By Bev and Phil Haas
We’re newlyweds, but the newness is beginning to wear off. My wife said some things that really hurt. I’m not sure how to get over my feelings of being wounded by the person I share life with. Any insights are welcome.
In every marriage a spouse will eventually say or do something that hurts the other. It’s bound to happen because we are all flawed people. What do we do when our spouse hurts us? Forgive. It’s simple to say but difficult to do. No matter how much two people love each other, they will end up hurting one another. And the journey toward healing begins when we offer forgiveness.
One definition of forgiveness is “to cease to feel resentment.” Resentment refers to the process of replaying a bad feeling and the stuff leading up to it that irritates or angers us. Many would agree that failing to forgive is the most destructive barrier to a healthy and lasting marriage. Ruth Bell Graham said it well, “A good marriage is the union of two forgivers.”
Forgiving is about letting go of the desire to punish another person. By an act of will, you choose to let the other person off the hook. As a Christian you don’t do this under duress; instead you do it with a gentle spirit. Paul urged: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). About the process of forgiveness, Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sin” (Matthew 6:14, 15). The instruction is clear: God insists that we are to be forgivers, and marriage—probably more than any other relationship—provides frequent opportunities to put these words from God into practice.
Medical studies have shown that holding onto resentment will increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and provoke cardiovascular degeneration. Refusing to forgive floods the body with stress hormones that cause symptoms ranging from headaches to colds, impaired circulation, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, migraines, fibromyalgia, and other stress-related afflictions. For the sake of your health and your marriage, don’t withhold forgiveness. If you are going to live with this person for the next 7 . . . 25 . . . 50 years, you are going to have to forgive one another many times. Holding back on forgiving not only hurts your marriage, it hurts you!
When we’ve been hurt, the last thing we want to do is let it go. And yet that is exactly what we need to do. Here are several insights to keep in mind when your spouse lets you down:
• Handle negative emotions positively. When we react emotionally, we often say and do things that we later regret. In many situations it’s best to delay any discussion until you’ve settled down and prayed for a more godly perspective. This will allow you to be solution focused rather than being consumed with your own hurt.
• Fight for your relationship, not over the hurt. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our hurt feelings that we lose sight of the bigger picture. People joke about marriages breaking up over toothpaste and toilet paper disputes, but it really happens! Remember that your relationship is the primary concern. Guard your love for one another—and remember, love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
• Deal with one issue at a time. Trying to outdo one another with everything that the other person has ever done only intensifies a conflict and deepens the divide between you. It’s much more productive to focus on one area of hurt than to dump on your partner every pain you’ve felt. So agree to work on one issue at a time.
As difficult as it is to ask for forgiveness, it’s no walk in the park to grant forgiveness when you’ve been wronged. Dennis Rainey, CEO of FamilyLife, advises couples to take out a joint membership in the Seventy Times Seven Club. This club began when Peter asked Jesus how many times we must forgive one another. Peter wondered if seven times would be enough. “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21, 22, NLT). In other words, forgive your spouse an endless number of times, not just when you feel like it.
Corrie Ten Boom said, “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me.”
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and four grandkids. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.