The Danger of Unforgiveness
by Dave Carder
One of the most influential vulnerabilities to close calls is the inability to let go, to forgive and to work through old hurts and wounds in the marriage. Every marriage has hurts, but it is their cumulative effect that makes one vulnerable to a close call. It is easy to see how their buildup can create the feeling that “he doesn’t really care about me,” or “she is too interested in everybody else, including the kids.” Now some would dismiss small isolated events and say that he just needs to grow up or she just needs to quit complaining. These things may well be true, but most adulterers can recount long histories of small disappointments in their marriage relationship.
Though it sounds simple, the practice of forgiveness is really a complex behavior that is greatly influenced by each spouse’s individual experience with personal forgiveness. Forgiveness is a learned skill. The ability to forgive is shaped by your personal history with it—from observing your family-of-origin practices, to listening to your religious teachers, and finally your experience with both giving and receiving forgiveness personally.
Think about these questions and talk about them together:
- What has been my overall experience with forgiveness?
- Have I been easily forgiven?
- Do I forgive easily?
- When I have been hurt, have those who hurt me quickly identified their wrongdoing and corrected their behavior?
- What was my family of origin’s pattern of apology and forgiveness?
- Are there people who need my forgiveness? Are there people I need to ask for forgiveness?
Writing a Forgiveness Letter
In this age of emails and texting, perhaps you haven’t written a letter in a very long time! But there’s something powerful in the written word, and if you and your spouse will write a forgiveness letter, you will have a tangible memento of the time when you decided to deal with old hurts and move on.
Write your behavior (without defending yourself) following the words:
- “I was wrong when I . . .”
- “I know this must have made you feel . . .”
- “Will you forgive me?”
If your spouse has agreed to do this forgiveness exercise with you, then set aside a minimum of a half hour with no interruptions to read your letters to each other. You will also need some downtime after the reading to reflect on what you both have heard and read.
Remember that forgiveness does not mean that the hurtful behavior will never happen again. It does mean that the spouse is aware of how their behavior hurts you, and therefore will not intentionally repeat it for the purpose of hurting you. Should this behavior happen again (and it may), be quick to verbalize your awareness of it and offer forgiveness. And when you realize you’ve repeated hurtful behavior, acknowledge that you have done so and ask forgiveness. Change takes time. Most of us can tolerate hurtful behavior when we see that our spouse is working hard at changing the pattern.
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