certainly be of help>



      In the meantime, your wife needs to understand that no picture is ever perfect, and that you have a son who needs his father. I hope these comments help… you are among freinds here at this site… WP (Work in Progress)

  5. I carry guilt for failing to take proper care of my ex wife. She became ill after 3 yrs of being together ie 18 months into our marriage. It was a very heartbreaking and stressful time. It took 5 yrs for her condition to be diagnosed. It was a nerve injury that triggered the problem. It turned her into a different woman. I still loved her but found it profoundly difficult. I became impatient and intolerant towards her. She broke up with me and I wasn’t relieved but heartbroken.

    I met another woman at the gym and we saw each other for about 6 weeks. Unexpectedly my wife and I got back together. The other woman was devastated and I slept with her soon after my wife (now ex wife) got back together. She told my wife and this was a huge shock for her. I felt terrible. We continued drifting in and out for the next 10 years. Last year February, she broke up with me. Since then she has developed hatred towards me and even blames me for her ill health because of my disturbed character and the stress this put on her. I still struggle with this and feel very hurt and guilty.

    1. Hi Steven, A very difficult situation. :( What you can do now is to admit and own your mistakes, treat your ex-wife with as much love as you can, and, when you feel the time is right, to ask for her forgiveness. She may be too hurt to forgive, that is quite possible. No matter what she does, if you can say your words and deeds from now on are said or done with the best intentions, then you have done all you can do. Effective prayer is of course, very powerful. A network of trusted friends with whom you share these thigns would be a great plus. In the end, love overcomes any and all obstacles. Professional help may also be an option.

      I am a husband married 36 years; we have 2 adult children and 3 grandchildren. I certainly hope these comments help… WP (Work in Progress)

  6. I’ve been in a relationship for 4 years. Last year I called my ex-boyfriend to get back at him before I completely move on with my life. My boyfriend saw the text messages and dumped me on the spot. After a few days I told the truth and we talked and I thought we were working past it. All last year after that we were fine. Then in Feb 2016 he changed and started treating me diffenrent and says he can’t forgive and he tried. We still live together and he treats me different. I don’t know what to do.

    1. Hi Wendy, Well, I hate to say this, but calling your ex-boyfriend “to get back at him” was probably not a good idea. Of course it is unfortunate that your present boyfriend saw the messages… and reacted the way he did. Do you know why he changed starting last February? Perhaps he has been thinking but not talking all this time, and finally reacted? In what way did he change?

      The best you can do is own your mistakes, tell him you know this was a bad idea, and that you are not perfect but you want to learn from your mistakes. You have nothing to lose by asking your boyfriend for another chance. Then you need to build up trust again… of course this takes time and patience. If you can say in your heart that from here on out, your comments and actions toward him are what you would want to hear yourself, then better you cannot do. Effective prayer, of course, is a huge asset. :) Understanding the five love languages is also a big help:

      I hope these comments help….. WP (Work in Progress)