What If The Other Person Won’t Forgive You?

Dollar Photo Forgive

What 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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163 responses to “What If The Other Person Won’t Forgive You?

  1. Good morning. I have a friend – well we started off as friends – then it became what you would call “friends with benefits”. One night we had plans; well he never called, text or emailed to say he couldn’t make it. So when he did show up I went off on him like as if he was my boyfriend which I must say at the beginning he told me no love, no relationship he was hurt by his ex wife. I apologized sincerely and he said the “benefits” part was over. Well, we have been together twice since then. However it’s not the same. Last night we talked about it. He told me that it’s not the same.

    He said I told you it wouldn’t happen again and it has, he proceeded to say that “when I say something I stick to my word” I don’t know why I didn’t. I keep apologizing he said I know you are sorry. He knows I am not that person that lashed out at him, I am going through some stuff right now. He knows everything. I said why can’t you just let sleeping dogs lay? His response was you woke up something in me that I never thought would be awakened again. I said we are just having fun, he said has it been fun? I am heartbroken over this; I really love him as a friend and I think I have feelings for him but he can’t know that.

    I just found out I have cll leukemia. He has been a great friend but this other thing is ripping me apart. I don’t understand why he can’t just forget what happened. Please if you can give me any advice I really could use it! I miss what we used to have. Thank you so much for your time in this matter .

  2. Hi, I am Chris. I am married with my wife since 2013. We’ve been living next to my mother-in-law since 2012. Anyway, I let my problems from work affect my happiness and I took it out on my wife which was not nothing but caring to me. I wanted so bad a promotion which ironically I don’t even want now since I am unhappy at my work. I forgot how to be a great husband and ultimately how to be a great dad. For the first time after a long long time I know what position I want. I want to be her man. I want to be the greatest husband she could have someone she deserves. That’s the only kind of position I want. I messed up really bad by taking it out on her and her mother for no reason at all. I apologized to her mother and to her but wont forgive me.

    I would give anything to turn back the time and shut my mouth. I would give anything to take back all the bad moments I created for her. I became a shadow of what I once was.

  3. Greetings, Before my husband and I were married we lived in 2 different countries. I cheated on him with multiple people, and when he moved to the U.S we talked about it and I confessed everything. Months up to our wedding we were going to Christian marriage counseling(ish) with a close mentor. We talked and talked and talked and decided to move forward in the marriage. We have now been married almost 3-years. We’ve had our ups & downs, but I thought most of it was cultural, gender, and of course of the past issues.

    The other weekend I was on a girls vacation for 30 hours and I didn’t tell him we went to a bar after the restaurant. When I came home he was so furious he let me know that he didn’t trust me, he really never trusted me, and he felt like the marriage was a “punishment” from God – in so many words. We’ve prayed together and talked 4 nights now. He started from the years before our marriage, read my journal from 2006 (we didn’t even know each other), and asked me all of the same questions he asked before we got married. I feel like I’m in a time warp and dealing w/ all of my past sins again. I’ve been mostly handling it because I know God forgave me and I truly did ask for mercy and grace. But it’s hard to hear his hurt & I feel bad that he thinks I’m such an awful person. Nothing has ever happened within our marriage.

    He said he thinks he wants to separate, but we are both fiercely Christian. I know I am the one that was wrong. My questions are as follows:

    1) How many times should we keep talking about something that happened 3-years ago? When can I say, STOP this is not a productive conversation? or do I let him continue b/c he needs to talk about it?

    2) I refuse to give up on the marriage, but I am tired of feeling like I’m convincing him to be married – I don’t want that.

    3) Even when we stay together, I am afraid of doing anything he might deem suspicious – even when there is nothing. His anger is scary and sometimes goes too far, so I want the marriage but I don’t want to live in fear…so where is the line there?

    4) I’ve suggested he talk to our Pastor. I think there are some conversations we should be having w/ therapist and not with each other. Do you think I should keep pushing that or?

    Any help, prayers, advice, you can give me would be great. We are both suffering in our work, our service at church, and functioning.

    1. You sure have a lot of questions :) I’m not sure how to answer them, but what I recommend is that you first approach your husband (at a nonvolatile time) to join hands in praying together about this. Pray separately and together (more than once). Commit this to the Lord totally. The enemy of our faith wants to take you both down. Please recognize this. When you say you are “fiercely Christian” that gave me the first clue that this is beyond your cheating; this is a spiritual warfare matter. You are forgiven when you confess. So is your husband when he confesses anything to the Lord. The Lord expects us to forgive the same way. With us though, it can be a battle. And God knows that. But both of you need to commit yourselves to working past your past, just as we’re told to do in Philippians 3:12-15. We’re not to camp upon the past, but “forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead” we are to “press on toward the goal to win the prize.” We can’t “press” when we are feeling oppressed. (The enemy is doing a good job here, sad to say.)

