In our marriage coaching, we frequently see unforgiveness as a major obstacle for couples in achieving the intimate and fulfilling relationships that they deeply desire. Unforgiveness, bitterness, and anger towards your spouse poisons the relationship. We have heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. True healing can only take place when offenses are forgiven, and forgotten, never to be brought up again as a weapon against your spouse.
In His Sermon on the Plain, recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus stressed the importance of loving our enemies…
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Luke 6:37-38
The source of Jesus’ teaching is God’s graciousness and compassion for all humanity. We are called to imitate God’s generosity and mercy in loving those who have offended us. God has forgiven our sins and calls us to do the same.
Why is forgiveness so important in marriage and our relationships? Quite simply, unforgiveness blocks God’s grace. Marriage is hard and we need God’s grace to live it well. Unresolved conflict and hurt are damaging to relationships. If you find it difficult, if not impossible, to forgive your spouse, ask God to give you the grace to forgive.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. (CCC 1606)
The Catechism also says…
To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them. (CCC 1608)
Forgiveness is critical in marriage so you may receive God’s grace! Scripture has much to say about forgiveness…
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you… Matthew 6:14
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16
Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Ephesians 4:32
Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) stresses the importance of the sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist in developing family unity…
In particular, participation in the sacrament of Reconciliation and in the banquet of the one Body of Christ offers to the Christian family the grace and the responsibility of overcoming every division and of moving towards the fullness of communion willed by God, responding in this way to the ardent desire of the Lord: “that they may be one (Jn 17: 21).” (FC 21)
John Paul II exemplified forgiveness when he visited his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Ağca in Rebibbia prison in Rome, to forgive him for shooting him.
It is humanly impossible to forgive. It requires a willingness to obey God in all things, asking Him for the grace to show love, mercy, and forgiveness to those who have offended us, those who have hurt us deeply.
To experience the grace of forgiveness, we encourage you to complete the following “Forgiveness Exercise” together as a couple.
Examination of Conscience
Spend time in prayer. Ask God to reveal the ways you have hurt your spouse by the things that you have done or failed to do. This includes being selfish, critical, insensitive, disrespectful, ungrateful, unfaithful and unforgiving.
Once you have identified the ways you have hurt your spouse, come together to seek and extend forgiveness. The husband should go first. After listing the ways he has hurt his wife, he asks for forgiveness. The wife forgives her husband. Then the wife lists the ways she has hurt her husband and asks him for forgiveness. The husband forgives his wife.
Resolve to Sin No More
Once you have forgiven each other you should state your intention to not sin against each other again.
(Name of spouse), I am deeply sorry for having hurt you and for offending God who is within you. I firmly resolve with the help of God’s grace to not sin against you or to intentionally hurt you again.
Tapping into Grace
God gives us grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Go to reconciliation and ask God to forgive you for the ways that you have hurt your spouse. In this sacrament, you receive forgiveness, as well as the grace to forgive each other.
So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36
Lord, help us to remember when we first met and the strong love that grew between us. Lord as we invite you to become the center of our marriage, give us the grace and desire to serve each other, so nothing can divide us. We ask for words both kind and loving, and for hearts always ready to ask for forgiveness as well as to forgive. Dear Lord, we put our marriage into your hands. Amen.