I will never make an apology for the fact that I adore the Scriptures. There is something very, remarkable is the word that comes to mind, about the fact that even all of these years later (thousands and thousands of years later), there is so much wisdom within the Bible that is still relevant and — if you want to live a content life — even necessary. Matter of fact, some of the people in my world who aren't Bible followers or even believers in God will admit to me that Proverbs (King Solomon's book of wisdom) has some real gems in it.
Anyway, where I'm going with this today is, since I do use the Bible was a guide for much of my life, I'm someone who strongly believes that one of the main purposes of marriage is spiritual — that it's a very unique dynamic that is designed to teach us how to love another human being like God loves us: fully, completely, always. Just like I tell some of my clients in sessions, "It's very interesting that the Love Chapter [in the Bible] defines love, starting with 'love is patient' and ending with 'love never fails' and yet, folks still misuse and even abuse the word all of the time."
Since I think that marriage is about teaching divine love, above all else, if there's one thing that God does for us, on a daily basis (because as humans, we really are a trip), it's forgive. And you know what? According to the Good Book:
"For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses." (Matthew 6:14-15 — AMPC)
Whew. You caught that right? If you want to be forgiven by God, you've got to be willing to forgive others. There's no "escape clause" on that. And so, that's what we're going to tackle today. In order to be spiritually in a good space, in order to love more and better, in order to honor the vows that you made with your spouse, if there's a "hack" that can make all of this possible, in a very extraordinary way, it's forgiveness. It really and truly is.
What Exactly Does It Mean to Forgive?
Timing really is something. On the day that I decided to knock this article out, I "happened upon" a study entitled, "Two-thirds of romantic couples start out as friends, study finds". It made me smile because 1) I'm also a firm believer that the foundation of marriage needs to be friendship (you can't become genuine friends with someone in a few weeks or a couple of months, by the way) and 2) I tell folks often that the reason why a lot of people have such a short tolerance in their romantic relationships yet will endure until the end with their friendships is because a lot of relationships lack friendship.
Think about it. When it comes to the folks who you consider to be "your tribe", I'm willing to bet my next paycheck that you have forgiven a whole lot as it relates to them (and vice versa). Oh, but your past relationships? Chances are, you've cut them for far, far less. And because friendship is lacking in so many romantic situations, because folks are too busy "putting on a face" while they're dating so that they never really have to practice forgiveness, once they get married, to tell you the truth, they really aren't all that good at it. As a result, whenever trouble hits, they would rather break their promise of remaining in their union instead of looking at what is going on as an opportunity to learn more about what forgiveness entails — and requires.
So, with that said, what exactly does it mean to forgive someone else and why are so many people triggered by the word? While there are a billion different ways to break forgiveness down, at the end of the day, probably the most simplistic way to explain it is, forgiveness is making the decision to release an offense and the resentment that's attached to it.
It means that when someone does something that hurts, offends or disappoints you, you don't hold a grudge, you don't find a way to get back at them and you don't allow bitterness to set in because of it. Forgiveness requires some emotional intelligence, empathy and compassion because, in order to do it well, you've got to be willing to accept that you also make mistakes, that there will come a time when your spouse will need to forgive you for something (because again, you are not perfect; not even close…right?) and you will desire for them not to run you through the ringer before they extend the same courtesy your way.
Forgiveness is also about being a peace-seeker and peacemaker. It's about wanting love and harmony to be restored into your home rather than allowing unforgivingness to keep a spirit of anger/confusion/discourse in the place that is supposed to be a sanctuary space (a place of refuge) for you both. Indeed, like love, forgiveness is divine because forgiveness is what helps you to love another person…more.
Why Is It So Hard to Forgive?
So, why is something so beautiful also something that is so difficult? That's a TED Talk on its own. What I will say for now is I think many of us struggle with forgiveness (including forgiving ourselves) because it wasn't modeled to us well. Maybe the people who should've been our forgiveness mentors did a horrible job at explaining and/or expressing it. Maybe we never saw someone do it right when we were growing up. Maybe the people we've forgiven in the past kept on committing the same offenses which caused us to build up walls. Maybe this crazy word has got us believing that forgiveness is a sign of weakness rather than strength when that couldn't be further from the truth.
Another reason why some people struggle with forgiving others is because they think it means that they should be a doormat or not set boundaries or standards or that, in doing so, they are conveying to someone that abuse or misuse is OK. Listen, if someone truly loves you, they are going to mess up. You've got to accept that. At the same time, they are also going to strive to not repeat the same offenses (at the very least, in the same way that they have already apologized for in the past) because a part of what comes with an apology is saying, "I know what I did was wrong. I own it. How can I make things better and strive to restore the confidence in me that has been compromised?" (Check out "Heads Up: It's NOT An Apology If An Amends Isn't Made".)
