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.


Pray that God will open your partner’s spirit, and that He will give you the strength and wisdom to know how to respond.


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.


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

  1. I carry guilt for failing to take proper care of my ex wife. She became ill after 3 yrs of being together ie 18 months into our marriage. It was a very heartbreaking and stressful time. It took 5 yrs for her condition to be diagnosed. It was a nerve injury that triggered the problem. It turned her into a different woman. I still loved her but found it profoundly difficult. I became impatient and intolerant towards her. She broke up with me and I wasn’t relieved but heartbroken.

    I met another woman at the gym and we saw each other for about 6 weeks. Unexpectedly my wife and I got back together. The other woman was devastated and I slept with her soon after my wife (now ex wife) got back together. She told my wife and this was a huge shock for her. I felt terrible. We continued drifting in and out for the next 10 years. Last year February, she broke up with me. Since then she has developed hatred towards me and even blames me for her ill health because of my disturbed character and the stress this put on her. I still struggle with this and feel very hurt and guilty.

    1. Hi Steven, A very difficult situation. :( What you can do now is to admit and own your mistakes, treat your ex-wife with as much love as you can, and, when you feel the time is right, to ask for her forgiveness. She may be too hurt to forgive, that is quite possible. No matter what she does, if you can say your words and deeds from now on are said or done with the best intentions, then you have done all you can do. Effective prayer is of course, very powerful. A network of trusted friends with whom you share these thigns would be a great plus. In the end, love overcomes any and all obstacles. Professional help may also be an option.

      I am a husband married 36 years; we have 2 adult children and 3 grandchildren. I certainly hope these comments help… WP (Work in Progress)

  2. I’ve been in a relationship for 4 years. Last year I called my ex-boyfriend to get back at him before I completely move on with my life. My boyfriend saw the text messages and dumped me on the spot. After a few days I told the truth and we talked and I thought we were working past it. All last year after that we were fine. Then in Feb 2016 he changed and started treating me diffenrent and says he can’t forgive and he tried. We still live together and he treats me different. I don’t know what to do.

    1. Hi Wendy, Well, I hate to say this, but calling your ex-boyfriend “to get back at him” was probably not a good idea. Of course it is unfortunate that your present boyfriend saw the messages… and reacted the way he did. Do you know why he changed starting last February? Perhaps he has been thinking but not talking all this time, and finally reacted? In what way did he change?

      The best you can do is own your mistakes, tell him you know this was a bad idea, and that you are not perfect but you want to learn from your mistakes. You have nothing to lose by asking your boyfriend for another chance. Then you need to build up trust again… of course this takes time and patience. If you can say in your heart that from here on out, your comments and actions toward him are what you would want to hear yourself, then better you cannot do. Effective prayer, of course, is a huge asset. :) Understanding the five love languages is also a big help:

      I hope these comments help….. WP (Work in Progress)

  3. What if my spouse says he”ll never forgive me for not letting his dying mother stay with us before she died? She passed 3 yrs ago but he’s just now telling me this. I tried apologizing to him but all I’m getting is the silent treatment from him. I don’t know why he’s barely letting me know this. He was really upset and said that Karma will get me back.

    1. Sorry to say this to you but you lost your husband. I know and don’t blame you for being scare to have a person sick and dying in your home. But she was your husband’s greatest love, his first woman in his life. And you heard that the Bible says that you will leave your father and mother for your new person. Well, think about this. When Jesus Christ was dead who was with him that last moment? And while Jesus was on the cross dying who did he talk to and who was with him and still is? Yes, you will in someway pay for your mistake and I think you started to pay for it now.

    2. Kimberly, This is a tough situation. I don’t know if your husband will ever forgive you or not (because I don’t know your husband), but he probably won’t forget. He needs to let it go… it is in the past. It’s not good to let the past poison the present and future, but many people keep grabbing onto it. That is why, I’m sure, God told us not to allow bitterness take root, because “by it many are defiled” and hurt. You are now feeling the effects of your husband’s bitterness.

