7 Steps to Forgiveness in a Christian Marriage

by Crystal McDowell · Print Print · Email Email

Forgiveness can be difficult when a spouse forgets a special day, constantly makes the family run late for events, or neglects their basic responsibilities in the relationship. Many couples also struggle with forgiveness in adultery, addictions, or financial irresponsibility. It’s not easy to maintain a forgiving attitude especially in the light of broken promises. No matter the object of forgiveness—God always makes a way for couples who are tempted to hold on to an unforgiving attitude:

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it”

Take the following steps as a way towards forgiving your spouse:

Step #1) Choose forgiveness

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

We have a choice to forgive or to not forgive. God isn’t going to force us to forgive our spouses. Making the choice to forgive doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences for the transgression. It doesn’t mean that they “get away with it”. Giving our partner the gift of forgiveness has more to do with our relationship and reverence for God than with our spouse.

Step #2) Pray for God’s healing for your brokenness

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

The Lord promises to never leave nor forsake us in our desperate situations. He heals the wounds caused by our partners with accuracy in His perfect timing. Just as the healing of physical wounds take time depending of its severity, so it is with spiritual and emotional trauma. The Lord’s healing is completely thorough when we put our complete trust and dependence on Him.

Step #3) Recognize that you have faults as well

How can we love God and not forgive our spouse? It can’t happen.

How can we love God and not forgive our spouse? It can’t happen.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

We may have not sinned in the same manner as our spouse, but we have sinned at some point in our lives. In forgiving our spouses, we must resist the temptation of comparing our sins to theirs. Jesus died for all sins—both small and great in our eyes, but in the eyes of God—there are no small sins. Sin of every size and shape separates us from having an intimate relationship with God. Ask the Lord to reveal any sinful actions on your part in the marriage.

Step #4) Resist the urge to continually bring up their transgression

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past” (Isaiah 43:18).

“Forgive and forget” is a common saying many people recite when dealing with the issue of forgiveness. We may never completely forget an offense, but we don’t have to mull it over and over in our minds either. Through the grace and healing of God, He’s able to take the sting of the transgression away even if the memory persists. As we grow in our relationship with God, we move away from the desire of revenge and wanting to punish our spouses to a place of contentment.

Step #5) Understand your role in marriage

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

Giving or receiving forgiveness in a Christian marriage doesn’t exempt the marriage partners from their role in the marriage. We are still expected to follow God’s commandments in our faithfulness, love, and respect for each other. The unconditional love of God should be exhibited by the husband and wife as a representation of Jesus Christ and the church.

Step #6) Express your love in action and not just words

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

Love isn’t a passive feeling. It is expressed in the action of husbands and wives who love God. How can we love God and not forgive our spouse? It can’t happen. Your relationship with God is most evident in how you show love after choosing forgiveness. No one knows the love language of your spouse more than you.

Step #7) Forgive, forgive, and forgive again. Repeat #1-6

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21-22).

We will have to forgive again and again. Not necessarily for the same offenses, but maybe, depending on our situations. The Lord provides the strength and the insight for us to keep forgiving our spouses. If we do it in our own strength, we will fail. However, if we depend on God’s grace to forgive our spouses, we will always have room in our hearts to forgive.

Forgive? It’s not fair!

You’re right. It’s not fair. It wasn’t fair for Jesus who never sinned to bear the sins of every person who was, is, and will be born on this earth. It wasn’t fair for Him to be separated from the Heavenly Father because of our sins. It wasn’t fair for Him to suffer with many stripes, beatings, and being nailed to the cross. For your sin. For my sin. For the sins of our spouses and children.

In the light of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, none of us deserve to be forgiven of our sins. But we are because of His great love and mercy poured out to us. In the same manner, out of the forgiveness shown to us, we choose to forgive our spouses and trust in God to heal our brokenness.

Take a look at what else the Bible says about forgiveness:

What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness

Resource – New International Version Bible, The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblca, Inc.™

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jack Wellman July 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Loved the last one Crystal…the Bible never says that this life will be fair and if we really wanted what was fair, could any of us stand before a holy God? Well done my friend. Thank you.

