In the last Marriage Message we touched on the subject of going the extra mile in apologizing. (See: Apologizing: Going the Extra Mile – MM #324.) This time we’d like to explain more about apologizing and asking for forgiveness in marriage. In particular we’ll be talking about times when you want to demand forgiveness.
It’s tempting to demand forgiveness when your spouse won’t budge in giving it to you. You have “nicely” asked for it (possibly numerous times), and so now you expect it. You feel it is time to put it all behind you, and move on with your lives together. But you need to know that demanding forgiveness can just add fuel to the already burning fire of hurt and resentment. It complicates the situation all the more.
Don’t Demand Forgiveness
To help us understand this situation a little better, we’re sharing a portion of the book, The Five Languages of Apology, written by Dr Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas. (It’s a great book that we highly recommend.) Here’s what Gary writes on this issue:
“There’s a vast difference between requesting forgiveness and demanding forgiveness. In our research, we continually encountered individuals who expected, yes, even demanded that the offended party forget the offense and move on. One wife said, ‘I can hear it now in my head. I’ve heard it hundreds of times through our 25 years of marriage. He insists, ‘I said I’m sorry. What more do you want?’ I just wish that one time he would look me in the eyes and say, ‘Will you please forgive me?’ He demands my forgiveness, but he never apologizes, and he never changes anything.’
“I never had an opportunity to talk with her husband, but I had the strong suspicion that he had a controlling personality and a dominant fear of failure. If these two personality traits could have been dealt with, their relationship would not have ended as it did —in divorce.
“Don’t demand forgiveness. You cannot expect it. When we demand forgiveness, we fail to understand the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness is essentially a CHOICE to lift the penalty and to let the person back into our lives. It’s to pardon the offense so that we might redevelop trust. Forgiveness says, ‘I care about our relationship. Therefore, I choose to accept your apology and no longer demand justice.’ It is essentially a gift. A gift that is demanded is no longer a gift.
The Gift of Forgiveness
“When, as the offender, I demand to be forgiven, I am like a monarch sitting on a throne, judging the offended person as being guilty of an unforgiving heart. The offended person is hurt and angry over my offense. But I am trying to make her feel guilty for not forgiving me. On the other hand, when I go to the offended party and say, ‘Will you forgive me?’ I am now bowing at her throne and requesting to be forgiven of my offense. I know that if she grants my request, I am a recipient of her mercy, love, and grace. Forgiveness is always to be requested but never demanded.
“Please understand that when you request to be forgiven, you are making a huge request. It will be costly to the person you have offended. When they forgive you, they must give up their desire for justice. They must relinquish their hurt and anger, their feeling of embarrassment or humiliation. They must give up their feelings of rejection and betrayal. Sometimes, they must live with the consequences of your wrong behavior.
“These may be physical consequences that need forgiveness, such as a sexually transmitted disease, a child born of a strange lover, or the memory of an abortion. Other consequences may be emotional, such as the mental images of your flushed face and raised voice. They could be the images of you in the arms of another lover, or the cutting words that play over again and again in their minds.
Costliness in Forgiveness
“The person you hurt must live with all of this and much more. And they must process it in order to forgive you. This is not a small thing you’re asking of him or her. As an ancient Chinese proverb says, ‘When you bow, bow low.’
“Because of the costliness of forgiveness, don’t expect the offended person to forgive you immediately. If the offense is minor and if you apologize in the primary apology language of the offended person, then perhaps his or her forgiveness may be extended rather quickly. But if the offense is major and often repeated, it will take time for the offended party to process your apology, especially if their apology language is the language of restitution or repentance. It takes time to see if you will follow through on making restitution or genuinely repenting and changing destructive behaviors. The person must be convinced of your sincerity, and that may well take time.
“In the meantime, your greatest virtue must be patience. Be sure you are (1) speaking the person’s primary love language (you would need to read the chapter on this or read the book, The 5 Love Languages, to understand this better) and (2) making every effort to change your behavior. If you are consistent in these pursuits, you will likely be the recipient of forgiveness in due time.
“Verbally requesting forgiveness after you have expressed an apology often is the key that opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. It may be the one element of your apology that the offended person is waiting to hear. ‘Will you please forgive me?’ is the ingredient that convinces them that you are indeed sincere in your apology.
Speak the Apology Language
“Without the request for forgiveness your statements, ‘I’m sorry. I was wrong. I will make it up to you. I’ll never do it again’ may sound like glib remarks designed to put the matter behind you without really dealing with it. If this is the offended party’s primary apology language, then you must learn to speak it if you want her to know that your apology is genuine.
“Statements that may help you learn to speak the apology language requesting forgiveness:
• “‘I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you. I know it was loud and harsh. You didn’t deserve that. It was very wrong of me, and I want to ask you to forgive me.’
• “‘I know that what I did hurt you very deeply. You have every right never to speak to me again, but I am truly sorry for what I did. And I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me.’
• “‘I didn’t intend to hurt you but obviously I have. I realize that now, and I see that my actions were wrong even though I was just trying to have fun. It’s never right to have fun if someone gets hurt. I promise you I will try to never do that again. And I want to ask you if you will please forgive me.'”
The High Price of Forgiving
We share the above portion of the book, The Five Languages of Apology, to help the one asking for forgiveness to understand that you are asking the spouse you have offended to pay another high price for what you have done against them. The book explains this better than we can do in a short message. (We highly recommend you obtain, read, and learn from it.) But the point is that by demanding forgiveness or manipulating them to do so, you are adding to the pain you already afflicted on them.
If you’re truly sorry and repentant, it’s then your responsibility to do what it takes to help the other spouse work through the pain to eventually come to the place of releasing the injustice of it all. This may require you to do uncomfortable things in explaining more than you want, and apologizing in a way that seems more excessive than necessary from your point of view, but the point is to help them heal from the pain you caused. It is our hope that you will do what it takes to make this happen.
We will visit this subject in the next Marriage Message to honor our God of reconciliation and forgiveness. (See: MM #326 – Forgiving the Apologizing Spouse.) We pray these messages will help all of us participate with him in the process.
Cindy and Steve Wright
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