“Forgive and forget,” right? That’s what they say. But what happens when you can’t forget and you certainly aren’t ready to forgive? Have you ever felt like something was wrong with you because forgiveness didn’t come quickly, easily, or at all?
You are definitely not alone and there is certainly nothing wrong with you. These struggles are common and normal. What we don’t want is for unforgiveness to turn into bitterness, resentment, or worse. (Which can happen so easily, so quickly.)
When it comes to marriage and forgiving our spouse, we often unconsciously resort to some cold, hard math. We add and multiply and divide these factors of what our spouse did and see how the equation works out. Then we keep the totals in our Relationship Ledger.
- Is it their “first offense” or have they been doing this for years?
- How serious is what they have done? Lied to you or like, left clothes on the floor?
- How hurt are you over what they did? Disappointed to brokenhearted?
- Did they apologize and ask for your forgiveness? Did they seem sincere?
The Hurt Spouse then takes all of the above information into account and “calculates” how mad they will be, for how long, if retribution is in order, and finally, if and when they will forgive the Offending Spouse. This is Cold Forgiveness Calculus.
We do this math almost instantly in our minds subconsciously. We do this math with our kids, friends, co-workers - everyone really. It can be extremely difficult to get the numbers to ever add up to forgiveness.
Forgiveness is one of those things that we desperately want for ourselves, but we are often absolutely stingy when it comes to giving it out to others.
I get it. All the “calculations” are a function of self-preservation. We don’t want to keep getting hurt. We certainly don’t want to be taken advantage of by our spouse. Honestly, we don’t want to feel stupid because the same dysfunctional stuff keeps happening to us, so we keep that Relationship Ledger handy and it dictates how vulnerable we will be. (What is forgiveness if it isn’t being vulnerable?)
Could there be another way? What if we dropped the Cold Forgiveness Calculus that constantly keeps our spouse in the red? What if we saw forgiveness as part of the self-sacrificial love that we pledged to our spouse? What if we forgave them the way that we hope they will forgive us when we need it?
Does all this sound crazy? Too exposed? Risky? Naive? I hear you. I feel it too.
Let me make it simple: The math will never add up. There will always be a remainder. This is how we love and forgive our spouse- we forgive the remainder.
Some practical things to think about...
- You should forgive when it is real and you mean it. Take as long as it takes to be sincere. (It is ok and healthy to tell your spouse, “I am having a hard time forgiving you for _____. I am working on it. I’m trying to get there.”)
- You might need to practice on yourself. If you can’t forgive yourself, let go, and move on. Forgiving others will always be a struggle for you.
- Forgiving DOES NOT mean forgetting. If it did, we would set ourselves up to continually be hurt and even abused. “Forgetting” means NOT bringing up a past, dealt with, healed-over situation and using it as a weapon against our spouse.
- You don’t have to wait to be asked for forgiveness to forgive your spouse.
Forgiving your spouse is also FOR YOU so that you remain healthy and don’t become bitter and resentful. (Treating them as forgiven might be the thing that causes them to realize how they hurt you. Even if it doesn’t - forgive anyway so YOU can move forward!)
- Forgiveness can be a way that we take back control of our life from a spouse’s failings, from a past hurt, an unresolved issue, or even an ongoing situation. What we won’t forgive controls us.
- Forgiveness DOES NOT mean that we don’t work with our spouse to understand what went wrong and work together to avoid it happening in the future.
- Forgiveness is made tangible by the relationship being restored and going back to normal as if your spouse had never messed up in the first place. But...
- Forgiveness DOES NOT mean all consequences are automatically erased. If your spouse betrayed your trust, you might truly forgive them, but there will still be things they need to do to rebuild trust over time. This DOES NOT mean they are not forgiven.
Forgiveness takes us to the very core of what it means to love someone. It isn’t easy. Do we sacrifice ourselves or do we protect ourselves? That’s a hard question that we live out day by day in our marriage. I do know that there is no formula or equation and that Love realizes the ledger will never be balanced, but forgives anyway.
Written by John Daum