Biblical forgiveness in marriage is the decision to no longer credit an offense against your spouse with a view of exacting vengeance. It means you release your spouse from a debt owed to you as well as the blame he or she may deserve. Forgiveness is first and foremost a decision. It doesn’t begin with an emotion. It is not contingent on how you feel about your spouse, but rather it is a choice to no longer blame your spouse for an offense.
First Corinthians 13:5 details this for us in a most straightforward way: Biblical love “keeps no record of wrongs” (NIV). Biblical love doesn’t justify wrong, nor does it ignore wrong, excuse it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. All of those types of responses to wrongdoing would lead to enablement. Rather, biblical love acknowledges and addresses the wrong and then forgives and releases it while keeping no record of it. I’ve been in counseling sessions with some couples who bring up things that were said or done not years ago but decades ago. When I hear this, and it happens far too often, I sigh inside because I know that the roots of bitterness and unforgiveness run deep. I also know that Satan has been allowed to run the show in that marriage, making the stronghold ever more formidable to tear down.
You may be surprised at the advice I give when strongholds run that deep. I’ve seen it work in countless marriages, and I believe in its effectiveness because it addresses the unresolved anger that often feeds our failure to forgive. Often what happens in marriages that are clouded by unresolved anger is that the arguments become so toxic and volatile in their language and tone that they produce no good but drive a deeper wedge of division into the marriage. So this is what I propose if you have found yourself in a marriage with unresolved anger:
- Say something and do something every day that expresses value to your spouse. This might be a note, an unexpected phone call, a nonsexual hug, or a time of cuddling. Married couples are good at doing big things on big days like birthdays, anniversaries, or Valentine’s Day, but what we often neglect to do is cultivate and maintain in small but consistent ways a recognition that we value each other.
- Pray daily for each other and with each other. I don’t mean just saying a blessing before a meal. This is a specific time you come together, holding hands or holding each other, kneeling beside the bed or in your closet, or sitting on the couch — it doesn’t matter — and pray aloud for your marriage. This is not a time to hash out differences by bringing them before the Lord in prayer, but rather a time to pray that God will bless your spouse and that He will bless the two of you together with His grace and mercy.
- Date regularly. Too many marriages get caught up in drudgery or routine, and spouses lose the fun they once had. By “date” I mean pick a place and something fun to do. That doesn’t mean grabbing dinner at a restaurant because neither of you feel like cooking and you have to eat anyhow. At a minimum, do something fun together every other week, if not more often.
- Set an agreed-upon time weekly where you sit down together and allow the spouse who holds the unresolved anger to vent. This means that the other spouse agrees not to argue, defend or tune out the venting. It’s like when we have a bad taste in our mouths, and we feel better when we spit into the sink. Far too many married couples never give each other the freedom to get rid of that bad taste by speaking. I don’t mean couples don’t yell at each other—they do all the time. But this is a set time every week where one spouse is allowed to vent his or her pain without the fear of being shut down. Turn off the television and your phone. The other spouse must agree to give his or her undivided attention to the venting spouse. If nagging is a problem in your marriage, this will solve it. Because when you agree to listen, the spouse who is venting also agrees not to bring up these issues during the week – unless something is time sensitive. …
When you implement all four of these steps simultaneously, you will see and experience healing in your marriage.
This is an excerpt from Kingdom Marriage: Connecting God’s Purpose with Your Pleasure by Dr. Tony Evans.