      I’m sure you both know all of this, but it’s harder to apply than to do. So, here is what I encourage you both to do. Be fierce Christians by fiercely fighting the enemy on this matter. Yes, to #4… it would be good for your husband to talk to your pastor or another godly advisor or marriage-friendly man. He has some trust issues… understandably so. But he needs to work these out with the Lord (“forgive as we are forgiven” knowing that we will be forgiven “by the same standards we forgive others”). Your husband is DEEPLY hurt. He was able to push it deep inside for a long time, but it has come back to bite him and your marriage. That’s why we’re told not to let “bitterness take root” because it “springs up and hurts many.” He needs another godly man to help him get to a better place on this issue.

      This will be a journey for your husband. Yes, you are ready to get this behind you. But he still has some work to do to get to a place of releasing and being free from that, which the enemy wants to burden him with and defeat your marriage. And since you are his partner and since it began with you, you need to give him even more help. So pray with him and for him, giving him more grace. A good article to read would be found at: http://marriagemissions.com/rebuilding-marriage-after-affair/. Yes, I know this all happened before you married. But in your husband’s mind it is dragging into the marriage because he feels he can’t trust you now because of the past. Please read the article, gleaning through the principles and applying what you can use. Give your husband extra grace here.

      It has taken extra time to get past this, there’s no doubt. But it is what it is. You can either stay stuck on what should have been, or work with what is now. One will keep you stuck and the other will help you to eventually move on. You promised your husband “for the rest of your lives” … so you can give him extra time and grace to work this through. You want extra grace from him to forgive you, and he needs extra grace to work past this. Again, read the principles in the articles and apply them as if they happened more recently. In your husband’s mind, they did (even though it really was the past). Continue to help him so you both can be free from the past.

      In my heart I KNOW you are both good people. You sinned… yes. But we all are sinners. As long as you resolve yourself to never, ever break trust again, you are on the right road. And your husband needs to break free–not from you, but from the agenda that the enemy of our faith wants use to break you both apart. Right now the enemy is having a great old time. It needs to be stopped. Your husband will never grow into the man God wants him to be if he keeps dragging this weight around and doesn’t get to the point of wholly trusting God, until he feels (with your help) that he can trust you too.

      Let him talk to you, and to your pastor and/or someone else who cares about your marriage working. Pray for and with your husband. Perhaps even fasting and praying at times over this matter until it is resolved and put fully under the blood by your husband. And give grace and love and acute accountability (at least for a while until your husband’s paranoia is put to rest… and then always stay accountable to protect your marriage relationship).

      I hope and pray all of this helps in some way. “May the Lord direct your heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5) “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ —to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)

  4. I cheated on my then boyfriend and I sincerely asked for forgiveness but he beat me up until 5 yrs into our relationship. I stayed with him because I really wanted his forgiveness and now 11 yrs later we’re married with 2 children. He brings up that I cheated almost everyday when I say no to something he wants done. Will you please pray for me and give me a little hope that this will one day be over and that he will forgive me.

  5. I have been married for almost 16 years but my husband and I have been having a lot of problems lately getting along. He sees it as being all my fault. I have said that I am sorry for mistakes I make here and there. He has no hope or faith in me ever changing, but this hurts me too. I am sick of feeling hopeless and hurt and like I will never be good enough for him.

    We have three children and I have made the mistake of telling them what happens when they see me crying. This has angered my husband and he thinks I have put them against him. I feel his heart is very hard against me. I betrayed him with a coworker about five years ago and even though I will never do it again, and I regret it deeply, he says he is forever scarred by it and justifies not apologizing to me when he hurts me because he is trying to forgive me still for this mistake from five years ago.

    I am coming to the point of giving up. All of me wants to just throw in the towel. How can I be more perfect? How can I never make him angry with me? I am so weak and I feel empty inside. Like I cannot love him enough because instead of seeing him smiling when I close my eyes I see his eyes furious with me and him angry and disappointed in me again and again. I am so depressed I wish I could get cancer and die.

