In our work with couples, we find the biggest roadblock to a thriving marriage is unforgiveness. We stop the flow of grace when we sin against each other and hurt each other. If we do not forgive each other, little by little, we can find ourselves bound by the chains of bitterness, resentment, and anger. We build walls to protect ourselves from more hurt, further damaging the relationship.
In marriage, husband and wife are on the same team. When issues arise, we need to stop and ask God what is going on. Most times, it is Satan working to drive a wedge in the relationship. He hates you individually and especially as a couple. He will work overtime to divide you and cause disharmony in your relationship. He knows our vulnerabilities and he will use us to attack each other’s weak areas.
No marriage is perfect. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. We will hurt each other. It is important that when we do, we ask and grant forgiveness. Jesus is our model of what forgiveness looks like. We need to forgive as He forgave His tormentors, as He hung dying on the cross.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
Jesus was an innocent man. He was guilty of no crime. Nevertheless, He was arrested, beaten, scourged and nailed to a cross. Near death, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father to forgive His persecutors. Jesus showed forgiveness and mercy to those who unjustly crucified Him. We are to do what He did.
We are called to live a life of forgiveness and mercy like Christ. Can you forgive the one that has injured you so deeply? Can you forgive your spouse in the midst of your suffering and pain? As God has forgiven us for our sins, we are to forgive those who have sinned against us.
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25
Extending forgiveness to one that has hurt you does not mean that you are condoning their behavior. There are consequences to sin and forgiveness does not erase those consequences. By forgiving another, you are breaking the chains of bitterness and anger toward that person. Holding grudges and unforgiveness is a heavy cross to bear. It will enslave you. By extending forgiveness, your burden is lifted and you can live in freedom.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:36
We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy. It takes a humble and contrite heart to admit our failings and ask God for forgiveness. But God only forgives and extends His mercy when we admit our need. You need to grow daily in humility and gratitude, to acknowledge your need for God’s infinite mercy. There is no life apart from Him. When we have unforgiveness in our heart, we build a barrier in our relationship to God. We close off access to His mercy and to His grace. We can only forgive through the grace of God. When we forgive others, the floodgates of God’s mercy open to pour forth healing for others, as well as ourselves.
And the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:14
The Sacraments are our source of grace. When you received Baptism, you were given grace. At your Confirmation, you received more grace. When you were married, you were given more grace yet again. When you receive the Eucharist worthily (not in a state of mortal sin), you receive grace! We cannot do this on our own. We need grace.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34
Be a channel of God’s forgiveness and mercy to your spouse. Let go of all bitterness, anger and resentment. Forgive your spouse. Allow God’s forgiveness to reach the one who has wounded you. If you refuse to forgive another, you are withholding from them what God has so freely given you. To do so would be hypocrisy of the worst kind. Read the story of the wicked servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Do not be like that man who refused to forgive as he had been forgiven.
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:35 (emphasis added)
The true Christian, the real disciple, even when deeply hurt, must turn to Jesus and ask, “What would you have me do? How do I love this person as you would in these circumstances?”
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that we cannot forgive on our own. We must rely on the Holy Spirit:
It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make “ours” the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Then the unity of forgiveness becomes possible and we find ourselves “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave” us. (§ 2842, emphasis added)
It is there, in fact, “in the depths of the heart,” that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession. (§ 2843, emphasis added)
If you cannot find it in your heart to forgive your spouse, ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart. Ask Him to bless you with eyes to see your spouse as He does. Forgiveness melts hardened hearts, both of the one who has offended you and yours. God loves you beyond compare. He has forgiven you; you in turn are to extend that same forgiveness and mercy to all who have offended you.
“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