      The best you can do is keep apologizing, telling him that you wish you could change things from the past, but that’s not possible. Pray that God talks to him to let it go. The past is past. There is no such thing as Karma, but many times there are repercussions and natural consequences for what we did in the past. And sometimes we plant seeds of weeds that eventually grows to cause problems in the future. But this doesn’t have to be so in this instance unless your husband refuses to let go of his bitterness.

      Obviously, your husband buried his resentment and is now letting it come out. You can see how toxic these resentments are. As I said, the best you can do is pray, apologize, grieve with him that you are a part of his present pain, and do the best you can to show your love to him. Prayerfully, hopefully, he will process through all of this and come out on a better side, as God ministers and talks to his heart. I hope so, and pray for God to help you and him to lay this to rest in a healthy way.

  4. I am 25 and my fiance is 19. My fiance and I had a discussion about how many other partners we had been with in our life and she, justifiably, got angry when I told her my number. I told her that I was sorry, and I regretted it. And that I want to work on the relationship and continue to grow. She said she wants to work on the relationship as well, but she is disgusted by what I did and she feels like she would be just another number to me. I constantly assure her that she wouldn’t be. I tell her that I want to spend the rest of my life with her. She says she wants to be with me too, but that she doesn’t know if she could ever be “with” me. I keep stressing to her that I’m sorry for my past actions and she tells me not to apologize, but she continues to bring the conversation up. What do I do?

    1. The girl is too young. Continue your relationship without marriage for now. Let time be your friend. Resentment is there for good and will come up on any problem till the end of time till death. Think about it and if you love her so much let her go so you and she can be happy.

  5. My husband and I have been married for 9 years together almost 11. We have 3 boys. Three weeks ago he dropped a bomb on me that he wasn’t happy and wanted a divorce. I thought we had the fairytale marriage I had no idea he was unhappy. The shock literally affected my health so badly that I had my 1st ever seizure about 4 days after hearing this. After that he says he wants to try and work on things and forgive me. He told me I had hurt him by rejecting him intimately and that when he would come to kiss me I would turn my head or seemed agitated to kiss him. I admitted I did and am sincerely sorry I never knew I was hurting him; I would never do that on purpose. We are best friends and literally do everything together. He said the only way he knows to try is to start with the little things. Any advice on what I should do? I love this man with all of me and it kills me to know I hurt him or made him feel unwanted.

    1. Hi Crystal, I am a husband married now 36 years with 2 adult children. What you are describing is a very common “misconnect” between men and women, since the two sexes view intimacy in completely different ways. Your husband probably kept his frustration inside for years because he was either afraid of being put down (again) or he does not know how to, or is afraid to share how he feels. Finally he figured that there was no use and that divorce was the only way out.

      In the same way that sharing feelings, conversation, and interaction are a way for women to “connect” with their husbands, sex is the man’s way to “connect” with his wife. This is just the way we’re built -the one is not better or worse than the other, they are just different. We men may put on an appearance of strength and confidence, but all too often we are scared and insecure. Rejection by the wife, expecially rejection of physical intimacy can literally destroy a man’s self esteem and confidence.

      I would like to refer you to several websites, which, as a man, I fully understand and support. I can also understand that this is difficult for the women to fathom, but trust me… when a woman initates in a loving and flirty way with her husband, it opens the way for him to share more of himself, because he feels wanted, confident and valued. Please view the following websites carefully, from my viewpoint they are very well done.

      It took me a long time to learn some of these things, and I admit, I have a long way to go. God is good. He knows what he’s doing. WP (Work in Progress)

  6. When I met my husband 8 years ago I was a 21 yr old addict who didn’t believe in love, never having been loved. He showed me love, care, commitement, but I didn’t love him and continued to lie, use, and cheat for the first year of our marriage. I quit physically cheating but carried on an emotional affair for quite some time. When he became a Christian, I sobered up, and I wanted God but didn’t want to confess my sins, even though my husband always suspected.