    1. Hi Silvia, I am replying to your comment mainly because of your wish to get cancer and die. Please don’t wish that. Try remembering the good times and see the good in your husband and your family. I made a lot of mistakes too and it was mostly due to communicating well with my wife. Now I try and do my best to really listen to what she is saying and I am doing my best to become a better husband. Now, you need to try and make your husband understand you and how you feel so he can be a better husband. I have faith that he will. As long as there is love anything can be resolved. I am sure you tried a lot but don’t give up. Show your husband how much you love him and also make it clear to him that you need his love too.
      Take care and enjoy the beauty of life. (Surprise your husband with a holiday just for the two of you if possible). Personally I am at work now thinking of my wife and my baby daughter…I am missing them like crazy and can’t wait for my next work leave so I can spend more time with them…Everyday spending time with my family I consider a gift…

  6. Ok. Here it goes. After years of neglect on my part, and years of telling my wife I would stop drinking, she finally put her foot down last July (2015). I finally got it. I stopped drinking that day (7/7/15) and started to turn my life around…In big big ways. It took me almost 10 months to finally admit that inward I am an alcoholic. That realization came to me in May 2016. All things seemed to be getting better. Until my wife found out from a friend (of a friend) that I had an ongoing inappropriate sexually explicit relationship with a woman that I was messaging on Facebook (I can’t believe it. It Kills me). Now, this sexually charged messaging was just that. Online. No physical contact. And it happened over 2 1/2 years ago. In January 2014. When I was at my worst drinking.

    Within an hour of finding this out, my wife told me she wanted a divorce. One of the worst parts about this, for me, is I honestly have no recollection of this online affair. I barely remember the woman. But she remembered me. And was the one who sent our conversations to my wife. Alcohol is not an excuse. I know. I know that I made the wrong decisions. Fast forward two plus months later. I have apologized to my wife. Not only for what I had done, but more importantly for how I made her feel.

    The drinking, addiction to porn (which stopped when I quit drinking) plus my controlling behaviors are all factors. All issues. All being taken care of. They have all been apologized for. With heartfelt tears. I have felt the pain I caused for my wife. But she will not budge. She can’t get past the online affair…or the fact that I could do this to her. How do you do this to someone you love…?

    She is cold. And unloving. We have been separated for two months. Will time help heal these wounds?

  7. Me and my wife split up for a few months last year because she got where she just always acted like she fell out of love with me. I suggested counseling and she said everything was good on her end, then I told her I didn’t want to be with her any more and we split up. Then I was seeing someone for a few months but I tried to go back to my wife. She got back with me and I told her everything and still 8 months later she treats me like it was all my fault and doesn’t know if she can stay with me; what should I do?

  8. I am at the end of my rope, I have no where to go, no one to turn to, and only silence from God. I have been married for 25 years to a woman I deeply love. Two years ago I was diagnosed with 5 fatal diseases from Agent Orange exposure and every day is a struggle with pain and loss of mobility. The day I was released from the hospital following an emergency quadruple by-pass she calmly announced she was no longer my wife. She cited a number of “offenses” that were so trivial they seemed laughable. And a few that I never committed. I was dumbfounded! She will not talk to me, goes out of her way to avoid being alone with me. When she does speak her words are loaded with contempt and ridicule, she absolutely will not allow me to even touch her. She will not even look at me.
    .
    In all the time we have been together I never violated her trust; I never cheated on her, I was always truthful, I never abused her physically or mentally, and I never said no to her. I gave all that she wanted – and more. I was affectionate and considerate and would never knowingly hurt her. But, I accepted responsibility for all her complaints, even those I did not do, and my apologies, not matter how sincere or contrite just bounced off her armor.

    I did all this article suggested to no avail. She will not be alone with me or go anywhere with me. She is impervious stone. The pain in my heart is indescribable. My prayers to God for forgiveness of my own faults that have caused this (I don’t really know what they are), and to change her heart toward me just evaporate into nothingness. She refuses to see our priest or even go to church. Neither will she go with me to a marriage counselor.

    Here I sit. Isolated, alone, like a motherless child. Now I only pray for God’s mercy, that he will take my life and end a meaningless existence without purpose or love. For the only way to stop this unending agony is to hate her right back – that I refuse to do. Can anyone help me?

    1. Chief, I can only begin to imagine the emotional pain you are in right now and I am sincerely sorry. Granted I only have your half of the story, but I have no reason to doubt what you say is true. But there has to be “something” that broke inside your wife to cause her to snap like this without provocation. It’s like PTSD where something builds up over time from a past trauma and if it goes untreated the pin on her emotional hand grenade got pulled and BLAM! you were taken out in the explosion.

      While I can’t promise you that your marriage can be saved, I can tell you I’ve heard of much worse scenarios where God has intervened and marriages have been restored. You can read and watch video testimonies of some of these for encouragement by going back to our web site and in the SAVE MY MARRIAGE section and going through the Testimonies section. There are numerous articles there that may hep you put some pieces together. One in particular I want you to read and print out for yourself to use every day is called “I Am Standing For The Healing Of My Marriage!”

