How to Practice Forgiveness in Marriage

Learning to Let Go After Betrayal or Hurt

Angry couple sitting on a couch with arms crossed

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Being able to forgive and to let go of past hurts is a critical tool in marriage. Additionally, being able to forgive is a way to keep yourself healthy both emotionally and physically. In fact, forgiving and letting go may be one of the most important ways to keep you and your marriage going strong. Some transgressions are so harmful that a marriage can't survive, but forgiveness can still play a role.

Health Benefits of Forgiveness

If you hold onto old hurts, disappointments, petty annoyances, betrayals, insensitivity, and anger, you are wasting both your time and your energy. Nursing your hurt (whether real or perceived) for too long can eventually make it turn into something more—hate and extreme bitterness. 

Lack of forgiveness can also wear you down. Being unforgiving takes both a physical and mental toll. Resentment gains momentum and chips away at the foundation of your well-being and your relationship.

In fact, health experts at Johns Hopkins report that the act of forgiveness can reduce the risk of heart attack, lower cholesterol levels, improve sleep, reduce pain, lower your blood pressure, and decrease levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Studies have also suggested that forgiveness provides greater benefits as we age.

How to Forgive a Partner Who Hurt You

There are different techniques you can use to find a place of forgiveness when you have experienced betrayal. Consider each method and find the combination that works best for you. The hurt you have suffered may make a difference. Certainly, it is more difficult to forgive a spouse for years of infidelity than it is for a minor mistake such as forgetting to pay a bill on time.

Try to be patient with yourself as you experiment with different strategies.

  • Be open and receptive to forgiveness.
  • Make a conscious decision to forgive your spouse.
  • When images of the betrayal or hurt flash in your mind, think of a calming place or do something to distract yourself from dwelling on those thoughts.
  • Don't throw an error or mistake back in your spouse's face at a later date; don't use it as ammunition in an argument.
  • Don't seek revenge or retribution; trying to get even will only extend the pain and chances are good that this won't really make you feel better anyway.
  • Accept that you may never know the reason for the transgression, behavior, or mistake.
  • Remember that forgiveness does not mean that you condone the hurtful behavior.
  • Be patient with yourself. Being able to forgive your spouse takes time. Don't try to hurry the process.
  • If you are still unable to forgive, or you find yourself dwelling on the betrayal or hurt, please seek professional counseling to help you let go and forgive.

How to Ask for Forgiveness

If you are the partner who has caused hurt, you can ask for forgiveness in an effort to rebuild trust in the relationship. Remember to give yourself and your partner time when working through the process.

  • Show true contrition and remorse for the pain that you've caused.
  • Be willing to make a commitment to not hurt your partner again by repeating the hurtful behavior.
  • Accept the consequences of the action that created the hurt.
  • Be open to making amends.
  • Be patient with your partner. Being able to forgive you often takes time. Don't dismiss your spouse's feelings of betrayal by telling them to "get over it."
  • Make a heartfelt and verbal apology; this includes a plan of action to make things right.

Forgiveness in Marriage

Marriage, like other close relationships, needs forgiveness to thrive. Remember that everyone makes mistakes. We all have bad or grumpy days. Most of us say things we don't mean now and then. Everyone needs to forgive and to be forgiven.

This is especially true if the person who hurt you is attempting to make amends and seek forgiveness; it's more difficult if your partner is not remorseful. But even then, you may find value in offering forgiveness.

No relationship, especially a marriage, can be sustained over a long period of time without forgiveness. But remember that forgiveness isn't absolution. It's a conscious decision and a practice of releasing feelings of resentment. Forgiveness can provide you and your partner with the tools to process and move on. Even though you may find it find it difficult, being able to forgive is crucial for the long haul.

When Forgiveness Is Not Enough

If your spouse abuses you, continues to betray or lie to you, or makes no real effort to change their behavior, then it may be time to say enough is enough. This behavior calls for you to seriously evaluate your marriage. When there is enough evidence that these major concerns are not going away, despite your effort to forgive, it may be time to think about separation or divorce.

According to psychiatrist Karen Swartz, MD, forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. "Having a relationship with someone in the future is about whether they are reliable and dependable and trustworthy." Sometimes trust is broken in such a way that reconciliation isn't in your best interest.

In situations where there was an extended period of abuse or betrayal, but it is no longer occurring, forgiveness for the past hurt may take longer, and that is OK. You both must be open to talking about it and continuing to process it. Your process might even include seeking guidance from a licensed professional counselor or other mental health professional.

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