For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:14-15 ESV
Forgiveness does not need to involve the other person. Forgiveness is something that happens in your heart as a work of the Spirit regardless of how the other person responds. When you make the choice to forgive your spouse, you don’t need to tell them—it should be apparent in your actions. I think sometimes we can use our forgiveness as a passive aggressive weapon in our marriages. That’s not forgiveness. Forgiveness is more about the state of your heart than it is about the other person.
What is important is that we seek reconciliation whenever possible. We are all children of God, and He doesn’t want to see His children fighting or in conflict anymore than we do as parents. So it is our job to restore our relationships broken by conflict whenever possible. If speaking words of forgiveness will help heal your relationship, then those words are helpful. But often in conflict, its more effective to speak words of ownership and responsibility. In other words, search your heart for where you need to ask for forgiveness when you approach your spouse for reconciliation rather than focusing on their need for forgiveness.
When you think about the conflict in your marriage, we need to regularly be setting things right. In other words, we need to look into our hearts for places we are storing unforgiveness and do the work of releasing our spouses for the debt they owe us. If we hold on to those offenses, bitterness and resentment will begin to harden our heart. So when we are offended, it is our job to clean out our heart—not our spouses.
Sometimes our hearts can be set right simply by starting the process of forgiveness and letting the offense roll off our backs. So many of the offenses we feel are insignificant enough to fall into this category—we just need to let it go. If we can’t let it go, then our next step is to pray about letting it go. Sometimes our pride is so strong that it holds on to an offense so much longer than we should, so we need to ask God to help us release our selfish grasp on that hurt. Our emotions have a tendency to make a bigger deal out of simple offenses, and we struggle to see the offense in it’s true light. But God can reveal our pride to us if we humble our hearts and roll it off to Him. Let it go. If you can’t let it go, pray about it and let it go.
If we are offended or hurt by another person’s sin in such a way that we can’t let it roll off, if the hurt is bigger than something we can just let go or pray away, then we are instructed to bring it to our spouses. It’s important to note that we are not to bring it to other people—we are to bring the offense directly to the person who offended us. If we bring it to other people, we are the ones in need of forgiveness.
Many of us get hung up on this directive because we fear the response, or because we sin in our response. Sometimes, when we bring it to the person, they don’t see their sin. That can hurt even more—and I think that’s where many of us falter. We get angry or hurt that they don’t see their offense as we see it, or they rise up to defend their sin. For this reason, we need to make sure our hearts are clear before we bring the offense to our spouses—clear of any residual anger and clear of any expectations. In other words, we must work through the process of forgiveness before we go to our spouses. Otherwise, when they fail to meet our expectations in that conversation, we will end up with more hurt.
It is at this point we need to allow the Holy Spirit to step in and take over. Once we bring the offense to our spouses, we are done. We need to let it go—regardless of their response. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person, forgiveness is about our own heart. We are called to quietly and humbly forgive as we have been forgiven.
It’s also important to note that using the words “I forgive you” at this point will often only add fuel to the fire of conflict because it can perceived as passive aggressive. We are the peacemakers. Turning to God in these moments, asking Him to shine through your response will bring glory to Him.
Let Him do the work in the other person’s heart in the timing that He chooses to do it, and let the work in your heart continue by surrendering your right to hold on to the offense.
Press on ~ you are loved 💗