“Marriage becomes a series of surprises for most of us, and one of them is how frequently we need to forgive and be forgiven.” (From the book, “The First Years of Forever” by Dr Ed Wheat)
In our many years of marriage we’ve had to give the gift of forgiveness to each other more times than we care to count. It has never been easy, but we both know that if we hadn’t “forgiven as Christ has forgiven us,” our relationship wouldn’t have lasted and wouldn’t have grown to be as good as it is today. That’s why we’re sharing thoughts on this important issue for you to prayerfully consider.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a “how to” message. That’s something that the Lord will show you “how to” do through the working of His Holy Spirit, and possibly through the articles we’ve linked to in this message as you seek His help. But rather, this is a message of “why to” and the “need to” —a type of wakeup call for those who are harboring bitterness of some kind against a spouse.
“Forgiveness is a key element in healthy marriages. Forgiveness is the oil that lubricates a love relationship, and it’s an oil we need daily. Forgiveness is not a one-time event; it’s an attitude of wanting to partner with your spouse in spite of his or her imperfections and irritations” (David and Claudia Arp).
And there sure are a lot of “imperfections and irritations” that surface in marriage! It’s a natural progression.
“Any relationship of humans will have problems because humans are problems. A fundamental truth is that every marriage experiences pain and heartache. Due to sinful human nature, ‘fumbling’ in a marriage is ordinary and commonplace. Hence, misundunderstandings and disagreements are unavoidable and inevitable even in healthy, satisfying marriages.
“The simple truth is that spouses do things they should not do and neglect to do things they should do. In a marriage, normal problems occur because no couple ever communicates perfectly, resolves all disagreements harmoniously or achieves ideal emotional closeness. Unfortunately, the most serious hurts typically happen within the context of close interpersonal relationships, creating a tragic irony of being hurt by and of hurting those who are loved most deeply. When wrongs or sins are not healed by prompt apologies and forgiveness, a couple may drift apart, experience relationship deterioration and perhaps be in danger of dissolution. (Randall Schroeder, PhD, from the article, In the Image of God: The Christian Vision for Love and Marriage)
Dr Neil T Anderson tells of a counseling session he had with one couple in which they “made enemies of each other. Forgiveness was the furthest thing from what they wanted to discuss.” Have you been there (even in the moment)? We sure have. And yet we have learned, just as Dr Anderson knew, they needed to forgive for healing to have a chance to begin. After listening for a while, he finally told them:
“‘I’ve listened to your arguments and frustrations. Here’s the overriding reality. Before God we’re responsible for our own character and the needs of the other person. You two have been ripping each other’s character while looking out for your own needs. You’re struggling in your marriage because you’re struggling in your spiritual life.’
“They were stunned. They hadn’t connected their marital troubles with how they were doing in their individual relationships with God. But the Bible is clear: ‘If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?” (1 John 4:20, NLT). (From the Today’s Christian Woman article “Why Forgive?”)
In this article, Dr Anderson goes on to tell reasons you must forgive each other. The shortened, basic reasons are (which you can read more of on the Marriage Partnership web site link above): “to help us to mature in our faith” and “to keep bitterness away,” which is true. As difficult as it is, resentment will negatively change and discolor everything in your life and will ultimately destroy whatever good there can be within your marriage.
Ministers, Mike and Wanda found that out (as many of us do) —the hard way. Maybe you can relate somehow:
“We learned early on that forgiveness was a must if our marriage was going to survive. After all, neither of us is perfect, so what right does either of us have to withhold forgiveness from the other person? No right at all. Especially once we really understood the grace and forgiveness that was extended to us by Christ Jesus. Because of the forgiveness we have received, God commands us to forgive others. That is, if we want our sins to be forgiven” (from the Christian Marriage Today online article, 6 Christian Marriage Tips).
And we all want grace and to be forgiven, don’t we? And yet we still find it difficult to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. But the truth is, if we don’t extend the same grace we want to receive and we keep clinging onto unforgiveness, it has the potential to destroy us and our marriage.
“Bitterness, I believe, is the number one killer of our marriages. Many would object and say it is differences on money or incompatibility, but these people do not understand how bitterness is a root problem to these and many other marital difficulties. It is this bitterness, which step by step separates the couple from each other and lessening their commitment to each other.
