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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184 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…

  5. I am a porn addict and a compulsive liar. I have been sober from porn for 2 months. I havent lied in 1 month. I am in therapy. I go to Sexaholics anonymous. I took Christ as my Lord and Savior. I go to church as often as I can. I pray and meditate EVERY DAY. I treat her with kindness, respect and do all the things a good husband should.

    All I have to do is stumble just the least little bit and it’s as if all the good that I do is wiped away. I have tried to get her into therapy…and she went 5 times and quit. She said it wasn’t helping. She also said that she does good as long as I do good. That’s a lot of pressure to be absolutely perfect. It’s just not possible. I dont know what to do anymore. This hurts so bad and I frequently idealize death….NOT suicide, just death.

  6. I have been married to my wife for just over 2 yrs and started going on dating sites and sending naked pictures! My wife finished with me and then I said I never loved her or even liked her out of anger! I have been trying to have her forgiveness for 2 yrs and she always brings up the fact that I said I never liked her or loved her! I never meant it.

    I’m praying for forgiveness everyday! Is there anything I can do to prove to her I never meant it and love her more than anything in the world?

  7. I met my wife when we were almost 16 (now 38). I felt we were meant to be because of how our parents knew each other since we were both in our mother’s bellies seeing the same doctor and delivered by the same doctor just 11 days apart.

    She had a boyfriend and I was trying to secretly win her over. We fooled around behind his back and after 3 years we finally started dating in 2001. Unfortunately, I started off wrong, by getting another girls phone number that same night we became official. What was my then girlfriend’s response? She had sexual relations with someone who has been trying to get her to fall for him along with alcohol and drug abuse. We finally made up and started making great memories together. We got married in Jan 2007. Nothing big, just two love birds in front of the judge and off to work we went. We were married!

    We started the idea of starting a family and I kept reassuring her that I would NOT be like my father. My father cheated on my mother (my parents are both happily married still and are always together) and had another family. I saw pain in my mom’s eyes and I suffered as well. For as long as my wife and I have known each other I would fall into a sudden depression and say how bad my childhood was and would never put my wife and future children though the same pain. My wife disliked my dad for this. I never approached my dad nor mom about the whole situation and never had closure in my own childhood pain until recently. I never really hugged my dad and told him “I love you” until recently.

    I always reassured my wife I would not put us through the same hell my dad put my mom, siblings and I through. Unfortunately, I failed at my promise to protect them from the same pain my mom and I went through. I have had a flawed character of always being friendly to everyone including females and sadly showed that my personal barrier was weak. I was many times secretive, always selfish, vain, and arrogant. I never saw this until recently after reflecting.

    I disrespected my wife 5 years ago when having what I felt was a friendship without her knowledge. It nearly broke us apart. I had a relationship with another woman for 3 years with majority of it being digital with sexual images and verbiage being exchanged. I had 3 sexual encounters with this individual around the beginning of when this all started. During those 3 years of my own personal hell and weakness I exchanged explicit photos with 3 other women, in which one was a “friend” of my wife and another someone whom was around our house with friends. I had 3 other women attempt to do the same and I simply didn’t react, but also never disconnected myself from them.

    At the beginning of the year I had another “friendship” or so that is what I thought it was with someone who I texted back and forth with almost everyday and eventually became my employee. All communication non-work related has stopped. My so called best friend and godfather to my children was aware of some of my behavior and at times seemed to push me on instead of slapping me around to get my head straight. Not only did I disrespect my wife and kids, but so did he and I allowed it.

    It all came to light late April 2020. I wasn’t immediately up front and honest and she had to search and dig for stuff on me and I would confess to what she found. I have been completely honest since it all has come to light. Why did I do what I did after even I went through the same growing up? I don’t know. I love my wife. She is my soulmate and my rock. I love our children. Without their laughter, smiles, and I love you my days would be nothing. My life would have no meaning without my family. Yet, I failed to protect them from evil. I failed to protect them from allowing such temptations and evil from entering my soul and damaging such beautiful family I had.

    I have done so many things different around the house. Things I only thought I was doing but never did. My wife and kids now depend on me not only financially taking care of them, but that I take care of their every single need. Something as a father and husband I should have always been doing. I cook, clean, groceries, laundry, listen to every single word my kids have to say (and our son has a huge imagination).

    Now comes the other ugly side of things. Although I am still here with my family, my wife is trying, but not forgiving. My wife has had 2 sexual partners that I know of since. One was multiple times and another once. She has had or has an attraction to another male from her job to which she has told me she has exchanged explicit images with around Aug and Sept. She claims she has stopped. I have sought a counselor though my employer and have had counseling since, and I have suggested with my wife to do the same. She refuses and chooses to let all the anger out on me verbally and physically. Yes I stabbed her heart and back. I’m left with bruises, scratches, black eyes, and busted lips. And yes, my kids notice these things.

    She recently almost left the house to a so called male friends house, but when I let her know she was abandoning her kids just as I had she didn’t leave.

