“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your heavenly Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15, New American Standard Bible).
Forgiveness is imperative in relationship with others. Not only will you need to forgive others, you will also need to ask forgiveness of others. Marriage is the one relationship in your life that has the greatest potential for growth. With this great potential for growth, there is also a possibility for hurt. Therefore, forgiveness is an essential part of the marital relationship, but as we all know, it is easier said than done. So, how does a wife work toward true forgiveness of her husband?
Recall the Hurt
Some of you reading this may ask, “Why do I need to recall the hurt? I already know how he has hurt me.” Recalling the hurt is not simply remembering what happened to cause the pain. For some of you, there may be many instances where you have been hurt by your husband. With so many hurtful events, it may seem overwhelming to forgive him. Therefore, it is easier to identify specific events where you felt hurt (Worthington, 2003).
For example, on many occasions your husband has not supported your agreed upon parenting styles in front of his mother. While there are many times this has happened, it is important to visualize a specific, or more than one specific, example to this hurt. One specific example might be last Christmas, where your husband gave into your son’s tantrum. In thinking about this example, you would remember the time you and your husband spent discussing that you would no longer give into your three year old’s temper tantrums. When your son has a tantrum, he is sent to time out. You both agreed upon this. Then, on Christmas morning when your son throws himself on the ground because he has to wait to open presents, your husband allows your son to open his presents because your mother-in-law insists that her grandchild means no harm.
Another aspect of recalling the hurt involves identifying and releasing the emotions you felt during the hurt (Worthington, 2003). You may have felt or still feel helpless, anger, fear, sadness, or betrayal (Worthington, 2003). This is not an exhaustive list, so there may be many more emotions you likely experienced when you were hurt. It is imperative to acknowledge these emotions and have a healthy outlet for releasing them:
- Writing about them in a private journal
- Doing crafts
- Punching a pillow or punching bag
- Talking with a trusted friend
Empathize…you may be thinking, “There is no way I am empathizing with him! He cannot understand my side, so why I should I empathize with him?” To empathize with your husband does not mean you are condoning what he did. The refusal of empathy is a form of revenge and the protection it offers is only an illusion. Empathy does not make us vulnerable; it helps us exercise wisdom. Empathy is about understanding. To understand does not make someone vulnerable. You only become vulnerable when you give up your ability to make your own decisions.
The purpose of this step is to help you understand what he was thinking and to take him out of the “villain” role. The act of putting your husband in the villain role involves removing or discarding evidence that supports why he acted the way he did. When you see your husband as a villain, he cannot do anything right. When we put someone in a villain role we put ourselves in the victim role (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler, 2012). Genuinely ask yourself, are you truly a victim here? In most situations, the answer is no.
In order to have empathy with your husband, it may be helpful to write an apology letter as if you were your husband (Worthington, 2003). You would write the letter as if it were your husband explaining why he hurt you and asking for an apology.
Let’s go back to the example listed earlier about your husband not supporting you in front of his mother. If you think about the situation from your husband’s perspective, he may not have supported you because he wanted to please his mom. He may have been trying to live up to the standards that his mom has for him. While this does not make his actions right or justify them, it does give understanding, which is the purpose of this exercise.
It is important to note, this is just your opinion of his side of the story. It does not have to be correct; the importance of this step is to understand how the situation looks different compared to your own point of view.
Altruistic Gift of Forgiveness
Can you think of a time when someone forgave you? What about a time when you did not ask for forgiveness or feel you deserved it? When you think of times you have been forgiven, you probably feel grateful and relieved (Worthington, 2003). It can be helpful to think of forgiveness as a gift you give to your husband whether you feel he deserves it or not. Another word we can use is grace. Think about the grace given daily by our heavenly Father. We do not deserve it, but we are so thankful for this grace.
Three parts are important to giving the gift of forgiveness: guilt, gratitude, and gift (Worthington, 2003, pp. 121-122).
- Remember the guilt you experienced when you felt you had wronged someone and needed their forgiveness.
- When that person gave you forgiveness you did not deserve, can you remember the gratitude you felt (Worthington, 2003)?
- It may have felt like an incredible gift of which you did not deserve, also known as grace.
Commit Publicly To Forgive
You know when you make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, go to the gym, or start a diet, and within a week you are back to your old ways? Many times, you find that these resolutions are more successful when you tell someone about it who can support you. With forgiveness, it is necessary to tell your husband or write a certificate of forgiveness in order to commit to the forgiveness (Worthington, 2003). Expressing forgiveness in an outward way will help you hold on to your forgiveness, we will talk about this in the next section.
Publically committing to forgive does not mean that you have to forget or ignore the emotions that went along with the hurt. It means you have let that hurtful action go, and you will no longer hold the hurtful action over your husband’s head. It is giving up your desire or right to hurt back. Forgiveness is about you, not him or his response. Forgiveness is not trust.
Hold on to Forgiveness
You may question yourself on how you know if you really have forgiven your husband. Or how do you not allow other hurts to cloud your forgiveness of your husband? It is important to hold on to forgiveness in order not to allow grievances from the past to continue to control your relationship with your husband. The act of holding onto forgiveness is also important in remembering to give your husband grace for his mistakes. Five ways to hold on to forgiveness include (Worthington, 2003, p. 149):
- The emotions that you experience from remembering the hurt does not mean you have not forgiven.
- Do not let negative emotions control you.
- Tell yourself that you have forgiven your husband.
- If you spoke to a trusted friend, it may be helpful to ask for support.
- Review the journaling or certificate of forgiveness you created.
The five steps above are part of the REACH model of forgiveness developed by Christian psychologist Everett Worthington (Worthington, 2003).
If you or someone you know is struggling with forgiveness, please contact The Relationship Center. We have professional counselors who can help.
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Master my stories: How to stay in dialogue when you’re angry, scared, or hurt. In Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high (pp. 103-130). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.