    Fast forward over 4 years and 2 kids later. I cared for him, wanted to spend my life with him, but was still lying about my faithfulness. Until 10 months ago… over the course of a few days I told him, with each confession swearing that was it. And as he asked for details I hesitated to share the nitty gritty like if I enjoyed it, how hard we went, etc.

    Since that time I’ve turned my full life over to God, my transgressions finally in the light, I started counseling and have been working through a borderline personality disorder diagnoses, and attend church regularly, and friends and family are commenting on what a change they see in me. And despite my husband’s resentment, name calling, threats to cheat as well, I went from suicidal when I first confessed to mentally stable. And I have been practicing love towards him out of 1 Cor 13. And I know I love him now. But he says he doesn’t know me, doesn’t trust me, and doesn’t want to forgive someone like me. I told him that all things are possible through God including saving our marriage, and he said so is divorce. Everything I have read says I’m on the right track, but I am just praying it’s not too little too late.

    1. Hi Anonymous, Noooo… you are not too late!! You have come a long long way in 4 years. Clearly God has honored your turn-around, and will certainly not stop now! “…He Who bagan a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (In Philippians 1) The only thing you can do is keep doing what you’re doing! There is no force stronger than godly love, no evil no matter how powerful can stand against it. It is not for nothing that the Bible says, ….”Overcome evil with good.”

      You are doing well Anonymous!! Please let us know how you are from time to time…WP (Work in Progress)

  7. Three years ago, exactly, I had planned on leaving my husband of 16 years, at the time. Now 19 years. Well, rather than leaving I started flirting online with an old boyfriend of mine. I acted very inappropriate but never physically cheated on my husband. When I finally told him that I was leaving he begged me to stay so I did. I stopped all contact with the other guy and things were wonderful here.

    Well one day I was laying down for a nap and he went through my phone and found some of the emails. Everything changed then. He has never treated me the same. I was going to leave then because I knew his pride would never allow him to forgive me. But I stayed because he begged me to stay and work this out. But three years later and he still cusses me. Insults me. Reminds me of the “whore” that I am. On and on and on. He never treated me like he loved me before so I was reaching out for love. Not making excuses but I am not just a bad person who desired to cause him pain. I don’t know what else to do. I can’t keep reliving the shame and humiliation of how I acted during those couple of months.

    What should I do. Do I have to continue accepting the mental abuse and drunken rages because what I did was so bad? I allow myself this torment as though I deserve it or something. If I leave does that mean I never really wanted his forgiveness in the first place? How long do you have to plead and regret and live in shame for a wrong that you have done? He obviously truly doesn’t forgive me. So then why does he stay or ask me to stay. There are some days that just a name triggers his rage. A TV show of a spouse being unfaithful, song, etc… What do I do?

  8. I am really struggling for my boyfriend and his parents forgiveness. In a nutshell: I moved a fair distance to be with my boyfriend and we lived with his parents for a while. We bought a house with help from both sets of parents. We had a family dinner party and my boyfriends mother started to vocalise how the last 2 weeks in her house have been a nightmare etc. I walked out of the restaurant as I did not want a scene in a public place. I ignored her text the next day and moved straight into our new house which we had keys for.

    We did not speak for ages and now the argument has escalated. My boyfriend said he woke up feeling sad all the time and he went back home to his parents and is still there at the moment. I have said sorry and written a letter after having time to reflect on the situation. We have only just bought this house and spent lots of money on it already. I am genuinely sorry but I’m not sure my boyfriend or his parents will find forgiveness. Have you any advice? I’m not able to go into work at the moment as I feel so guilty and awful.

  9. My husband and have been separated for a year as of today. We have not made any progress in reconciling. I feel like he is punishing me, because we are both to blame in how we have gotten in this place. We both have put God in the middle, when He is not the problem. My hope is on a more consistent basis that my husband and I would sacrifice our feelings and work together. I feel my husband is not willing to love unconditionally, and always says I don’t see what I need to see. He wants me to change and says he is not going to change. I feel like a victim. I have been counseled and am being mentored. He is only seeking the Word, but not about being a husband, just to learn more Bible. I am forgiven by God, but not my husband.

