Marriage and Forgiveness: The Role of Self-Forgiveness

Considering the challenges couples face in maintaining a loving, long-term relationship, isn’t it safe to assume that forgiveness and learning how to forgive are essential parts of all marriages/relationships?

Forgiving your spouse/partner can only arise from your ability to forgive yourself.

Let’s find out why.

The Roots of Self-Forgiveness

For a child, there is no difference between self-forgiveness and other-forgiveness. When you are taught at a young age to say “I’m sorry” or you witness gestures of forgiveness between your parents, you are learning a mindset about how people treat one another.self forgiveness

Children mimic the behavior of others and these “outside” relationships become the foundation for the child’s relationship with him/herself (your “inside” relationship—how you treat and feel about yourself).

For instance, let’s imagine that a five-year-old child witnesses his father being verbally abusive to his mother. The child sees a relationship where derogatory terms and hostile feelings shape the interactions of his parents. In this case, the child learns that hostility is an acceptable way to deal with certain problems. But the child also learns something important about how to deal with his own feelings and experiences.

Let’s say that in our example the husband was demeaning his wife because she was upset about an unresolved issue with her brother, so she was tearful and sad. These feelings evoked the ire of her abusive husband. In this case the child may learn to feel angry and hostile toward himself (and others) whenever he experiences similar feelings that his mother was berated for.

Self-directed hostility, rather than kindness and acceptance, becomes part of the child’s way of dealing with his/her emotional world (aspects of parental relationships become internalized, so you begin to treat yourself the way your parents treated one another); and these early relationships also influence how you react to others, including your spouse/partner.

In the above example, the child’s lack of acceptance (as modeled by his/her father’s lack of acceptance of his wife) becomes the basis for an inability to forgive oneself as well as others.

Observing how others treat one another is a powerful learning tool that shapes the behavior of children. And of course, how important others directly treat and interact with a child will affect his/her ability to forgive. When you are treated with kindness, respect and fairness, a forgiving mindset is more likely to be fostered—this is especially the case when you were disciplined with kindness, respect and fairness as a child. In these instances, children learn that kindness and respect can still be part of the relationship even when people are upset with each other and mistakes are made.

After all, isn’t forgiveness most apparent?

Marriage/Relationship Books-Resources

Are you ready to make forgiveness a regular part of your relationship?

I’ve created a comprehensive ebook for couples on forgiveness in marriage. Creating a healthy marriage/relationship will always involve learning how to forgive!

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

Featured image “Silhouette of a man” by Markuso.

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