4 Ways to Fail at Forgiving Your Spouse
- Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Forgiving but Not Forgetting
You’ve heard people say, “I will forgive but I won’t forget.” I understand why people say it but I don’t agree with the underlying premise. If you want to forgive someone, why would you be committed to remembering the anger and bitterness and resentment you feel? I think it is because at some level you don’t want to forgive the person—at least not completely. You want to do the right thing and you care about what others think of you and want to maintain the image of a forgiving person, but you don’t want to forget what has been done to you.
It’s difficult not to hold someone’s previous behavior against them. If you let go of something that someone has done to you, you may be risking more hurt in the future. To minimize being taken advantage of again, you should say the right things but maintain a clear distrust of the person.
Here’s the problem: if you can’t trust someone or if you expect less of her or him based on previous behavior, then I question whether you have really forgiven the person. I’m not suggesting that humans are capable of wiping their memories clean (other than on one of those corny Syfy Channel movies). I am suggesting that if you truly forgive someone, you will treat them as if what they did never happened. I mentioned in the last chapter that Jan had to learn to forgive me in order to stop expecting me to control her. You will have to forgive your husband or you will continue to expect him to fail.
I worked with a couple many years ago who could each cite chapter and verse of incidents that had occurred between the two of them ten, ﬁfteen, even twenty years before. They almost never had a discussion that didn’t involve comments like, “That doesn’t make up for what you did at Christmas back in 1982...” or “Okay, but that’s nothing compared to how bad you were on our vacation in ’76.” Every current relationship experience was seen in light of previous behavior.
It took us the better part of a year to work through this issue. They were both scared of letting go of the past. Being able to recall the times when each had been hurt in the past represented control and power over their spouse. They didn’t want to give up that power and become vulnerable again.
True forgiveness should lead to increased trust. If you ﬁnd yourself expecting that your spouse is going to let you down, forgiveness is probably not happening.
Expecting the one you love to fail is another warning sign that forgiveness may be absent in your marriage. If you are able to forgive your spouse and let the past go, it follows that you would not be pessimistic about your relationship. In other words, truly forgiving your spouse would lead to an expectation of success and a great deal of hope for the future of your relationship.
In the absence of forgiveness, the relationship is shrouded in a dark cloud of despair where there is an expectation of failure. Strong memories of previous disappointments lead to certainty that your spouse, who has let you down before, will do so again.
If you continue to expect your partner to fail, you won’t notice if they succeed. For instance, you may have come to believe that your husband will always correct what you say. You start assuming that this is simply a character trait: it’s just who he is. How can he be expected to change, or even want to, when the person who supposedly loves him the most has given up on the possibility that he can change? You end up paying attention to the one time he corrects you and ignore the ten times he doesn’t. I continue to be amazed at the creative ability couples have to sabotage change in a relationship, even when they both agree the change would be good. Often the driving force in this resistance to change is a lack of forgiveness.
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