  10. Hello, I have been married for 6 years. I have recently been drinking a lot and have a lot of anger problems. The other day my friend and I went out all day drinking. I came home and my wife and I got into a fight. I mistakenly mushed her in the face after she said she was done and fed up with my drinking. I turned into the hulk. Messed a few things up in my house and left and all I wanted to do was die. She hurt me so bad by saying she wanted a divorce after everything we had been through. I felt she had given up on our marriage without even talking to me about it. The following day I came home and we talked more – me talking and said I will get help and stop drinking and asked for forgiveness and another chance. She said she didn’t know and that she needs space. I sleep in the other room every night since we do not talk, except only about little things regarding the kids. She said I ruined our family. I don’t think she is ever going to forgive me. I don’t know what to do. I love my wife and family and do not want it to end. Help me…

    1. Shane, I am going to be very blunt with you, because I don’t think there’s any other way to get through to you. I am glad you had an awakening in your life and have come to realize what jerk you have been to your wife. You are not a man! A Real man never lays a hand on his wife, under any circumstances. I’m not sure what “mushing” your wife in the face means, but I know if she had called the police it would have meant you would be spending time in jail for assault. You have no idea how blessed you are that you now have a chance to deal with the problems in your life. Don’t blow this chance as it may be the last you’ll ever have with your wife.

      There are many excellent programs available to help you with your alcohol and anger problems. The one we recommend is Celebrate Recovery. Google it and the name of your town. I’m pretty sure there’s a program near you. It is a 12 step program like A.A. but goes deeper into other issues in your life that have led up to your dependency on alcohol and provide a plan to break away – for good. It is faith-based and I urge you to not dismiss it because, brother, you need more than just getting unhooked from alcohol.

      You will find the people at CR different; and you need different when it comes to the people you hang out with. CR can also help you with your anger issues. And again, I want to be very blunt here – God is giving you a chance to change for the better. Why do you think you came to our web site? You were looking for answers and help. God is trying to get your attention. He wants to help you and your wife. Don’t blow it! If you aren’t involved in a good Bible teaching church, find one. I can almost guarantee that there will be a group of people there who can help you, too. A good place to start is by attending the church that hosts the Celebrate Recovery program. If they put on CR they have a real heart for helping people who find themselves right where you are right now.

      Next, you need to start learning what it means to be the kind of husband your wife needs and wants from you. You can begin by reading articles on our web site in the “For Married Men” section and then expand from there. We have well over 1,000 articles on every aspect of marriage. If you are serious about wanting “help” then you’ve come to the right place.

      WORD OF CAUTION: This won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. And don’t expect your wife to suddenly “trust” you. What you have done to violate her could take years to repair. The fact that she is letting you stay under the same roof with her tells me there is a glimmer of hope for you and your marriage.

      It’s time to “Man Up,” Shane! If you shrink away from your responsibility now I can almost promise you that you will be doomed to repeat these same failures the rest of your life and in probably multiple marriages. So, I ask you: Are you ready to break this cycle? Then don’t even wait another 24 hours to get moving in the right direction.

      If you are serious, then have your wife read what I wrote to you and tell her you agree with everything I’ve said and tell her how sorry you are for EVERYTHING you’ve ever done to hurt her and ask for her forgiveness. Tell her you don’t expect her to believe you’ll change just because you say you will; that you realize she will need to see consistent proof. I pray this will be the start of something great for you and that years from now you’ll look back on this and Thank God for the wake-up call He gave you!

  11. Help me save a marriage. We argued and both said nasty things to each other. I have said I was sorry and that I was wrong. And I told her that I love her no matter what she decides to do with the marriage. She also said she was sorry for the things she said but it still doesn’t look good. Finances and some debt is what cause the problems in this marriage; the love is true.

