Is Unforgiveness Hurting Your Marriage?

What do you do when you’ve been hurt by your spouse? Do you store it away? Do you talk about it? Or do you get a new hobby and hide out? How does your spouse respond when they’ve been hurt by you?

Many times, how you handle conflict and resolution has been inherited from how your family modeled it to you as a child. Think about it for a moment… did your parents yell when they were angry? Did they pout or walk away? Did they hide their hurts only to have them later flare up in a stressful moment?

When couples don’t have a model or a plan for how to work through the inevitable hurts that happen within a marriage, unforgiveness and unresolved wounds develop into grudges and bitterness that can destroy marriages. Unforgiveness in a marriage will eventually erode the intimacy you have built between one another. That’s because hurt left unresolved leads to a lack of trust and respect.

Do you remember when you first started dating your spouse? For most of us, we couldn’t take our eyes off of them. We wanted to spend every moment with them. While we knew they had flaws, we could look past all of that because of the love we had in our heart for them. That love enabled us to look past some of the less terrific parts of our spouse, didn’t it?

Love does that. In fact, God’s love does that too.

I love this quote by Dr. Ed Wheat: “Marriage becomes a series of surprises for most of us, and one of them is how frequently we need to forgive and be forgiven.”

You see, God’s love not only made a way for you to be forgiven through the life and death of Jesus for you on the cross, but His love also made a way for you to forgive others and receive their forgiveness as well.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)

God so loved the world that He forgave.

The key to keeping unforgiveness from hurting your marriage is learning how to love in such a way that forgiveness is natural. What do I mean by that? Simply that loving others, understanding that they aren’t perfect, and knowing that God loves them and has forgiven them prepares you for a relationship where forgiveness is at the center.

Here’s what 1 Corinthians 13 says about love:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5 ESV)

We need to not only love like God does, but we also need to forgive like He does as well. Let’s look at that verse again with the word ‘forgiveness’ inserted for the word ‘love’:

"Forgiveness is patient and kind; forgiveness does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Forgiveness does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful."

So how do you build this kind of love and forgiveness into your marriage? Here are four ways to love and forgive your spouse, so that unforgiveness doesn’t lead to bitterness and destroy your marriage:


Forgive and love with patience and kindness


When we are patient and kind with our spouse, it allows room for God to speak to them about their behavior. Have you heard that old saying, “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” It’s true, isn’t it? So often we come to our spouse with the aim of convincing them to adopt our viewpoint. This isn’t the way that God loves or forgives us, and it isn’t the way to be reconciled to our spouse through forgiveness, either.

I love how this verse reads in the Message version of the bible:

“[Love] Isn’t always 'me first,' Doesn’t fly off the handle” (1 Corinthians 13:4 MSG)


Forgive and love by not comparing yourself to your spouse


Often times we compare ourselves to our spouse by saying, “Well, I wouldn’t have responded in that way,” or “I would have done it this way.” When we do that, we are inadvertently comparing ourselves to our spouse, and judging them based on what we would or would not have done.

God doesn’t want us to compare ourselves to each other, or judge others based on our standards. The only standard for forgiveness and perfection is the one that Jesus set.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

The Message version of 1 Corinthians says it this way:

“[Love] doesn’t keep score of the sins of others” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

How many times have you fallen in the trap of keeping score, or keeping track of the offenses of your spouse? Would you like them to keep score on you, too?


Forgive and love without threatening


I realize ‘threatening’ may seem like an odd choice of words here, however many of us do ‘threaten’ our spouses by withholding love or affection as punishment for bad behavior. The Message version reads like this:

“[Love doesn’t] insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5 MSG)

When we insist on our own way, or threaten to withhold from our spouse, we end up pushing our spouse away and building hurt into the relationship, rather than forgiveness. When forgiveness and love are our motives, we will seek to reconcile without insisting on our own way.


Forgive and love by restoring them verbally


I think this is such an overlooked (but important) part of forgiving your spouse. Make room to tell your spouse that they have been forgiven, and create space to show them—through your actions and attitude—that you are indeed reconciled. Tell them “I forgive you” in both word and deed.

I will freely admit that this is more of a discipline, or an agreement you make with your spouse, that you will need to build into your marriage. When you choose to forgive, when you choose to love, the emotions will naturally come, even if your forgiveness is first a choice and not a feeling.

Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember,

“…the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (Colossians 3:13 NLT)


Remember, the Father loves you and sent His Son to let you know!

To assist you in creating a daily routine of reading God’s Word, connecting with the Holy Spirit and receiving the Father’s Blessing, we’ve created a free devotional that reviews key scriptures essential to being a good father. It comes to you by email every day, takes only a few minutes to read, and connects you to the Father and the Holy Spirit every day. Click here to sign up for the free devotional!

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Published on April 18, 2018.

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