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Crystal McDowell July 26, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Thanks much Jack! God’s blessings.

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Elaine Creasman July 29, 2013 at 11:55 am

Crystal, thank you for the reminders you give here. I’m in a hurting place in my marriage, and it’s tempting to hold on to unforgiveness. No good comes out of that. As someone told me recently–unforgiveness makes us more miserable than the actual sin against us. Thank you for bringing truth. You are a true encourager.

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Crystal McDowell July 30, 2013 at 11:23 am

Thanks Elaine for your encouraging words. Our willingness to forgive is tested regularly in the daily routines of marriage. We rely on our Lord to give us the strength to do the right thing even when our flesh resists. I pray your strength in the Lord to overcome with unconditional love, constant forgiveness, and incomprehensible peace.
Love your sister in Christ,
Crystal

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Sue July 29, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Hi Crystal

Please advise me how to tell my husband that just because I have forgiven him, doesn’t mean I will forget, and certainly doesn’t mean I will automatically trust again. It wasn’t infidelity (that I know of, anyway), but lies about all sorts of a variety of things in our pre- and post-marital relationship. Small and bigger things. Even small lies damage a relationship and just because you have forgiven, doesn’t mean that you will trust straight away, if ever.

Do you have a biblical reference for this?

That you for the article.
Sue

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Sue July 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Sorry, that should be ‘thank you’ for the article. 🙂

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Crystal McDowell July 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Dear Sue,

Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns. As a woman I understand what you are saying…I forget all kinds of things from the past, but when someone has hurt, betrayed, or offended me in a major way–I probably won’t forget it completely.

We are made up of spirit, mind, and body because we are believers we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to help us through these times of difficulty.

Through the Holy Spirit you can choose to forgive and ask Him to heal your hurts (covered in the blog)…but there’s another step you could try…be like Jesus in this matter.

How does Jesus forgive you? He throws your sins into the sea of forgetfulness. (Micah 7:19) I know this sounds contradictory to what I wrote above, but it’s not. We are encouraged by Paul in Philippians 3:13 to forget those things that are behind and press forward.

You see my dear sister in Christ, we are compelled to live in the Spirit and not in the desires of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16) You can share with your husband that you’ve made the choice of forgiveness, but the healing of the transgression will take time. The deeper the wound, the more time it may need.

You must resist the urge to bring up his past transgressions, but instead rely on discernment from the Holy Spirit to help you with future dealings with your husband. He shouldn’t be held hostage to the past any more than you are from the Lord.

It’s well within your ability as a child of God to choose forgiveness and trust in God to help you. Trust in your husband will have to be built up over time. I pray that this has been helpful for you and that you will live fully in the freedom of Christ to do great things for the kingdom without the bondage of an unforgiving spirit.

Love in Christ,
Crystal

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Sue July 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Dear Crystal

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question. You have given me more insight and guidance than I had expected. It is just difficult when the little white lies continue all the time. But I think I must focus on the Lord and my relationship with Him, and be discerning about what I believe to be true regarding what my husband tells me.

By losing focus on God and what He has done for me, I am easily angered by small transgressions as a result of bigger past lies. So I completely understand and agree with what you say. I need to let go of the past, as God has done for me.

Isn’t our Lord wonderful and amazing, Crystal? He has spoken to me through you and the guidance you have provided is priceless. When I start to emotionally regress, I will read this article and your reply again, as many times as it takes.

Thank you once again.

Sue

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joyce October 28, 2013 at 2:39 am

Hi Crystal,

Ive been going thru downs for as long as I was married. Never was a day that there was no argument in the house. I have 2 beautiful boys and in the last 2 months Ive made significant decisions in my life, yet to be enacted. I have a quiet an unussual relationship with someone over the line, not really on the net but thru whatsap. we met in a group of christian chatting. so we have become soo close that we are kinda like more than friends. He did not hide the relationship from the wife. I was very vulnerable and suddenly I felt love like Iv never felt the whole time Ive been married. Iv done evrything humanly possible to save my marriage, so there was no guilt in all this.

