Learning to forgive is criticial to building a healthy marriage. We’ve only had “little” offenses to forgive each other on this first year, but I’m not going to kid myself that “little” hurts are all that’ll ever touch our marriage. Even so, in this first year I’ve had plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness (and so has my husband). It’s easy to think that forgiveness is just a feeling, but it’s not.

So what is forgiveness?

According to Gary Chapman, forgiveness is a decision to offer grace instead of demanding justice when we’ve been hurt.

Forgiveness removes the barrier and lifts the penalty. This means that we choose to never hold that failure against the other person again. Forgiveness opens possibility for the relationship to be restored and grow again. Forgiveness is powerful stuff.

It’s also important to know what forgiveness is NOT.

Forgiveness does not destroy memory.

Especially when it comes to emotional hurts, certain triggers can bring on a flood of memories relating to the hurt. Remembering that pain doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven the hurt, it just means you’re human and have feelings. I’ve made a conscious decision that when I forgive someone I will choose to not let the memory of the past offense impact how I respond to them today.

Forgiveness does not remove all consequences of wrongdoing.

Forgiveness does not automatically restore your relationship to exactly where it was before the hurt happens. Instead, forgiveness means that you are willing to work toward restoring the relationship.

Forgiveness does not rebuild trust automatically.

Loss of trust is a natural consequence of wrongdoing. Trust has to be rebuilt starting with a genuine apology followed by a continuous demonstration of a change in behavior. With an attitude of openness and a consistent pattern of honesty, trust can be rebuilt again.

Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation.

It brings the possibility of reconciliation if both parties are willing. If you come wanting to restore the relationship but the other person does not, release them to God and release your hurt and anger to him. Don’t let their unwillingness to reconcile destroy your life. Sometimes you should not be reconciled because the other person will continue to harm you; they need to address and be healed from their problems first.

Genuine forgiveness is the only thing that will keep roots of bitterness from choking your marriage. It’s the only thing that will tear down walls of hurt that will otherwise isolate individuals.

Whether or not the other person apologizes is not the issue. Extending forgiveness is acknowledging my own hard-heart, pride, and self-righteousness. Then forgiving my spouse (or anyone else) is a natural by-product. If I think that the other person is undeserving of forgiveness, I’m already in a position of needing forgiveness myself due to my judgmental attitude. It’s interesting how that works.

This article was written by: Andrea Shair

Photo Credit: Lina Trochez