Back in the early days of my marriage, I would shut down emotionally whenever my husband did or said something to hurt my feelings. And I wouldn’t open up to him or forgive him until he apologized.
This was one of the stupidest moves I made back in the day! It fueled even greater conflict between us because it made me, if not the instigator of hurt, a co-conspirator in our hurtful conflict.
For some crazy reason, I decided to give my husband all the control whenever he hurt me. Obviously, I didn’t see this for what it was.
But it was as if I was making myself a prisoner to some self-pitying protocol until my husband would say the magic words, “I’m sorry.” Then and only then would I be set free from this dungeon of my own creation, even though the door had never been locked.
I’m starting a new series today, Unfair Realities about Marriage, by kicking off with the first of these harsh realities: We must forgive even when our mates do not apologize or change.
I think as humans we resist doing anything that seems unfair. This is embedded in our DNA and shows up as early as our childhoods.
If you’re a parent you know how often and easy it is for your children to bemoan, “That’s not fair!” no matter how fair or right the issue is. And quite frankly, that’s how I was acting at that time in my marriage—like a child, whenever I withheld forgiveness and grace to my mate.
Aside from the issue of making myself a victim, there are at least seven other problems with this approach.
5 Problems with Withholding Forgiveness
1. Expects my spouse to behave perfectly or acceptance is withdrawn.
Most of the time there is an emotional haze that develops when tempers flare and conflict erupts. This makes it almost impossible for any human to know immediately what he or she did wrong in any given conflict.
So when I expected my husband to recognize his hurtful actions/words and apologize soon after, I was expecting something close to perfection. If that’s not unrealistic and UNFAIR, I don’t know what is!
Allows me to remain lazy and in the dark about what I might have negatively contributed.
I’m a firm believer that almost every conflict in marriage has two sides. Most of the time, I do not see how I contribute to my husband’s hurtful choices. In fact, very often I’ve injured him in the days or weeks leading up to his hurtful actions, which leaves me less able to see my fault.
That’s why it’s so important to view conflict and hurt like a “yield” sign. I must slow down and prayerfully evaluate what I might have done to contribute to this conflict. My habit is to do this now and this process always reveals areas of work that I need to do.
2. Demotivates my spouse to change.
If I give my spouse the cold shoulder, this does not encourage him to open up and be humble with me. It makes it riskier for him—influencing him to shut his heart down toward me in turn.
This furthers the damage done in the conflict, ultimately going on to damage my marriage.
Like I mentioned above, whenever I withheld forgiveness of my mate, it muddied the waters and made the conflict worse rather than better. It slowed the process of healing and resolution too.
3. Set me up to act like the Holy Spirit in my spouse’s life.
God is certainly more than able to convict and bring change in my spouse’s life. When I step in to manipulate him by my icy withdrawal, I make it harder for my mate to hear the Lord challenging him in a winsome way like only God can.
This also can cause my spouse to view me as self-righteous and arrogant. Certainly, that’s not an outcome that I want.
4. Models and instills arrogance, control, and resentment for my children.
This is probably one of my biggest regrets because I’m certain I negatively influenced my children to be less forgiving and more controlling in their own relationships. If nothing else I’ve said so far motivates or convinces you to change this bad habit, I hope this one will!
5. Creates distance in my relationship with God.
Little did I realize the huge impact that not forgiving my hubby would have on my spiritual relationship with God. But anytime we choose not to forgive, it creates a wedge not only in our marriages but also in our relationship with God.
Now I know where this belief has gotten its roots. Some believe we do not have to forgive unless our offender repents.
If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them. —Luke 17:3-4
However, I’m one who believes Jesus described a particular situation where the offender repeatedly comes and repents. Of course, as believers, we are to forgive just like we have been forgiven by Christ. So I don’t believe this means we can withhold forgiveness until the other person repents. After all, Ephesians 4:32 says …
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
There’s no clause in that verse regarding forgiving others only if they repent. The obligation is based on our undeserved forgiveness by God.
Now, on to practical matters …
How to Forgive When Your Mate Doesn’t Apologize and Change
1. Come to God with your anger and bitterness.
You and I have an obligation to offer the mercy we’ve been given by God to all other humans—including and especially to our mates.
During this time of prayer, ask God to do the following for you …
- Bring comfort and healing to the hurt you feel (2 Cor. 1:3; Ps. 34:18).
- Soften your heart to your mate (Eph. 4:31-32; 1 Peter 3:8-9; 1 Peter 4:8).
- Reveal your sinful contributions to the conflict (Mt. 7:3-5; Rom. 12:3).
- Then, confess to God any part you’ve missed but now see (Prov. 28:13; James 5:16).
2. Confess and apologize about your part to your mate.
This means confessing how you’ve acted in angry ways and/or withdrawn from your spouse. You don’t need to tie it back to how your spouse has not apologized. Allow God to do the convicting at this point. Your humble and gracious actions will speak louder than any words of confrontation might at this point.
3. Let your anger go to God.
This takes faith in God and involves surrendering your hurts to Him. God will bless you with peace and comfort when you trust Him, even if you cannot yet trust your mate.
If your spouse continues month after month to withhold an apology or to admit any wrong he/she has done, seek the help of a good Christian counselor and/or pastor to help you navigate this challenge. And remember that you’ll need to repeat these steps over and over until they are fully in place in your heart.
Click the link to read more posts in this Unfair Realities in Marriage series.
What makes forgiving an unapologetic spouse especially hard for you?
How thoroughly have you worked through these steps to forgive your spouse?
Here are some lovely linkups I join – Remember Me Monday, Legacy Linkup, Inspire Me Monday, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragements Linkup, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies Wednesday, Tune in Thursday, Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth, and Faith on Fire Friday.