Why Forgiveness In Marriage Is Important - And When To Use It
Updated March 16, 2020
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
It's safe to assume that most people know forgiveness is important for a marriage. When two people decide to combine their lives completely, tension is guaranteed between the two of them. You can't put two different personalities together and expect something different to happen. That's where forgiveness comes in. When tension builds, and people disagree, sometimes it bursts into a hurtful comment or a big fight. For the couple to move forward, forgiveness needs to be achieved.
When we use the word forgiveness, though, what does that mean? We've all heard the phrase, forgive and forget. Forgiveness is possible without having to forget what happened. People can learn from their mistakes, and those wronged can decide what they want to do about it going forward. To truly forgive your partner, you need to understand what forgiveness entails, and what it means when you say "I forgive you." This will help you to see the importance of forgiveness and hopefully make it easier for you to decide when to use it.
What Is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is essentially letting go of a past hurt or wrong doing done to you. It is a conscious action, a decision that acts as a catalyst for the future. Because you're not only letting go of the action against you, but you're letting go of any resentment, sadness, or fear that came with the action. Forgiveness wipes the slate clean in your marriage as if the wrong doing never happened in the first place.
There is a process of forgiveness. For some things, you might be able to forgive quickly. Others will take time and talking things through. You can forgive your partner and still seek therapy. You can forgive a partner and still have conversations about what happened. Forgive and forget does not have to mean that you 100% forget everything. What it does mean is that a process starts for the two of you where you come to an understanding that what happened was wrong, but you will move past it together as a couple.
When Should I Forgive My Partner?
You don't have to forgive your partner immediately if that seems too hard. Because forgiveness is a process, only you can decide when the right time is to forgive someone. Some good rules of thumb are when you are asked for forgiveness, or when holding onto your hurt is hurting you more than it's doing anything to your partner. These are two opposite ends of the spectrum. When your partner feels contrite and actively seeks forgiveness, you'll know that they understand their wrong doing and will listen to you and your needs. This makes it easy to forgive because they meet you half way. However, there will be times in a marriage that won't be quite so easy. Maybe you got into a huge fight where you both feel like you are right and the other is wrong. Maybe you're both saying hurtful things but don't realize it because you're too engrossed in being right.
At these times you won't want to forgive because it feels like your partner doesn't deserve it. But forgiveness is for you just as much as it is for your partner. Holding onto anger and resentment will diminish your quality of life. Instead of moving on, you'll be stuck in an emotional rut with no way out. When we are hurt, we want the person who hurt us to understand that they were in the wrong, but it doesn't always work out that way. Getting to a place of forgiveness even when the person doesn't deserve it takes strength and courage, but it is possible.
Many experts will tell you that forgiveness is essential to happy and long-lasting marriages. Without forgiveness, the inevitable hurts and pains that come up in the course of a lifetime will eventually break a marriage in pieces. Some studies prove this, too. Tsukasa Kato conducted a study of 344 Japanese adults between the ages of 18 and 28 who were in committed relationships. Each participant was asked to fill out a survey of questions about their relationship. They completed the same survey again ten years later, noting as well if the relationship was still intact. A little over 31% of the participants had broken off their relationship in the ten years between surveys. And of the couples who stayed together, they had higher scores of forgiveness in their surveys.
A study in 2011 in the Journal of Family Psychology found that lack of forgiveness in relationships made it much harder for couples to resolve conflicts and issues. Without that act of forgiving, couples are less likely to come to a mutually beneficial decision in conflict or resolve issues that are bound to come up in marriage. This not only affects the health of the marriage, but it can affect your physical health as well. Mayo Clinic warns that holding onto anger and resentment can lead to depression, anxiety, a lack of purpose, and losing the feeling of connection.
Five Steps To Forgiveness
Of course, forgiveness is easier said than done when you are truly hurting. To help you create a mindset of forgiveness before you need to forgive, there are five things to think about when you are ready to try to forgive your partner. First, think about what you want the outcome of your fights to be. Do you want always to win, or do you want to be able to come to a compromise with your partner? Knowing from the start what your end goal is will help you make choices that get you closer to that goal, even when it's difficult. Second, think about letting the grudges go. Some fights aren't worth hashing out. If you and your partner disagree on something, but it's not that important to you, dropping the argument altogether will help you maintain your relationship. You can also call this "picking your battles."
Third, train your inner voice to be loving instead of cruel. When we get into fights, there's that small, vindictive voice in our heads that tell us to give the silent treatment or eviscerate our partner with our words. The goal of that voice is to do the most damage it can. Often, we regret listening to the voice. Remember that you love your partner and want what is best for them, even if they hurt you in some way. The fourth and fifth steps can be thought about together. When you are in a good place and have time to think, contend with your inner most fears of intimacy and think about how old family dynamics might shape how you fight with your spouse. Often, we bring baggage into a relationship that will shape how we argue and how we forgive. Understanding where our motivations come from and how we can ultimately move past old hurts will help us do better in the future.
Is There Ever A Time I Shouldn't Forgive?
Though hopefully you will never be put in this situation, if a partner cheats on you or abuses you in any way, you are not obligated to forgive them for the sake of the relationship. For your healing, you might think about forgiving and moving on when you are ready, and with professional help, but staying in a harmful relationship is not an option you have to consider. Some hurts run too deep to come back from, romantically, and you have the right to take care of yourself in those situations.
It should be said, though, that it's okay to forgive yourself in those situations. If you leave a failed relationship, thinking it was your fault or feeling unworthy because of a big hurt, you can forgive yourself for all of it. You can come to an understanding that the abuse you endured or the cheating you discovered wasn't your fault. In giving yourself that kind of forgiveness, you can move on.
It is not an easy thing to contend with forgiveness in relationships. As humans, we want to be right all the time, and we want to win. This gets us in trouble with our partners, who also want to be right. Communicating with spouses is a learned behavior, and most of us need help to do it effectively. That's why couple's counseling is available and truly effective for couples who need that support.
Regain, an online therapy system for couples will match a couple with the right therapist to give couples the ability to get therapy 100% online through a secure chat room. You and your partner would be able to write down everything you are going through and have a therapist give you practical advice to use in your relationship. Because the therapy isn't in real time, you can use the chat room whenever you need to, and the therapist will only read it at appointed times. If this sounds like something you are interested in, go to www.regain.us/start to get started.