Forgiveness can be a healing oil to a relationship and a balm to restore the trust we long for in our marriage. Sometimes, depending on the offense and the level to which the offender wants to change, trust may take some time to build again. Remember that trust does not come naturally to most of us. Trust involves assuming the best about our spouse and that they desire to show their love for us in meaningful ways. We may also need to look at ourselves and improve on ways we can be trusted.
Trust involves grace. Grace means we acknowledge that our spouse isn’t perfect, we are not perfect, and neither one of us will achieve perfection on earth. Grace means we love unconditionally. We choose to trust that God is working in our spouse to be the person He created them to be. As I trust Gary’s love and care for me, I can forgive him his failures toward me because I know that he will never be perfect on this earth. He will hurt me, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. What I desire is to be committed to forgiving him and allowing God to continue to show me my weaknesses and where I can become someone Gary can trust even deeper with time.
A key ingredient for successful and long-term restoration and deepened intimacy is empathy. Webster’s defines empathy as “the capacity for participation in another’s feelings or ideas.” In order to love well, we must develop and practice this ability to get behind the eyes of another and see their world, at least in a measure, the way they see it. If I don’t have empathy for you, if I don’t try to see things the way you see them, then I will not know your heart and you will not know mine. Empathy gets me looking at you and your heart when I would tend to only want you to see my heart. I can’t be compassionate toward you if I don’t try to see your world from your heart.
Forgiveness is essential for intimacy. Forgiveness is essential for any relationship to grow and thrive. To forgive a wrong releases your spouse from the prison you’ve kept them in. It also releases you from the prison you’ve built for yourself out of bitterness, anger, resentment—a laundry list of wrongs not dealt with, and so much more.
It is difficult for a marriage to sustain a continued lack of forgiveness. Not being able to ask for forgiveness or to forgive contributes to negativity, undermines the practice of assuming the best about your spouse, keeps us from a heart that longs to understand our spouse, and prevents intimacy. Forgiveness is such a powerful component to marriage that without it the relationship begins to atrophy. Forgiveness strengthens the heart’s ability to connect and stay connected just like weightlifting strengthens muscles.
If this part of your marriage is lacking, we encourage you to look for opportunities to say to your spouse, “I am sorry I said ____________ or did ___________. I can see it was not helpful to you, and I would like to do things differently in the future. I am so sorry. Would you forgive me? Would you help me to do it better and let me know when I have failed or when I have gotten it right?” Can you see and feel the power in these few words to connect hearts? If you’re willing to honor and respect your spouse and to communicate “You can trust me with your heart,” it can be wonderfully healing to your marriage.
Never underestimate the power of forgiveness. The ultimate love is: giving up self for another. The least we can do to strengthen our intimacy is to see our wrongs and to ask for forgiveness or be willing to let our spouse know they have hurt us and we are willing to forgive them. It’s never too late, and contrary to what many believe, we can change! We pray that forgiveness will become a major part of your marriage and that as you begin to feel empathy for your partner, your heart will soften, your anger will melt into love and trust, and your intimacy will deepen.