Forgiveness in Marriage:
Growing a Forgiving Heart
Family Room Conversations
David W. Hegg
June 8, 2014
Phil. 2.1-4: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
God created forgiveness because sin created rebels! God’s forgiveness of repentant sinners turns rebels into sons and daughters. Our understanding of God’s forgiveness, extended to us in Christ Jesus, will best be demonstrated in our willingness to forgive others authentically and consistently.
Problem #1: Conflict is inevitable, and too often it ends with the infliction of deep emotional hurt!
There are lots of ways we hurt each other:
1) Inadvertent: Many times conflict arises from simply misunderstandings or unintentional mistakes that are taken as intentional.
2) Consequential: Sometimes my behavior toward you is a consequence of me being in a bad mood, or having had a bad day.
3) Progressive: Sometimes my behavior toward you seems explosive and excessive simply because I have been keeping my hurt under control but it has been festering for a long, long time and finally comes out.
4) Intentional: These are the most devastating conflicts, and they occur when I am mad at you, and I hurt you because you have hurt me, or disappointed me or in some way intentionally made my life worse.
Note: It is helpful to recognize the each of these kinds of “conflicts” may necessitate a different level of forgiveness.
For example, misunderstandings should be understood as such, and we should resolutely resist the temptation to “grow” the argument. If we can recognize the reality of the situation, and forgive before temperatures rise, we have won the battle.
On the other hand, intentional infliction of hurt may take much more work and time to bring about true forgiveness. But, it still is the best option and should be pursued with vigor.
Problem #2: Pride is pervasive!
We naturally think highly of ourselves, despite not liking certain things about ourselves. We get our feelings hurt because we don’t think we deserve to be hurt. We value ourselves, our well-being, and when we are threatened or attacked – either intentionally or unintentionally – we are prone to attack back even if we do so in different ways:
- physical acts of anger (throwing things, hitting walls, etc)
- yelling, screaming, etc
- verbal attacks (saying very hurtful things)
- silent treatment
- withdrawal (refusing to give myself to the person in any way!
When we react out of pride, we always are on the losing end!
But: there is yet another way that pride hurts us!
Pride will keep us from believing we need to apologize for our own shortcomings! Pride breeds a sense of superiority, and that superiority will often cause us to believe that our infractions are minor while our spouse’s are major! We think we deserve forgiveness but don’t feel particularly inclined to extend it unless the perpetrator first hurts badly, and then begs for mercy!
Pride minimizes our faults and maximizes those of others. And, pride will keep us from believing that we are wrong, and need to be forgiven ourselves! This lack of understanding our own need for forgiveness will make it harder for us to forgive others!
A) Ridding my heart and mind of bitterness, anger by no longer bringing the offense up to myself, to others, or to God.
B) Re-establishing relationship with the perpetrator unless doing so would be harmful to either of you.
Note: If we have rid our hearts and minds of bitterness, then and only then will we be able to assess accurately whether the re-establishment of relationship is the righteous thing to do.
Excursus: Forgiveness and Reconciliation
We often struggle with forgiving a wrong suffered because:
- we think if we forgive then they “got away” with it.
- we think if we forgive we have to act like the offense never happened
- in forgiving, we give it over to God to deal with the perpetrator, releasing ourselves from carrying the burden of bitterness, or the responsibility to set things to rights.
Growing a Forgiving Heart:
First, recognize, admit, and confess your own shortcomings easily and consistently.
In other words, be honest! Understand that you continue to be a person that needs forgiveness often because you sin often, even if no one else sees it!
• Refuse to rationalize away your own shortcomings.
• Stop thinking you should get a “pass” because of all the benefits you bring to the
• Understand that your sins are first against God, who see everything you think, say,
When we come to see the utter sinfulness of our own sin, we will be overwhelmed with the magnificence of God’s forgiving heart toward us in Jesus.
Second, understand the PERSONAL benefits of forgiving others:
Excursus: Why forgive anyway?
1. Forgiveness is commanded by God.
2. Forgiveness demonstrates that we recognize the forgiveness of God in our lives.
3. Forgiveness keeps bitterness at bay.
4. Forgiveness allows fractured relationships to heal.
5. Forgiveness demonstrates our spiritual maturity and growing Christ-likeness.
6. Forgiveness does away with the need to keep track of wrongs suffered.
7. Forgiveness short-circuits the desire for vengeance.
8. Forgiveness replaces drama in your heart with the peace God grants to the obedient.
9. Forgiveness is a sign you believe God’s knows what is best for you.
10. Forgiveness is poisonous to pride.
One sign of health is that we choose what is best for us, not just what we enjoy most. Choosing to forgive has great personal benefits. It is pleasing to God, and as such, is pleasing to the soul It is beneficial to relationship, and it keeps pride and bitterness at bay.
Pride will keep you from forgiving others, but a forgiving heart will help keep pride at bay! Pride and a forgiving spirit are ferocious enemies. The one you resource most will keep the other one at bay.
Third, learn how good it feels to forgive those you truly love because it restores unity and marital oneness.
We want those we love to live in peace and safety. We want those we love to be joyful, happy, and light-hearted. When there is conflict/pain between us, it has a strong and negative effect on everyone involved.
Fourth, make forgiveness your “go to” reaction.
Types of Forgiveness:
Type 1: Immediate and automatic:
When you truly love someone, and care about them deeply, you will often forgive small annoyances automatically recognizing that to dwell on them will only bring about regret later. You stop thinking about the incident, and don’t expect the other person to apologize.
Type 2: Simple Infractions:
In every relationship there will be times when we hurt one another. These require communication about the problem, with both parties intent on re-establishing warm, interpersonal relationship. Forgiveness begins in the heart of the individual for the purpose of removing all the obstacles of bitterness and anger so that, when good communication and repentance happens, the warmth of relationship is both reestablished and strengthened.
Type 3: Complex and Continuous Infractions:
Unfortunately, when simple infractions are not taken care of they can become a growing mountain of resentment. It may also be the case that catastrophic sin raises such a wall of pain that forgiveness becomes a long, and arduous process rather than the natural response of a loving heart.
In these cases, where hurts are complex, and ongoing, the answer will come in a deeper understanding of personal sin, the value of deep and sincere repentance, and a growing trust in the love of God. Sadly, there often exists in these situations a “catch-22”. The maturity necessary to overcome these kinds of marital tragedies is the very maturity that was lacking, and led to the problems in the first place.
Nevertheless, both parties must humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, and seek to please him in all respects, regardless of how their spouse may respond. The only righteous response will be obedience to the Lord knowing that what he asks of you is always best for you.
Fifth, let God keep score! (Mt. 18:21ff)
One of the biggest impediments to forgiveness is the fear that we may:
- be taken advantage of
- enable continued bad behavior
- be considered spineless
Here’s the deal: God commands us to grow forgiving hearts, and to forgive. Will we get taken advantage of? Yes … God does all the time! But will we have the assurance that we have done what is pleasing to our God? Yes, and that is always the best option.