Forgivness is an act of love in marriage.  From an unintentional slight to overt betrayal, the ability to forgive your spouse is an act of will.  If your marriage is in trouble, chances are the skill of forgiveness may be missing.  Forgiveness in marriage is not always easy, but it is necessary.  Here is a short excerpt we think defines true forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not confer impunity.  Even if the perpetrator has already been punished by the law or in some other just fashion, the victim must forgive.  The law deals with “the outside.”  While it punishes the offender, it does not free the victim. 

Wise teachers commonly define forgiveness as “abandoning the resentment one is entitled to,” and therefore abandoning also the desire for revenge and retribution.  Note the differentiation between forgiveness and reconciliation.  Reconciliation requires at least two persons, while forgiveness can be achieved independently of any contact with the perpetrator.  There can indeed be cases in which forgiveness without any attempt at reconciliation is preferable, for instance in the case of rape.

Forgiveness is difficult to accomplish because something in our nature wants to keep holding on to our injury.  Our justifiable resentment is like a precious, albeit dark, possession.  We can withdraw into our injured state, settle down and wallow in it, nurturing our resentment and pain.  Thus it can easily become an obsession.

But when we hold onto resentment something will eventually die in us – our sense of humor, our spontaneity, our energy, our dreams, or our sense of self-worth.  Resentment will also affect our physical health.  Forgiveness relieves us of this sinister and destructive baggage. 

It also disarms us of a weapon we might otherwise keep using against fellow human beings.  In that sense, forgiveness is tantamount to becoming more mature:  starting out as passive victims with no control over our feelings, we grow toward acknowledging that we ourselves are the source of our emotions.   Forgiveness is the slowly growing insight that we have no control of other people. 

If we fail to forgive, we will fall short of completing the development of our personality.  It’s a mighty challenge, but if we fail to meet this challenge, we will get caught up in a circle of never-ending repetitions, carrying with us the suffocating burden of failures, frustrations, foiled plans, and violations of our honor and our feelings.  It is not until we forgive that our lives will be able to develop freely.     

–adapted from Peter van Breeman in Summoned At Every Age