“God wants to bring healing to your marriages. He wants to eliminate all resentment. Part of our problem is that we don’t understand how He has already given us the tools to snap the intimidating influence of bitterness in our marriages through the wonderful power of the Gospel. That little stone that God used in David’s hand is much like a special tool that God has given to His children to take down the threatening giant of bitterness. When we in our simple faith and obedience respond, we see God’s powerful love bring down all the walls of resentment.
“…Anyone who has been infected by bitterness knows that it can be so dominating that all of whole life is influenced by it. All sorts of physical and emotional symptoms pop up including lots of stress-related pains and diseases. But it doesn’t stop there. Bitterness starts by destroying relationships. It starts so quietly, though.
“Here are some possible symptoms of a breakdown in a relationship due to bitterness: rolling your eyes, ignoring simple requests, easily irritated, calling names in ‘fun,’ criticizing spouse’s efforts, jest about shortcomings, feeling put out.
So many marriages have been destroyed by not following the instruction, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31)
“Bitterness should not be accepted in our personal lives. If we refused to tolerate it, then it would not plague our marriages. Bitterness eats away from the goodness that God has given to us in marriage. Why have so many couples accepted some degree of bitterness in their marriages? Some have never thought about how bitterness is related to their troubled marriages. Others know of it but are so committed to destroying the other that they are willing to put up with the suffering.” (Paul Bucknelll, “Replacing Marital Bitterness with Forgiveness”)
Yet God told us and has shown us the importance of forgiving.
“Having shown us the basis of God’s forgiveness in the cross, Paul says in Colossians 3:13, ‘As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.‘ In other words, take the grace and forgiveness and justification that you have received vertically through the death of Christ and bend it out horizontally to others. Specifically, husbands to wives and wives to husbands… Why the emphasis on forgiving and forbearing rather than, say, an emphasis on romance and enjoying each other? …Three answers:
1. Because there is going to be conflict based on sin, we need to forgive sin and forbear strangeness, and sometimes you won’t even agree on which is which;
2. Because the hard, rugged work of forgiving and forbearing is what makes it possible for affections to flourish when they seem to have died;
3. Because God gets glory when two very different and very imperfect people forge a life of faithfulness in the furnace of affliction by relying on Christ.” (John Piper, from sermon excerpt, “Marriage: Forgiving and Forbearing”)
All of these are very important reasons, especially the testimony it gives to the world concerning giving the gift of forgiveness and grace and especially the glory God receives as a result.
Please know though, that we are not trying to minimize the strain and sacrifice it takes to forgive a spouse that has deeply hurt you —quite the contrary. We know it is one of the most difficult things you/we will ever do. But we know that without it, you will not gain freedom from the prison that bitterness can inflict upon you personally, and other innocent people as well. That’s why we put together more on this subject in the Bitterness and Forgiveness topic of our web site that will help you to sort out and walk through what forgiveness is and what it isn’t, as well as additional reasons why you will gain freedom as you forgive.
Giving the gift of forgiveness is the last thing we want to give, when we have been injured in some way. But in the long-run, as you walk the journey to releasing what you might consider to be your “right” to hurt the offender (which is often your spouse) for hurting you, God does a work of redemption that you are most able to benefit from and eventually embrace.
Marriages heal when we stop looking at what our partner should do and instead look at what we need to do. And the first step is to forgive as we’ve been forgiven (not excusing or enabling, but forgiving) —looking to Christ as our example. He is the One who can give us the power to “set the captive free” and will later reveal that the captive was us all along —because of the damage that an unforgiving spirit can do within and all around us to everyone whose lives we influence.
For the glory of God and the good of your marriage, we urge you to work at forgiving,
Cindy and Steve Wright
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Filed under: Marriage Messages
7 responses to “Forgiveness: Important in Marriage – Message #92”
(CANADA) Thanks a lot Cindy and Steve, this article was really helpful. I had realised that I had not completely forgiven my husband for the emotional affair he had, and that’s why I still harbor a lot of bitterness and resentment. The statement that has really helped me is that "marriage heals when we stop looking at what our spouse needs to do, but what I NEED TO DO to better our marriage".That was an insight, because I realised that’s what iIve been doing. I’ve been telling myself if only my husband can do this, then we’ll find healing.
