One of the greatest pieces of marital advice I’ve ever received was: The key to a happy marriage is learning how to forgive your spouse. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this advice. I tried to put limitations on it. I thought surely, I don’t have to forgive my spouse for everything, right? WRONG! I can hold onto that one time when he just really hurt my feelings, right? WRONG! I don’t have to forgive him for the time he…because that almost ended our relationship/marriage? WRONG AGAIN! When you are in a marriage you promise “for better, for worse.” Sometimes the worse comes before the better. When you got married you also promised to love one another unconditionally. That means even during times of conflict, when you’d love to do nothing more than squeeze your husband’s throat or glue your wife’s mouth shut, you still have to love them. Let’s be practical here. When you’re fighting with your spouse, probably the last thing you’re thinking about is your wedding vows. You’re probably thinking about how angry your are. You’re probably thinking about how to get your point across. You’re probably saying a bunch of things you don’t really mean. You’re probably wondering how your spouse could speak to you in this way. You’re probably storing up hurt feelings, bad attitudes, and defense mechanisms. Possibly some of the greatest things you’ll ever learn how to do when having conflict in your marriage are to: fight fair, demonstrate a loving attitude and FORGIVE.
Two of the great principles of the Christian faith are love and forgiveness. The ultimate model of love comes from God loving us so much that he gave his only son for the remission of our sins (John 3:16). The ultimate model of forgiveness was demonstrated for us when Jesus hung on the cross and prayed for the very people who put him there (Luke 23:34). Because Jesus forgave us, he wants us to follow his example by forgiving others. This includes your spouse for any wrongdoings. The Scripture says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children” (Ephesians 4:32-51). The bible gives us several characteristics of the forgiveness we should have for other people.
- Forgiveness first comes from God. Our forgiveness of others should flow from God’s forgiveness of us (Mark 11:25).
- Forgiveness knows no limits. For a Christian, no wrong is too great or too small to forgive (Matthew 18:21-35).
- Forgiveness is not selective. You can’t choose to forgive some people and not others (Matthew 5:43-48).
- Forgiveness breaks down walls. When you choose to forgive, you experience true freedom (Colossians 3:12-15).
I want to offer you a biblical framework for Christian living (given to us by our premarital counselor and marriage mentor) that my husband and I use today to handle conflict in our marriage. Now being that we know that we are to forgive our spouse (and others), we have to identify the very behaviors that cause them to say/do things that hurt us in the first place. You’ll be shocked to know that most of the time, its not even about you. Most of the time, when our spouse says or does something to hurt us, they are having a conflict within themselves based on the status of their relationship with God. When you are near to God, praying, reading scripture, meditating on His word, applying it to your everyday life, it is hard to say/do things that are hurtful to your spouse. This is so because you are allowing the Holy Spirit to work in your life and marriage. When we find ourselves drawing toward some other thing that takes our focus away from God, we may find that it is harder to be lead by the Holy Spirit. When our focus is not on God we can become more loose with our tongues/actions becoming less mindful of the way we speak to/handle one another. If God is love, when we aren’t near to Him, how are we to demonstrate love, especially the type of love He calls for us to have towards our spouse? We tend to feel the following ways when we are a. feeling convicted because we are not in right standing with God or b. when we are in right standing with God:
|Feelings When Distant from God||Feelings When Near to God|
|Lack of Love (1 John 4:18)||Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)|
|Guilt (Romans 2:14-15)||Peace (Galatians 5:22)|
|Fear (Proverbs 28:1)||Confidence (Genesis 3:10)|
|Fleeing (Genesis 3:10)||Nearer to God (Proverbs 28:1)|
How heavy is that? Some of you are thinking, so when my spouse does this or that…its not really about me? It’s about how his/her relationship with Christ is at that time? Yes, that is what I am telling you. This is why God places great responsibility on husbands and wives for one another’s spiritual health. He knew we would have conflict. He knew that we would sometimes become distant from Him. That is why he placed in His Word the ways in which we can draw nearer to him. God wants husbands to encourage their wives to have an intimate relationship with God (Ephesians 5:26). By the same token a wife’s relationship with God has the ability to inspires change in her husband (1 Peter 3:1). When we are in right standing with God, our marriage has not choice but to flourish under these conditions. When we are feeling distant from God this can ultimately lead to distant and unloving behavior towards our spouse. So how do we get ourselves back on track, drawing nearer to God and inevitably drawing nearer to our spouse? We need to employ 4 steps for reconciliation:
- Confess: We first need to confess to God that we are apologetic for our actions and the role we played in the conflict (1 John 1:9). Next we need to go to that person whom we have wronged and ask for their forgiveness. This prevents us from fleeing from our problems and helps us to draw nearer to God.
- Count on Forgiveness: Once we have come to God, confessed, and asked for His forgiveness (whether or not we are forgiven by the person we hurt) we need to be confident that we have God’s forgiveness (Romans 8:1). At this point, we can let go of the guilt and embrace the peace that God has given us.
- Control of the Holy Spirit: Next we need be able to give back control to the Holy Spirit so that it can work in our lives (Ephesians 5:18). When the Holy Spirit is in control we have no need to be fearful, but we can walk in confidence that God is in control.
- Count on Control: We need to be able to count on the control of the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:14-15) to help us make better decisions the next time problems arise. This control is what regulates behaviors resulting in lack of love. When we are controlled by the Holy spirit we inevitably draw nearer to God.
Please keep in mind that what I have shared with you today calls you to forgive, not to forget. When we forget the things of our past we also tend to forget, how we should handle the situation should it ever come up again. Use the experience to help you allow the Holy Spirit control over your actions/response to hurtful words and behaviors. Remember that even happy couples fight. The difference is that they are fighting for their relationship. Who’s side are you on?