Marriage Notes: How do I truly forgive?

husband and wife in a serious discussion
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"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

Heather: From anger to peace

I believed I'd forgiven my husband for his selfish attitude toward me. He had been physically present but emotionally absent, consumed by his own desires. I'd said, "I forgive you." But words of forgiveness are different from true forgiveness that leads to healing and reconciliation. I still found myself excessively thinking about what I claimed to have forgiven. I then asked God for a forgiving heart. I knew that I'd truly forgiven my husband when my anger was finally replaced with peace.

Joseph: Forgiving myself

Through most of our marriage, I was self-centered. It was about my needs and what I wanted. There was no physical affair, but I still felt like I had committed adultery. Heather was not my priority. I now see that I need to put my wife first (after God). And I've struggled with forgiving myself for neglecting my wife all those years. God's Word tells me that He forgives me. So, why should my standard be higher than His? I need to accept the things that I will be unable to change, learn to surrender to God and focus on what's left — not what's lost.

Joseph and Heather have been married for 19 years. Joseph teaches science at a community college. Heather is a freelance writer.

Putting it into perspective

Forgiveness is the greatest attribute that you can cultivate in your character because it's one of the greatest attributes of God. When you forgive, you emulate the very character of God. No one demonstrated true forgiveness more beautifully than Jesus Christ. After being beaten, spit upon, unjustly accused and nailed to a cross, He said, "Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34, NIV). Throughout the Bible we read of men and women who chose to forgive. Stephen, an early Christian, asked God to forgive his murderers of their sin even as he was being stoned to death. That kind of action doesn't come from man — it's supernatural and comes from God.

Adapted from From Anger to Intimacy: How forgiveness can transform your marriage by Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham.

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This article first appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Focus on the Family's Thriving Family magazine.
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