I just cried to God so hard and asked Him to forgive me for my unforgiveness towards my husband and the other woman. And I also asked Him to forgive me for looking for healing from my husband instead of Him. It was just last night that I had prayed for God to show me if I’m treating my husband like my god, and He just showed me.
Thanks a lot for this article. Pray for me to be able to forgive completely and to put what happened in the past and for God to guide me and show me what I need to do to better my marriage and to also view my husband with faith, and to see him as God sees him. It’s hard to do that, especially when he’s so withdrawn, but with God’s help I know it’s possible. Thanks a lot for all your prayers may God Bless you.
Hi Anne, I was moved to tears as I read your letter on how you have battled forgiving your husband, because I sensed the deep pain you have, and you are experiencing. What you are struggling with, is very understandable to most anyone. To forgive the person you most intimately trusted, for betraying you as he did when he allowed himself to get tied to someone else emotionally, is EXTREMELY difficult! I cry with you over this.
But I’m also so proud of the fact that you are putting your energies towards forgiving him. Forgiveness isn’t cheap (we saw that on the cross of Jesus Christ) — it’s expensive to give it away, but it’s also important. It will proceed to release you more and more from the stranglehold that unforgiveness can have on a person, as you let go of it. And what is so profound, is that the one you are actually releasing is yourself, as you let go of that which poisons your very being.
We have a whole section on this web site on “Bitterness and Forgiveness” that aims towards helping all of us, let go of that which damages our being. I hope it has and will help you.
Keep leaning towards forgiving. And keep praying that God will show you how, and will empower you to do this. God understands the difficulty in doing this because He’s been (and continues to be) in the position of forgiving His own bride for being unfaithful to Him. As you continually release that which will hurt you (and others), you will have more energy to concentrate on that which is healthy, both emotionally and spiritually.
I’m praying for you Anne, and know in my heart that you will come to the day where you will experience the freedom that forgiveness in this difficult matter brings. I am “confident in this, that He who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
(South Africa) Thanks for this. It has really blessed me. It confirms exactly what God has been showing me about the state of my heart towards my husband and the state of my marriage. I have struggling to be intimate and partner in building the marriage. Until I realised my heart is hard and I’m cynical about everything of the marriage. You have helped me diagnose this spiritual condition – bitterness. So many things have happened in our marriage that I’ve not really forgiven my husband for and they have piled up and piled up until we now have a mountain of things we have not forgiven. The entrance of God’s word brings light and we shall know the truth and it will set us free.
Now that I know what it is, I can run to the father to help me learn how to forgive and to continually walk in forgiveness. Please pray for me as I embark of this journey of spiritual maturity. I commit my life to God: to do his will and to please him in my marriage. I know he will help me in this.
First thing – I have made a quality decision to forgive (so I too can continuously receive Gods and my husband’s forgiveness). Second – get one of the books you referred to in the article so I can study more on this subject. Thanks very much. Love your ministry.
(UK) This is so true. I think I sufferd from some of the issues they say here and it just took the best out of me. I just couldn’t function and this has aggravated even my stomach problems, coz ulcers are stress related plus not eating properly. But I’m picking myself up.
(SOUTH AFRICA) Hi Cindy, I would also like to comment on this bitterness topic. My husband had several affairs in our marriage. Until today I cannot fully trust him. However, when we fight I always have a way of bringing up the past of how he commited adultery. I want to forgive him. I also pray. Please pray for me as it is hurting our marriage, as I cannot let go. It’s vey painful when your husband chooses other women over you. Thanks also for your emails, they have blessed me so far.
There is nothing that is more painful that realizing that your spouse is intimate with other women. I have been a victim of infidelity so many times, that I have even considered divorce as an option. When I got married I did not have divorce as an option as I believed that we would be able to work through all our trials, but the pain I have endured is too much. Please pray with me as I ask God to guide me through this journey of forgiveness. Thank you so much for touching on this topic.
Not long ago… in June my husband found out that I had been inappropriately texting a man, which I admitted to (after 3 days). I also apologized, explained that it was in fact meaningless, and asked for his forgiveness. He threw me out and now tells people that I am a liar and a cheat. He has not forgiven me. We are miles away from each other, but still claims that he loves me. I am not sure what else I can do… have any suggestions?