How can I get my spouse to forgive me for the ways I've hurt her over the past couple of years? She's withdrawn from me emotionally, and I'm not sure how to convince her I've changed. Where do I begin to address this problem?
Simply realizing and acknowledging your own failure is a huge step in the right direction. There are many people who find it extremely difficult to humble themselves in this way, especially in a marital situation. So take heart: you're on the right track. If you've confessed your faults to your spouse and he or she is still having a hard time forgiving you, there are some things you can do to help.
In the first place, you can recognize that forgiveness is a process. It ebbs and flows; it starts, stops, and starts again; it gets better and gets worse. No matter what the issue that caused the hurt, forgiveness can be more than just a one-shot decision. Understand that forgiving you may take time, and that if your mate occasionally seems to wrestle with or dwell on what you did, that doesn't necessarily amount to a refusal to forgive. Sights, sounds, and memories can trigger an episode of struggle. If you're impatient or inconsiderate, it will only cause more hurt.
Next, you should keep in mind that fear can be a barrier to forgiveness. Fear often blocks mercy. There are at least three kinds of fear that may be making it difficult for your spouse to complete the process of forgiveness.
- First, they may be afraid of losing control or power. If this is the case, you can help your mate let go of the need for control by demonstrating your trustworthiness and showing that you understand the seriousness of what you've done. Let your spouse see that you have to live with the consequences every day. Assure them regularly that you've learned a great deal about how deeply your actions have affected the marriage. Show how you're taking steps to prevent the mistake from occurring again.
- Second, your partner may fear being unable to punish the wrongdoing. Maybe your spouse is still in the anger stage and wants you to experience some of the hurt that they have felt. You must be patient during this stage of the process, whether your mate is right or wrong. Pray for your spouse. Ask God to reveal your broken heart and your desire to make things right. If you're humble about it, he or she may eventually begin to wonder, Why can't I forgive? What payoff am I getting out of withholding forgiveness? Questions like these often lead to healing, but it takes time.
- Third, it's possible that your mate is afraid of forgetting what occurred. You can deal with this by helping your spouse understand that you don't expect them not to remember what happened. That's impossible. Explain that you simply look forward to the day when he or she will no longer be so deeply affected by your actions, and to the opportunity of proving your commitment to make your marriage healthy again. Be as understanding as possible. Impatience will only underline the suspicion that you don't care about your partner's struggles.
Throughout this process, make a special effort to be honest with yourself. It's easy to blame your spouse for failing to forgive when you're confident that your heart is genuinely remorseful. But there's a need here for constant self-examination. Keep checking your own attitude and actions. Ask questions like, What exactly caused the hurt in the first place? What behaviors or attitudes do I hold on to that cause more hurt? How do I plan to make the necessary changes? What might God be showing me through my spouse's inability to forgive?
If necessary, ask a professional counselor or older Christian to help you and your spouse through the process. You might be surprised to learn how many people you respect have actually walked this path before you. If you need referrals to counselors who are qualified to assist you in this area, don't hesitate to give us a call. Focus on the Family's Counseling department can provide you with a list of professionals in your locality who specialize in communication issues and marital dysfunction. Our staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Why You Need to Say More Than "I'm Sorry": Dr. Gary Chapman explains how to adopt the apology language style of expressing regret.
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