Some people have been so hurt in their lives that they end up hurting others unintentionally as a self-preservation mechanism. I have, at times, been one of those people. When I married my husband, fear boiled below the surface of my excitement for our beautiful wedding and honeymoon. Because of broken relationships with people I loved in the past, I entered marriage with my mind on alert, unbeknownst to me, with my number one goal being self-preservation. Shortly after those blissful few weeks, my new husband and I started having discussions where we differed in opinions or ideas (imagine that!).
I found myself reacting, and throwing my husband into desperate confusion as to why I was reacting in that manner. What it took me a while to realize was that I was not reacting to my husband; I was reacting to what I knew to be true from my past.
Now stay with me.
We have all had experiences in our past that have shaped who we are today. Some experiences were good and are remembered affectionately. Those memories often include people who influenced and encouraged us to be who God created us to be. Other experiences have left us unsure of ourselves and insecure, and some people have left us feeling hurt and vulnerable. Often times, negative experiences that have to do with past relationships enter with us into marriage—and put a lot of strain on it.
Recognizing the issues and desiring to change is only the first half of the battle, and as we all know, change isn’t always easy. Often times, when one spouse makes a decided effort towards changing their behavior, the other spouse doesn’t immediately recognize it. In this case, the reverse becomes true—your spouse is now the one reacting to what he or she has seen in the past, instead of reacting to how you are actually responding in the present. Think of it this way—marriage is like a three-legged race. If one person changes their gait and the other doesn’t realize their spouse’s gait has changed and continues to run as they always have—well, we all know who wouldn’t win that race.
I’m going to be real here.
There was an instance where I knew I needed to seek apology from my husband. I felt terrible about the incident and came to my husband in tears. There are plenty of reasons why we do what we don’t want to do, as Paul so clearly laments in the New Testament. But none of those reasons—whether they are past hurt, fear or insecurities—are excuses. At the same time, none of those reasons matter when it comes to forgiveness either.
My husband freely forgave me, pulled me into his embrace and told me he loved me. The moment my husband forgave was the moment I realized what facilitates the cohesive change in gait of the three-legged race. It’s forgiveness. The confession and subsequent freedom and release of forgiveness is what allows us to change, and our spouse to change with us.
But that’s not all.
With all of that said, the key to a strong and beautiful marriage doesn’t stop at forgiveness. It builds on it. And it builds on it over and over again, making each foundation stronger than the last. One of my favorite passages of scripture is in Philippians when Paul talks about striving towards the goal of what Christ had called him to do:
Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
In the first part of his statement, Paul starts off with humility. Considering his humanity, he knows he has not yet accomplished what he set out to do. And we know that in starting a marriage, we have not yet accomplished what we strive for. But Paul does know the way to get there. By forgetting, or according to other translations, letting go of what is behind. Hebrews says to:
..throw off everything that hinders…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Whether we are letting go of hurt from the past or a wrong committed within the relationship, forgiveness allows us to forget what is behind and keep our eyes on what is ahead. Beginning with forgiveness, we can accomplish the pure and perfect goal of a beautiful marriage as Christ intended it to be.