Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Forgiveness: The Forgotten Solvent in Marriage

By Daniel W. Trathen, D. Min. Ph. D.

One of the most revealing aspects about the quality of a couples relationship to God is the way they react and respond to each others hurt, wrong behavior and attitudes. Each can carry anger, seek revenge, or complain and carry a grudge. However, the more a person understands and appreciates the fact that God responds to their own sin with forgiveness through Christ, the more they will respond with forgiveness toward each other. After all, “forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” (Paul Boese) Forgiving frees us for restored relationship! Proverbs 19: 11 states, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”

No couple could make their marriage last with joy and intimacy without a commitment to forgiveness. Forgiveness is to a relationship, what blood is to the body. Forgiveness is the intentional thought and act of ceasing to feel resentment toward someone. It is a conscious effort that often requires several times of letting go. The two Greek words for forgiveness is aphiemi which means to send away, to give up, to keep no longer, to let go and charidzomai meaning to forgive someone by freeing them from an obligation or penalty for wrongdoing.

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” (Martin Luther King). There are no conditions for forgiveness. There is no magic formula, but Christ’s teaching does point the way for moving through forgiveness when needed. Forgiveness is a commandment found in Mark 11:25 and in Romans 12:19. Not doing so hinders our relationship with God. It puts us out of fellowship with Him. It is also a promise, Matthew 6:14; 15; Luke 6:37; James 2: 13. Forgiving is to be unlimited, Matthew 18:21, 22 and Luke 17:3, 4. Our motive in forgiving is to reflect an attitude of mercy, Luke 6:36, and humility as we reflect on God’s forgiveness of us, Ephesians 4:32, and Christ’s forgiveness of us, Colossians 3:13. We choose to forgive because we have experienced God’s grace. Our attitude needs to be accompanied by patience, Colossians 3:13, kindness, Genesis 45: 5-11; Romans 12:20, and blessing and prayer, Matthew 5:44. The keys are that we give up your perceived right to get even with your partner; we don’t hold “it” over our partner’s head, and we try to move ahead constructively with our relationship.

In Ephesians 4: 31, 32, Paul writes, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and slander be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” And again in Colossians 3: 12, 13, “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on the heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so you should do.”

The reason we are expected to forgive our partners is that God has forgiven us. He does not respond with revenge, when we wrong and sin against Him. Instead, He has compassion on us and sent His son to die for our sins and to reconcile us to Himself. Instead of judging us, He gave us the gift of eternal life which we do not deserve. Therefore, we are to freely and willingly forgive others. We need to remember that God has forgiven our partners and we must do the same. Jesus stressed this to His disciples when He said, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14, 15) A spouse who has received forgiveness is obligated to forgive their partner. When there is no forgiveness there will be no desire to build others up or serve them. On the other hand, when couples have a forgiving spirit toward one another, their mutual love is strengthened and the couple can work together in peace and harmony.

Forgiving each other of a wrong does not necessarily mean that the wrong is forgotten. However, it does mean that when it is remembered there is no resentment, hurt feelings, or desire for revenge. Although our partners should recognize their offense and confess it, our obligation as believers is to forgive our partners even when it is unrecognized and/or unconfessed. Our obligation to forgive does not rest on our partner’s contrition. Rather it rests with our obedience to God. Forgiveness is a gift of high value, yet it costs us nothing (Betty Smith).

Material adapted from A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage. Stanley, S. M., Trathen D.W., McCain S., Bryan M., 1998, Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers. San Francisco, California.

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