So no, forgiveness is not an allowance to let people mistreat you. Forgiveness is extending mercy and grace to those who acknowledge their wrongs while wanting to set things right. And if you are going to be in a relationship with any kind of human being, you're going to have to be willing to have this heart and mindset. Otherwise, real talk…stay single.
Why Only “Good Forgivers” Need to Get Married
The late evangelist Billy Graham was married to a woman by the name of Ruth Bell Graham. While they both were alive, she once said, "A happy marriage is the union of two great forgivers." I've shared this quote on this platform before and I promise you that I couldn't agree more. While there are things like abuse and infidelity that lead to the end of some marriages, I'm here to tell you that a lot of folks? A lot of them choose not to stick their marriage out because they simply don't do well at forgiving others. Why?
Some people go into marriage with super unrealistic expectations.
Some people go into marriage wanting to be served with no plans of serving someone else.
Some people? Some people are simply too selfish (self-absorbed) for that kind of relationship.
And you know what? These are the kinds of people who think that their partner should tolerate all of their issues, excuse all of their foolishness and overlook all of their flaws and yet, when it's time to reciprocate these same actions, they suddenly have very little of what they seem to require their partner to give. It's hypocritical. It's exhausting. And, after a while, it makes having a successful marriage, pretty close to impossible.
What makes folks, quite frankly, have such balls to be so self-centered? Well, something else that isn't considered about marriage, nearly as much as it should be is the fact that, in many ways and on many levels, marriage is a mirror. When you decide to share your entire life with another human being, they get to see a lot of what other people never will. And when they reflect back to you the "cobwebs" of your mind, body and soul, it requires real humility to take a look. For some folks, it's too much to take in and so…they run. Rather than opening their heart, fully, so that their spouse can see and forgive them as they do the same for their life partner, they would rather ditch out and create a façade with someone else…oftentimes only to repeat this same mistake over…and over…and over again.
That's why I will die on the hill, happily so, that if you are single, reading this and you know that you absolutely suck at forgiveness, marriage isn't for you. Because if you ask any healthy married couple who's gone past the newlywed stage, if there is one thing they will boldly attest to, it's the fact that marriage is a test in forgiveness that is given…almost constantly. And it takes a really mature person to be able to handle that.
What You Should Process About Forgiveness Before Ending Your Marriage
Something that I'm really big on are signs. If when you saw the title of this piece, what stood out to you was "tough times", first I wanna say that ALL COUPLES go through them. Just like Mother Nature reminds us that we've got to accept the winter as well as the summer seasons and so, the best thing that we can do is simply prepare for them, the reason why traditional marriage vows say things like "for richer or for poorer" and "in sickness and in health" is because marriages have seasons too (check out "This Will Get You Through The 'Ho-Hum Seasons' In Your Relationship" and "The 'Seasons Of Sex' That Married People Go Through"). Because some people are so addicted to being happy all of the time, when challenges come, sometimes they are really ill-equipped for the difficult moments in their relationship — and so, to them, the solution is to end it when far more times than not, the remedy is to forgive.
Because when you really stop to think about it, when a married couple decide to divorce, oftentimes what they are declaring is they've got no more forgiveness in them to offer. And while in certain circumstances, that is understandable, oftentimes, again, if the purpose of marriage was reiterated (learning how to love in a very profoundly spiritual way) and the concept of perfecting forgiveness was brought back into the conversation, couples could — and would — actually go the distance, far often than many of them do (choose to do).
If husbands and wives both decided, "You know what? God loves me through all of my mess. I want to learn to love like that", there's no telling how much the divorce rate would rapidly decrease. There really isn't. Is this a "calculus-level love lesson"? Chile, one thousand and 10 percent. It doesn't change the reality, though, which is, again, there are very few acts that are as profoundly needed, divinely inspired and relationally miraculous as forgiveness. If you and yours are going through it right now, as I once heard actor Loretta Devine's character say on a television series, "It's just the weather. Give it a minute and it will pass." Oftentimes, if we'd just be a little more patience, hard times really do pass.
And what makes them so much easier to endure in the meantime — is forgiveness. The more you forgive your spouse, the safer they feel around you. The more they forgive you, the safer you can feel around them. And when two people feel safe with each other — love, respect and peace can abide in some really significant ways. That's why I really do believe that forgiveness is the ultimate marriage hack. Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it. Literally.
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