      The most important thing for you to do right now is for you to “work on you.” That begins and ends with prayer, studying your Bible and getting counseling for yourself, if needed. I know you can’t hear God right now, but I want to assure you that doesn’t mean He’s not working. So many times in the Bible you can read accounts of the Prophets, like Jeremiah, (and many others) who lament that they feel abandoned by God. But if you read the entirety of their story it becomes evident that in the worst of circumstances they were experiencing God was working in the background.

      There’s something important you need to remember, while God is working on your wife’s heart BIG TIME right now, but ultimately the decision to do what is right to restore and heal the marriage is hers and hers alone. God will not force her to do so.

      So, I encourage you that while you are wandering in this desert of pain waiting for something to happen in her heart, ask God to reveal to you what it is He wants you to do to become even more of a Man of God. Don’t try to change your wife’s heart or mind. That’s God’s job. Yours right now is to be as physically and spiritually healthy as you can possibly be.

      If you need help finding someone to talk to call Focus On The Family at 1-800-A-FAMILY and ask to speak with one of their counselors. They may be able to give you some insights in the free session you will get, but they can also recommend a good counselor close to you.

      Chief, again, I am so sorry for what you are going through. This is not what God had planned for your marriage and it grieves Him even more than it grieves you. I hope in some small way this encourages you. Blessings!

      1. Steve: Thank you for your time and your thoughtful reply. I have spent several days re-reading and thinking about what you said. I am very familiar with PTSD. After 50 years I still have sweat-soaked nightmares and I still hear the voices of friends long vanished and gone. PTSD can take over your life if you are not careful. It is a dark place filled with rage and hate. My wife could always tell when it was coming over me. She called it the wolf. An uncontrolled wild animal that lashes out blindly. My wolf feared no one or anything – except my wife. She would grab him by the collar and put him back in the kennel. She did that with a loving kindness that was astounding.

        I have searched my mind and soul for some hidden flaw or weakness of character that would have caused all this, and found only the common human failings we all have. I can be impatient, demanding, selfish, and perhaps a dozen more traits that are harmful to a relationship. But found nothing that explains such a draconian reaction to matters so insignificant. That brought me to the conclusion that there must be something else, something that she has hidden from me.

        There is genuine sorrow in my heart for her and I do all that I can for her. I am very attentive to her; kind, and compassionate. I never retaliate, scold, argue, or accuse her. But, she views all that as justification for what she’s doing to me, “see, I was right all along, your just feeling guilty.” She also sees this as a weakness to be further exploited. It’s a fruitless circle of despair. I never try to change her heart or mind because I know that will only make a bad situation worse.

        From the beginning she was the most loving, kindest, generous, and forgiving person I had ever known. I watched in shamed admiration of her many and astonishing acts of mercy and compassion for others. I truly believed that she was special to God, one of the pure in heart, a righteous woman with value above rubies. Then came the year from hell.

        One after another sudden emergency medical conditions sent me to the ER in a life or death struggle. I would be released and within a few weeks I’d be hit with another. Six times my wife endured an unexpected life threatening medical emergency. And five times I was diagnosed with yet another terminal disease.

        Steve, I am very sick. I take medications by the fist full. To control my pain, to a level where I can function, I take a enough oxycodone, methadone, and morphine to drop a bull elephant. Fighting all of this drains me physically and mentally.

        My wife owns a business and I work for her a few hours each day. Her attitude toward me changed as did her attitude to everyone else. She has no feeling for others except contempt that they are not as smart as she is. She is loud and her mouth is as filthy as a drunken sailor’s. She berates everyone and everything and she is always negative and always a victim. I haven’t heard a kind word out of her in well over a year. I cannot account for such a rapid and stunning change in personality.

        I pray for her forgiveness as well as mine, and for the wisdom to do His will, and for the courage to endure what is coming, and for acceptance of things I cannot change, and for peace to let her go. I know now that I will suffer and die alone. My wife will not be there. There will be no tenderness, no compassion, no willingness to share part of herself to ease my passing. No humanity of any kind. But, I am a Vietnam vet, why should I expect anything different?

  9. I’m currently in a very serious relationship with my girlfriend and truly believe she is the one. However, we have been conflicted with a similar problem over and over again. This problem arose sorely from myself, and I have acknowledged that I have been completely in the fault. A few months have passed and I really thought we sorted things out and she forgave me, but we often encounter everyday moments which spark her memory of my mistakes. Since the fight, I really have reevaluated myself and changed for both myself and for her to show her that I keep the promises I have made. We sat down and really talked about our problem, because she believes my past mistakes deep down shows my true self. I’mm not quite sure how I can further assure her; I know these things take time, but I have no idea how to ease her, when even the slightest everyday thing reminds her of my past mistakes.