Marriage Missions International

What If The Other Person Won’t Forgive You?

Photo credit: nicdalic / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: nicdalic / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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.


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58 Responses to “What If The Other Person Won’t Forgive You?”
  1. Lakesy from Belize says:

    I have an anger problem and my husband likes to hang out! He said he is only hanging with the guys, which I do believe but I get upset when he stays out too late. I argue with him when he gets back! Now I’ve done one too many times that he doesn’t love me anymore. He wants a separation because he said being around me is unbearable! I want to save my marriage but he doesn’t want to forgive me! What should I do?

  2. Jessica from United States says:

    My husband and I have been married for almost 9 years. He told me a month ago that he cheated on me with a very good friend of mine 7 years ago, only a year and a half in to our marriage…our daughter was only 5 months old. He has apologized and I believe he is sincere. But the problem is that I feel like I have been broken inside, even if it was 7 years ago.

    He has asked me to forgive him and he says he knows that it will take time and that he will do everything he can to gain my trust and love back…and I cannot respond…I can barely look at him without feeling that hurt. I don’t feel the same way about him; I do not love him the same. He is not the man I once knew, he was not the man I thought he was when I married him. I cannot forgive him and I don’t know what to do.

    • Cindy Wright from United States says:

      Dear Jessica, Please know that forgiveness is a lot different than most people realize. It is something that will eventually set YOU free. Please read the “Quotes” and other articles in the “Bitterness and Forgiveness” topic, as well as the “Surviving Infidelity” topic. You are on a long, painful journey –a road that you didn’t choose to travel, but because of sinful choices on your husband’s part, you are thrown onto it. The important thing right now is to try to process all of this in the healthiest way you can. It will be one step forward and another back… but eventually, you will make progress. As you prayerfully read through the quotes, articles and testimonies… and possibly even visit some of the web sites we recommend, I believe you will lean towards healing.

      I’m so, so sorry that you are going through this Jessica. It should never have been. But sadly, it has. But I know from all I have seen, that if you lean upon the Lord instead of your own understanding, you will eventually find yourself in a MUCH better place. Please don’t trust your feelings right now… I can assure you that they will change, one way or another. Just read what you can… learn what you can, cry, grieve, work the junk out of your heart and feelings in the healthiest ways you can and you will do better than you could ever imagine at this point. I’ve seen it over, and over, and over again. I pray that for you.

  3. Carissa from Australia says:

    I said to someone that I didn’t like another person then she started telling the person I didn’t like when I actually didn’t mean what I said. I asked for forgiveness but all she said was nothing. What do I do?

  4. Tom from United States says:

    My wife moved out four months ago, saying she was “done living in a loveless marriage”, which was due to mostly a communication breakdown and I didn’t respond to her as I should have. I wrote and gave her a reconciliation letter, approved by a marriage counselor no less, about 2 1/2 months ago where I admitted all the mistakes I’d made, listed some of things I loved about her, and asked for her forgiveness. I followed up with an email about a week later, yet there has been no response from her. Obviously, it’s a case where her heart and spirit is closed off to me, and possible Him.

    I’ve pretty much started to “Let go and let God” and quit contacting her about anything, particularly the past month, and pray that He works in her hardened heart as I try, waiting as patiently as I can. I’m standing and holding to His Word that He wants couples he joined to stay joined, per the law of marriage and covenant He put in place.

  5. Peter from Australia says:

    I’ve apologised way too many times. I’m suffering depression from the separation so it’s difficult to show any happiness. I’ve come across as too desperate and insecure. I’m losing her more and more each day and don’t think I will ever be given her forgiveness, earn her trust, and reconcile to be together again. But I’m afraid of what my life will become if I can’t get my love back; help me please!

  6. Dean from United States says:

    My wife has a closed heart and has lost interest in God. I have asked for forgiveness when I have wronged her, but no forgiveness or little response or communication. Please pray for my wife that her heart may open to the Lord and me. I am loving, being patient and praying for her daily. Any recommendations on opening up a closed heart would be appreciated. God Bless you!

  7. Chiara from United States says:

    My husband and I had a fight and it has been three days that he didn’t talk to me. It is so painful. I served him supper but he neglects it. He never tells me any single word. It is killing me inside. The fight started with me comfronting him that I feel bad about what I discovered. We were already together, long distance relationship. I did not know that he was living in the same roof with his x wife until we we were together for a year. Because it is long distance, I didn’t know what he was doing. I asked and he tells me he is doing this with his kids and his parents. When we lived together, I discovered that he was with his x-wife.

    I feel so bad about this even if it was 2 years ago. I feel cheated and I don’t know what to do. God knows I love him so much but He also knows how hard it is to know that somebody you love lied to you. I asked my husband, “how come I didn’t know?” and he just said, “I do not know” while flipping in his phone. You know, I am trying to open up and solve a problem that has been bothering me, but then, he shuts me off.

    Now, I feel so distant from him. I beg him to talk to me, and he just says,”shut up.” I am so scared that our marriage will fall apart because of this. I feel left alone and abandoned. It was just a tiny thing but he is so angry at me and he is making me feel like I am invisible. By the way we are married for just 6 months. I keep saying sorry if I got mad about the lying part but he still will not talk to me. I want to hear his part too but he just shuts me off and never talks. I don’t know what this means. I cannot figure it out. I love him so much and I do not want to lose him but it seems that this issue is making a gap between us already. It is so painful.

  8. bd from United States says:

    What if none of this has worked and ex-spouse refuses to forgive and moved on to someone else? I have given up. I think if God wanted to restore he would have by now. It’s been almost 2 years.

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