What If The Other Person Won’t Forgive You?

Other Person Won't Forgive Pixabay backgroundWhat do you do if you’re the one who has done 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? What if the other person won’t forgive you?

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?

Closed Spirit

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. This can’t done 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, and 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?

Apology is First

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..”

Take Full Responsibility

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. It is my 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.

Change in Attitude and Behavior

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.

Persistence

Don’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? And what if she was cold and closed to him for several months? What could Art do to help her forgive him?

Pray First

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.

Do What Won the Heart at Beginning of Relationship

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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Filed under: Bitterness and Forgiveness

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Comments

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

  1. I cheated on my wife with a one night stand in August 2016 after being married for 18 yrs. Now, over 2 yrs later my wife has decided she cannot forgive me and has left me. I am absolutely devastated but feel that I do deserve it. I admitted the one night stand the day after and absolutely regret every aspect of cheating. But we never sought professional counseling to help us get over it. My wife has stayed loyal to me and never sought revenge. Is there any way I can ever get her back in my life?

  2. Wow … this whole article every word seemed like it was plucked from my very head … it is exactly what I have always believed from my very core. Thank you for giving me back my sanity. My ex always made me feel like it was my fault when I told her her apology was not legit because she would say things like “I’m sorry that hurt you when I moved the mattress when we agreed to keep it here but it’s really not that big of deal.” Then I would tell her her apology was not sincere and again she would shift the blame back on me by saying that it’s my fault that I’m unforgiving and never accept an apology. I feel sane again. Thank you so very very much !! 💜😁💕😄

  3. Hello, Thank You for your web site. I’m a 67 year old retired man who got divorced in 2006. I was married 27 years and during that period I was guilty of verbal and physical domestic abuse. I took the divorce very hard and had to be treated for depression and also sought the council of two professional psychologists. There were all kinds of financial issues (credit card debt, and accounts changed to her name only). As many years passed, I often rationalized for my abusiveness because it was obvious she wasn’t being honest with me.

    The first psychologist I went to reinforced this belief because he believed the abuser almost always controls the purse strings. The second psychologist felt that the abused spouse often starts living a separate life (out of vengeance or even fear). Regardless, I feel that I have never truly faced how I hurt and harmed her. She is actually a very wonderful lady and I screwed up big time.

    The fact that I was abusive bothers me enormously as I think about how bad I was. I feel like writing her a letter or email of apology in some way. My question is, would you recommend this? Is there any recommended way to do this? Is there any recommended reading that would help me here? Sincerely, Jerry

  4. I’m unmarried with children. My partner and I are literally in shambles. From the very beginning of our relationship there was mistrust from him to me. I wasn’t totally out of my very long relationship with my ex when we started talking. And when we were officially together as a couple I went to go see my ex boyfriend. We would talk and cry. It was a mess.

    Unfortunately, I believed at the time I needed to give my current boyfriend a chance, even though I was still dealing with my feelings from my ex…needless to say two years ago I cheated on my current boyfriend with my ex. I’ve never felt a true connection of being in love, intamcy or respect in my current relationship. We have a home and two children…and he’s miserable and I feel completely trapped!! I need help…