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Marriage Notes: How do I truly forgive?

By Ted Cunningham
By Focus on the Family
By Gary Smalley
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You might think you've forgiven your spouse, but true forgiveness comes with a sense of peace. And the ability to forgive others — and yourself — only comes from God.

“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.

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.

Based on research and experience from Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, Focus on the Family has created valid and reliable questions that evaluate the strength of your marriage. Take our free assessment now.

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” adapted from From Anger to Intimacy: How forgiveness can transform your marriage by Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham. Copyright © 2012 Focus on the Family. From the Focus on the Family website at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

Learn How to Cherish your Spouse and Have a Deeper Connection

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About the Author

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Focus on the Family
Gary Smalley

Gary Smalley (deceased) was a best-selling, award-winning author, a popular public speaker and a renowned family relationship expert. He was the founder and president of the Smalley Institute, which provides practical relationship help through conferences, resources and counseling. Gary passed away on March 6, 2016, at age 75. He is survived by his wife, Norma, their three children and several grandchildren. …

Ted Cunningham

Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Mo., and a popular comedian at events across the country, including Focus on the Family’s ‘Love, Laugh, Pursue’ nights for couples. He has authored several books which include Fun Loving You and Trophy Child. He has also co-authored four books with Dr. Gary Smalley and one with …

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