Intimacy is, by definition, a close, familiar and affectionate personal relationship. Intimacy in marriage is established and deepened as you increase your openness and vulnerability with your spouse.
As you draw nearer in relationship to your spouse, you will experience great joy in intimacy. But you also become more vulnerable and more open to being wounded. No human relationship is perfect. Whether intentional or unintentional, we all have the propensity to cause harm to one another. Ecclesiastes 7:20 (MSG) tells us “there’s not one totally good person on earth, not one who is truly pure and sinless”. There will be times in your marriage when you are the offend-ed and there will be times when you are the offend-er. There will be times when you need to seek forgiveness and times when you need to grant forgiveness. When an offense takes place in marriage, the offense damages the intimacy of the relationship and the offended often reacts with feelings of hurt, sadness, anger and distrust. These emotional reactions are normal. But you always have a choice about how you’ll respond. The acts of seeking and granting forgiveness provide opportunities to become truly authentic, to practice grace, to reconcile and to deepen the intimacy of your relationship.
When you are the offender, SEEKING FORGIVENESS involves:
- Acknowledging to your spouse what your specific offense was
- Admitting to your spouse that the offense was hurtful and damaging to the relationship
- Attempting to understand the pain that you’ve caused your spouse
- Taking responsibility for the offense and offering to make amends, if possible
- Vowing to your spouse that you will not repeat the offense
- Apologizing to your spouse and asking for forgiveness
- Forgiving yourself and creating a plan for avoiding future offense
When you have been offended by your spouse, offering forgiveness provides an opportunity to heal your own hurt and, often, to mend the broken relationship.
Did you know that you can choose to forgive your spouse even when he or she has not admitted fault and sought your forgiveness? Of course, ideally, we would all love for our spouses to admit they were wrong and beg us for forgiveness. But even if you never see repentance or sorrow from your spouse, you have a choice to make – To Forgive or Not To Forgive.
Unforgiveness, or refusal to offer forgiveness, creates:
- distancing or pushing away from the offender
- a power struggle because it puts you in a position of being superior to your spouse and presumes that your spouse owes you something
- warfare when you use the offense as a weapon to continually jab at or shame your spouse
- a judgmental attitude because you presume that you can determine whether your spouse feels guilty enough or has compensated enough to be “let off the hook”
In ALL cases, unforgiveness is a destroyer of intimacy. Unforgiveness causes marital partners to be adversaries, at a face-off against one another. Unforgiveness breeds criticism and contempt which ultimately will erode all closeness in a relationship. And unforgiveness damages the life of the one who harbors it.
Forgiveness is a process that takes time and energy. Forgiveness is not easy but it is highly rewarding. Please know that forgiveness does NOT mean that you are excusing the offense, condoning the offense OR forgetting the offense. Forgiveness is choosing to surrender the “right” to punish or think negatively about the offender so that you can be free from anger and resentment.
GRANTING FORGIVENESS includes:
- Taking stock of the specific offenses that have occurred
- Acknowledging the emotions that you experience as a result of the offense
- Admitting to yourself and your spouse that you feel hurt and disrespected
- Stating your specific expectations for the future
- Giving up your right to punish or retaliate against your spouse
- Choosing to discontinue bitter, resentful or critical thoughts and actions toward your spouse
- Communicating your forgiveness to your spouse
- Working collaboratively with your spouse toward reconciliation and intimacy (when reconciliation is safe)
There are times when reconciliation is not safe. In those cases, stating your expectations for the future may mean creating boundaries in the relationship or even ending a relationship completely. But even in those cases where reconciliation is not safe, you would be wise to work through the process of forgiveness independently in order to free yourself from the bitterness, anger and resentment.
Forgiveness is important in all relationships but especially in the marital relationship. If you find that you are critical or harboring resentment toward your spouse, consider whether there might be some offenses that you need to forgive. The counselors at Christian Family Institute can be excellent guides on your journey of forgiveness.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prison was you.” Lewis Smedes
Jennifer Giles, M.S.