Don’t Demand Forgiveness – MM #325

Demand forgiveness AdobeStock_96085086 copyIn 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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2 responses to “Don’t Demand Forgiveness – MM #325

  1. (US) Here is probably the most complicated comment you will get this week. I am writing partly out of desperation, the need for validation and also a plea for more updated thorough education of marital counseling pastors (and husbands) about marital rights and responsibilities (both legal and religious). OUR STORY: A few years ago, my husband raped me. When I objected he did not apologize. He repeated the behavior. Since then I developed an aversion to being touched by him. This became much worse each time he demanded more and more physical contact, sex and eventually resorted to accusing me of cheating if I didn’t prove my devotion through submitting to him sexually (on his schedule). He kept lists of ways which I was failing him physically. His need was his right and my insufficiency was equated with abuse of him emotionally. This continued to become the central issue of his dissatisfaction and ultimate argument that he had the right to leave our marriage. I didn’t really have a leg to stand on. Much of the time I was mute in the face of his rage. I felt (he had me fully convinced) at first that I had failed him utterly (and our marriage). He made his case that he was justified in leaving so he started having relationships outside the marriage.

    We lived without discussing my awareness of his actions because I did not want the family to implode. I think he wanted me to confront him and was furious that I didn’t take the bait. I guess he thought I would eventually crack from that and the sexual bullying. But I have no desire to make our son suffer though what my husband would make sure was a costly and miserable legal battle. I prayed for regained affection for him. I wanted to have amnesia. I can hardly stand to touch him even for a moment. This is infuriating to him. He alternates so rapidly between hate filled rants and statements of devotion (within the same day) I feel entirely incapable of making any decision about anything. I don’t feel I am qualified to end or save our marriage. He appears to be quite a lovely, kind and thoughtful man, But I suspect some people can see through the act, there will still not be any support from the church for me and my children because they don’t recognize (or at least dont act on) marital rape. They prefer to ignore it until the victim goes silent or leaves. Because of the patriarchal nature of church structure, and it’s tendency to indirectly blame the victim and protect the abuser, I don’t trust anyone to protect me. I feel it is unrealistic to hope for a pastor to be unprejudiced by their gender or religion in giving advice/support. Even medical professionals prefer to call ours “marital problems” in their notes. Now my husband seems to feel if he has the church and God in his pocket (uses the word submission more all the time). He seems to feel he will get his way with both me and the system by playing the part of good christian family man. The reality was he was relentless in demanding sex up until just recently. The change was so abrupt I assumed he had seen a divorce attorney who asked if there was any other issues I would be unhappy with him about (so he wouldn’t get blindsided). At which point they must have explained he could be arrested, convicted and jailed for what he had done.

    Since the legal aspects have apparently been made more clear to him, he has apologized, but with the twist of simultaneously blaming the incident on his merely misunderstanding (more like a mis-assumption of what he could get away with). This was followed in short order by demands for forgiveness and then pointing out my need to prove my love (forgiving him) and then of course we are right back to proving my fidelity and forgiveness by submitting sexually again. Yes… I am crazy. But not the way he thinks….I already have been in counseling trying to recover my feelings for him for some time (at huge expense) without much to show except a diagnosis of anxiety and ptsd (no meds recommended since he is my trigger). What morsels of progress I made in a few weeks, he would undo by telling me how I was abusing him by being frigid. He was enraged with bitterness toward his ex-wife to the point of wanting her dead so he wouldn’t have to pay child support. Also he expected to inherit her fortune but could never figure out a way to do it without getting caught. Yes he actually admitted this to me after we were married and had a child. I am sick at the thought of the destruction that will be visited on our family if he decides to leave or if I admit I may not be capable of ever enjoying sex again (with anyone). Although he was never particularly motivated about attending or participating in church, and has never given his life to the Lord, and shows no particular moral convictions (unless they serve his personal agenda) He recently is going to church with me. I find this suspect considering how inconsistent it is with everything else that has gone on in our marriage.

    It seems more likely he is doing this as a means of garnering moral support for a custody play in case we divorce. I don’t see how I can muster up forgiveness when there is so much he is still actively doing to undermine the trust he keeps breaking in big and little ways. I am emotionally broken, I realize God is my only hope in salvation and healing… and this will require time. Time I have been willing to wait on. But my husband has a sense of urgency (related to his need to be reassured etc) which I seem overwhelmed to the point of panic by. After many months of counseling and therapy on my own (to get back into working condition to meet my wifely obligations and perform properly for him again), I wasn’t making much progress. In fact I felt like I was going to fall to pieces whenever he mentioned my needing to let him touch me. He seemed to enjoy my discomfort and the fact I felt I had let him (us) down by being unable to perform. At one point I seriously considered checking myself into a mental clinic the next time he demanded sexual satisfaction. He continued to corner and rant at me (no longer hiding his rage from the kids) instead of allowing God’s healing to take over. I cannot be the only one who has dealt with this, but few people will admit they are with a man who did this. In the church it represents a risk of a sexual offender classification which then makes our entire family useless in ministry. So you see how complicated things are. I’m pretty sure this exact scenario played out with his ex-wife, he just didn’t tell me the real story when we met (after his divorce).

  2. (AUSTRALIA) Dianne, yours is not a unique situation. It is classic textbook abusive behavior. Remember there are many aspects to forgiveness. Psychological forgiveness is something we do to rid ourselves of bitter poison, and it is an act of the will. It doesn’t mean we don’t hurt or suffer from the effects of the abuse. It is not something you need to tell the other party of, especially if it is not safe. Relational forgiveness can only happen when there is repentance (not just remorse) and reconciliation is possible. Judicial forgiveness is forgiveness that only God the Judge of all can give. We can’t declare someone whole and forgiven in the sight of God whom God Himself still considers an enemy.

    I agree, you can’t “muster up forgiveness” when he is still abusing and damaging your trust. I think you are expecting to feel OK with him, but that is impossible when your trust is being broken over and over again. It’s normal not to feel OK with a person who is violating you.

    Please get some support and help. If you put down appropriate boundaries to protect yourself (you are a treasure in God’s eyes and it pains -no, it infuriates Him that you are being taken advantage of), your husband will most likely escalate his abuse (as you saw with his ex) so he doesn’t have to pay child support, or so you don’t “win”. To them it is all about winning what they see is a war. Be prepared. It may be hard, but be strong in the Lord, you have what it takes, and the victory over evil will be worth it. You won’t know yourself when you are through the other side.