Forgiveness in Marriage: Are You a Forgiving Spouse?

Some of us treat forgiveness like a rare, special gift, only to be unwrapped and presented to another under the most extreme of circumstances and only after the person seeking forgiveness has completed a Herculean set of tasks that show genuine remorse and hand-wringing regret. But the truth is forgiveness shouldn’t be boxed up and treated as an isolated event, but should be used freely and often, not only for our partner’s sake when they’re asking to be forgiven, but for our own sake, and for the good of the relationship as a whole.

The ability and willingness to forgive is a powerful tool that can benefit all couples. Typically when you think of forgiveness in marriage, it has to do with extreme violations of trust, such as infidelity. Clearly one’s ability to forgive is severely tested when a marriage/relationship is devastated by the fallout of an affair. In my work with couples, I’ve repeatedly observed how marital/relationship problems often result from the failure of couples to develop a forgiveness mindset when faced with the common struggles we all face—the daily “small forgiveness” challenges.

The power (and potentially negative influence) of these small challenges cannot be overstated. If unresolved or unforgiven, they can build up a toxic residue that pulls couples apart—even strong relationships buckle under the weight of cumulative stresses and unresolved transgressions.

While not as dramatic and immediate as an egregious betrayal, the daily relationship challenges we all encounter can ultimately turn out to be just as damaging to a marriage or relationship. General disagreements, failure to see eye-to-eye on important issues, the inability or unwillingness to compromise, the unchecked influence of stress and financial worries, conflicts over child-care issues, are just some of the typical experiences that can add up and lead to relationship trouble.

These familiar, daily stresses and challenges often have a cumulative effect, building momentum like a ripple in the ocean that slowly transforms into a dangerous wave. Your relationship will become more resilient when these challenges are filtered through the compassion of a forgiveness mindset.

Mutual forgiveness and understanding are life-jackets in rough relationship waters.

Forgiveness In Marriage Action Step

The following questions are designed to help raise awareness of your attitudes toward forgiveness and the role of forgiveness in your marriage/relationship.

As you reflect on the following questions, please write your answers out (the act of writing can help you clarify your position and learn more about yourself and what your relationship demands of you):

  • When you think about the word “forgiveness,” list all the thoughts and feelings that immediately come to mind (without judging yourself, and without editing your thoughts).
  • What blocks forgiveness for you? (For instance, particular feelings, beliefs, memories, circumstances.)
  • Do you believe you can forgive someone and still protect yourself, still maintain appropriate boundaries around your emotional self? If so, how?
  • Who were your models of forgiveness growing up? Give at least two examples of how mistakes/transgressions were handled in your family.
  • In what ways do your forgiveness role models (and experiences of childhood forgiveness) continue to influence why and how you forgive in your current relationships?

Use your responses to help you along your forgiveness journey.

All best,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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