The problems are in the past, so why does it feel like they’re here in the present?
When massive events rattle your marriage – whether it’s an affair, a huge fight, some secret coming to light, or anything else that throws a wrench into the stability of your relationship – one of the hardest parts is the aftermath.
Once the marriage has been rattled like that, the whole dynamic changes, at least temporarily.
Especially when the bulk of “fault” rests with one person, and it falls to the other spouse to offer forgiveness, it creates an uncomfortable imbalance in the relationship.
One spouse is, more or less, at the mercy of the other. The person who made the major mistake or misstep simply has to explain themselves as best they can, and hope the other person is willing to forgive them.
Without such forgiveness, the marriage will never be able to move forward.
Because forgiveness is so important to reconciliation and moving forward with the marriage, the person in the position to forgive actually holds quite a bit of power. It’s power to control the future of the marriage – for good or otherwise – by choosing whether to offer forgiveness, or to hold on to hurt and keep problems alive.
It’s ultimately on the “offended party” to determine how the rest of the relationship will unfold.
Forgiveness, however, is not necessarily an easy process.
We generally break down the process into 7 steps for the person seeking to be forgiven:
1. Determine what actually happened
2. Figure out why it happened
3. Sincerely express regret
4. Accept responsibility
5. Make every effort not to do it again
6. Make amends
7. Request forgiveness
So, even if your spouse effectively completes those 7 steps, the last component is merely a request. It’s up to you to decide if they’ve met your expectations, and if you want to “grant their request” for forgiveness.
Meeting that request, however, can be a little scary.
It can feel like you’re risking being hurt again, it can feel like you’re somehow telling your spouse that their past actions are acceptable, and even if you’re not directly aware of it, it feels like you’re relinquishing some of the power you currently hold over the marriage.
First of all, there are always risks.
No one can 100% guarantee that they’ll never hurt you again. Getting over that hurdle is about evaluating how genuine their apology and regret is, and allowing yourself to decide that a strong relationship with the person you already married is worth a shot, even if things have been rough in the past.
Secondly, forgiveness is not forgetting.
By forgiving your spouse for their transgressions, you’re not telling them that what they did was ok, but rather that the future of the relationship is more important to you than the problems of the past.
Now, about giving up the power…
In a strong, healthy marriage, neither of you should hold power over the other.
It’s ok to take your time making up your mind, but you can’t hold your spouse hostage.
If they are waiting for you to decide about forgiving, you’re holding power – and no matter how scared you might be to make a decision, it’s no good for you marriage to lord that power over your spouse for too long.
Getting over past hurt is always going to be difficult and scary, but you can, with communication and an agreement to avoid the scenarios that lead to the problems, forgive your spouse confidently.
Let go of the power you hold when deciding whether or not to forgive, and exchange for the joint power you both possess when you’re committed to making your marriage the best it can be.