    We have wonderful moments where we are inseparable, but there are moments that are full of anger and violence. Our kids will yell at us, “I love you mommy and daddy!” from the other room or will walk up to us to get our attention. I acknowledge them and walk away from the arguments.

    We both have wronged each other and both have wronged our family. I acknowledge that and accept my wrongdoings and complete failures, but she has yet to accept that she has done and still is doing wrong. She goes from forcing me to leave to holding me tight and telling me that she loves me, needs me, and doesn’t want me to leave, but not forgiving me. Have I forgiven her? From the day she told me she had stepped out herself I let her know that my love for her will always allow me to forgive her. We are Catholic, but haven’t been practicing our faith this year. We do gather for breakfast and dinner as a family and say our prayers as a whole, but not sure if her heart is in it. I am trying to have hope and faith that a light will shine in her where we can come to forgiveness and work on becoming one again. Trust has been broken, but I am holding on to it not being lost forever.

    I love my wife. I love her as my wife, partner, a woman, mother of our children, a friend, and human. Without her I am nothing because I wouldn’t be where I am without her. I love our babies. I will protect my family from everything and everyone including her and myself. I know I was in the complete wrong and welcome any outside opinions. What happens is in God’s hands. I hope and pray for a light at the end of our dark time. I ask for all the prayers for my family to help us heal.

  8. I have nothing but Contempt and Hatred for my ex-Wife. Daily I wish for her death. I CANNOT FORGIVE HER; I Won’t forgive her. She’s dead to me in all areas.

  9. After discovery day, what if everything done above is not moving the fence? Touch is out of the question. Any show of compassion or caring makes it worse. Any mention of God is unforbidden unless from the hurting partner. Any sign you are getting better makes the partner worse and entrenched in their pain and anger. When the partner says the only thing keeping you here is God because if it was up to them and their will you would be gone?

    It’s been 2.5 months and nothing has been decided or moved forward in their mind. It’s like an endless loop with no resolve, forward progress, or compass/direction. Partner views pain as a good thing to stay in and to honor other family members. Partner doesn’t want couples counseling until they’ve decided to move forward or call it quits. Decision even to divorce or work on the relationship is stagnant, which doesn’t allow the spouse that offended to recover from addiction fully. Offended partner says no one knows my pain and understands it; I don’t have a timeline or a direction that I’m heading; you’ll have to deal with my anger periodically.

    After 2.5 months, I would think things would be moving towards getting to the starting line. Either quit the relationship or start working on the marriage. Partner refuses to be a part of the recovery process while in the quagmire. Every other weekend away isn’t helping the healing process. Staying is just making it worse on both and the family. Relationships outside of the couple are stressed because of indecision of the most basic sense. What then?

  10. I’m a wife with 2 kids. My husband cheated several in fact countless times, made it seem like my fault. He brutally beat me up, choking me, attempted to stab me a few times, told me he would kill me, disrespected me with his family calling me names, locking me put of his home with his sister’s right there. He drank his entire salary month to month, tried to get me fired from work every time we argued or he lost his job. By the way, he lost his jobs due to lying and cheating meaning he wouldn’t show up for work instead booked hotels with women.

    I got pregnant and the pregnancy almost killed me. I could barely walk at 2 months, He took all our money and booked a motel with his sister’s friend. He would hide my purse so I wouldn’t be able to get to work. He poured water all over me just before I’d leave for work. He’d follow me and drag me home so I wouldn’t work when he lost 1 of his jobs. He allowed his friends to scream at me and he stole money from me constantly. He’d leave our kids alone, very young kids, to go to his sister’s or drink or a girl friend.

    I told him I wanted a divorce, which surprisingly shocked him! He begged, pulled stunts until eventually called in his family to help. We are very strict about divorce both culturally and religiously so I didn’t continue with it.

    He found God and has changed drastically but just because he’s changed, doesn’t mean I haven’t. I’ll never love him again; when I look at him I see pain. I mostly hate him. I never go to his family because he closed that door for me and my kids and now just wants me to all of a sudden be okay with them. He’s not the same in anyway and I’m not either. I keep telling God how much I hate my husband.

    I begged my husband for space because staying with him doesn’t help the forgiving cause he’s a constant reminder of my fears and deepest pains and he believes we shouldn’t because it’s not Godly. He doesn’t get it; I hate him more daily. I regret every thing about him … I regret marrying him, being with him. I fantasize about running away and never coming back and I told him this. If I were to get a chance, I’d leave and never look back.

    I’ve become verbally abusive, angry, hateful, and selfish. I don’t want this anymore and he doesn’t get it! In order for me to want sex with him, I get high. That way I don’t feel violated; his soft touch always reminds me of him pulling me across our home, choking me. His sweet words remind me of when he told me he hated me worst of the day he told me he loved his sister’s friend. His body reminds me of his strength when he broke the windows and doors to get in so he could hit me.

    God changed him. But I’m not God and I can’t let go. 2 yrs after I told him I wanted to leave, and I feel trapped still. I’ll never love him the way a wife should love a husband. He killed me from the inside out. I can never love him again.