What Does it Mean to Forgive?


1. to stop feeling angry about something or toward someone

2. to stop requiring payment

3. to give up resentment of

4. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve

5. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.)

I stumbled upon these descriptions when searching the definition of the word forgive.  These all sound nice in theory, but in reality forgiving someone is very difficult.  It is certainly easier said than done.  However, forgiveness is a core tenant in a healthy marriage.  Without true forgiveness, a marital relationship cannot thrive.  Without forgiveness, the marriage would become so bogged down by past hurts that it would get crushed under the weight of it all.

Oftentimes in our relationships we might view forgiveness more along the lines of the first definition: to stop feeling angry about something or toward someone.  In reality, it is extremely challenging to force yourself to change your feelings.  Though we might at times feel forgiving, it is not enough to only forgive when we have this feeling.  Forgiveness is not an emotion; it is an action.  Just as love is choosing to love someone despite your feelings, the same is true for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is choosing to free someone from the “payment” they owe even if you do not feel like doing so.

Definitions 2-5 clearly display the action orientation of the word forgive.  They prompt us to stop requiring, to give, and to grant.  These are all action-oriented words.  When we forgive we choose to no longer hold the other person accountable anymore.  We release them either completely or partially from the debt they owe us.  In doing so, we let go of our right to be fully compensated for the loss or the hurt that was caused.  It does not always come naturally to forgive someone immediately; it is a process that takes time.  However, forgiveness is a process that goes hand in hand with restoration.  The hope is that through true forgiveness, you and your spouse will find restorative healing in your relationship.  Although some grievances do affect the level at which we can trust others, the goal is to rebuild that trust in your relationship once again.

On the other hand, forgiveness is not pretending the offense didn’t happen.  If we simply move on as if it never happened, we leave room for the offense to continue happening.  We can forgive and experience healing, but we cannot make excuses for someone’s hurtful behavior.

Let me remind you that your pain is real, and it is okay to experience that pain.  At a certain point, however, without offering forgiveness, you risk damaging your relationship with your spouse.  If you are struggling to forgive your spouse, seek help.  It is not too late to start marriage counseling and find repair in your relationship.  Learning how to forgive will not only set your spouse free, but it will also set you free.Fighting Couple

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