  12. I messed around on my husband after 18 years of marriage. We seperated 2 years ago but he was still having sexual relations with me an he was also messing with two other woman. I got lonely and started talking to a friend after a year I had sex once and my husband found out and now talks to me like dirt sometimes and says he still loves me. We got back together but I can’t take him talking to me like I am worth nothing then in the same breath says he’s gonna get over it. I don’t no how much I can apologize for stepping out of our marriage like he did…what do I do??

  13. Good advice all of which I have tried to no avail. I didn’t cheat. I am supportive but we have had a troubled relationship since the day of the wedding 8 years ago. I love her and want to protect her and our 2 wonderful kids Aidan and Lauren 5 & 7 but she says her heart is closed and broken and she will never love or share her bed ever again with me or anyone ever again. I’m broken hearted also and care so much for her well being but she says she’s done.

  14. This was exactly the post I’ve been needing to read to completely sum up the damage and the loss in my relationship, we both put so much effort into each other for a long time and I let my difficulties and quick emotional responses damage a beautiful and giving woman who only gave as much as she could.
    I am sorry for everything I have done and have expressed to her this and the reality of my actions have caused her to put her guard up. I am struggling to find the way to make it better with so much resistance and almost no effort in return. I have asked for some kind of sign to know if she wants to continue or if the damage has been to much and I get no reassuring response. My efforts seem to be not working,I have done many good and new things to show how committed I am, for better or for worse I am committed and could use help or some sort of guidance or plan to understand more if I am doing more good or more damage.trying so hard and have no one to lean on or talk with who understands this situation. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you, your post was perfect.

    1. Hi John, The best things you can do now are to pray to God, ask for His help, show your wife you love her- here below two websites wit more input:



      Spend time with her, talk with her, take her out on special outings, verbally remind her that you appreciate what she does for you… and be very consistent… continue, continue… find support with friends and family… be there for the long haul. I hope these comments help! WP (Work in Progress)

  15. I can’t seem to forgive. I found out my partner of 11 years had an affair with a married woman and I had no idea as we were not distant or unhappy. I found out when her husband came to our home yelling his name to come outside. It has been 3 months and I feel DAMAGED. People do not realize the amount of damage cheating causes another person. Physically, mentally and emotionally I am not “there;” he wants us to work it out but we have been sleeping separately and argue everyday.

    I think the best thing is to move on. I just do not see him the same way any longer; all of the hopes, dreams and goals for us went down the drain. It was like my life zoomed in and shattered. I have been praying, which does not seem to help. I feel so angry, sad, insecure all at once; I just cant forgive others. God help me find happiness again.

    1. Hi Ruby, Forgiveness is a decision of your will. It is not a feeling or a “nice idea.” Believe me when I tell you that when you choose to withold forgiveness, you will pay a heavy price. I have seen myself what unforgiveness can do -anger and bitterness leading to health problems, perhaps even a shortened life.

      If you husband is wanting to work things out, the best thing you can do is to decide to give it a fighting chance. 3 months is a short time when we are talking about a betrayal like this- it can take much longer to heal… but healing IS possible, and has happened with many couples torn apart by such a mistake.

      If you are prayerful and believing, then you should pray and believe!! God’s will is for marriages to succeed, not to fail. When even one partner decides to forgive (meaning to put aside the desire to hurt the offending party, and leave the outcome to God) that one partner steps out of the way and allows God the freedom to work miracles.

      I do not say these things lightly. I’ve been married 36 years and I have 2 adult children. Our daughter was in an abusive relationship for 8 years, where the boyfriend was physically violent and had cheated several times on our daughter. My wife and I, together with our daughter, have found that forgiveness can sometimes be achieved in “giant steps,” but more typically takes place in “little steps.” We have found that it is NOT easy, but that it DOES work.

      Please consider taking a few steps closer to your husband and having a constructive talk. Perhaps you need to sort out in your own mind exactly what you want and where you are in your own heart. But continued arguements and condemnation will only prolongue the pain and add to the problems. Here is an internet site which you may find interesting:

      May God look after you, guide you, and bring you two closer together in His way… WP (Work in Progress)