My husband saw the chats in my phone and I just confessed that I am in love with someone else. He did not rebel against it but since that day (its been a week now), hes been down on his knees literally begging me to give him another chance. There’s this sudden change of behavoiur, praying more than once in a day, asking what I need evry second of the day, buying me a bunch of flower evry 2 days. Yes this is what I needed for the past 7 years we were married, why now. Is he genuine. I told him Im not going to change my plans, he can continue do whatever he thinks he must do. Ive planned to move to another province to have a break there and figure out what to do next (in fact I was not planning to come back), but now this. Yes this does not move me, but I still wanna do things right and I can see anything right other than saving myself from this recurring depression episodes, and my boys from growing up not knowing what a happy mom is like. Our situation is now directly affecting them that it is not a healthy environment for them at all.

Im done even praying about the restoration of my marriage, but am praying for a smooth separation process when Im ready to innitiate it. What is good for my boys here in this situation? Now I cant give my heart again to my husband in the fear of him breaking it again. I think I wont have a problem forgiving him but please can somebody not say that my forgiveness would be incomplete if I dont stay with him???

Please advise where you can.
Joyce

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Sydney December 28, 2015 at 8:47 am

I married a “jehovah witness” which is very difficult because we are unequally yolked. But through marriage its holy because I read it in the bible. Anyway I want to get a annulment. Im not happy. But I dont want to sin or feel like God is going to be mad at me. My husband is sweet but we rushed into this so we could be free from fornication. The problem is he lied to me from the beginning about many things and thats why I dont trust him and we are constantly arguing. He works hard and he comes home but no matter what I still have doubts.

He drinks, he doesnt go to bars or parties but he drinks in my presence and sometimes I join him for a beer or two but it turns me off. I used to drink but I prayed and was free. Yet I find myself trying to please my husband. Im so confused. I dont even want to go to church anymore.

Am I supposed to stay married for the rest of my life with someone who drinks, and am I suppose to accept it? I dont want to drink. Im sober. I dont want to be with someone who doesnt believe what I believe. He doesnt believe in hell or heaven or that world will end. I feel no passion or love, I feel empty. But If I go find someone to make love with it would be a sin.

so what do I do? We both have our minds made up as far as religion.

Please help

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Jack Wellman December 28, 2015 at 11:18 am

I am so sorry for where your marriage is at right now. What does God teach in His Word about annulments and divorce? You must realize that you do not have biblical grounds for divorce as he has not committed adultery. Paul teaches that “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband” (1st Cor 7:10) and “if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him” (1st Cor 7:12-13). Pray for this lost man. Talk to your pastor if you haven’t already done so and if not, why haven’t you spoken with him? Jesus died for us while we were still His enemies and wicked sinners (Rom 5:8, 10) and did not depend on His feelings. You mentioned “you feel” quite often but feelings are not sufficient grounds for divorce. I wish I could help you more but I must stay with what the Bible teaches.

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Gene Whitaker February 7, 2017 at 7:23 pm

Hi crystal
I am going threw a rough time in my marriage and trust and all. Me and my wife have been together for 8 years but married 5 years. The problems began when I hurt my back at work and I couldn’t control my pain. So I let my frustrations out on my wife due to the medication and not being able to control my pain. Need less to say my marriage got cold and we both didn’t do anything about it to help it out. I started talking to another female just for the fun of it and to get my wife’s attention. And it did. Need less to say we kind of got back on track and then back at it again. Well with all that was going on with us I have decided to leave the home to try and work on our marriage again but from a different point and needless to say be for I left the house I cought my wife talking to another guy and made our marriage worse. I am back home now and trying my hardest to make it work but it’s still not going anywhere. She is still talking to this person who she will never probley never meet and says she is in love with him. Now we are both Christians with problems except she now doesn’t want to know christ. I am asking for advise on what to do while I am still in love with my wife and still want our marriage to work but on the other hand she is cold. I read my Bible all the time and try to preatch to her and she won’t hear it. What do I do now. I hope and pray that you can help me in some way with your words of wisdom. I pray for God to heal my wife’s broken heart from all the damage and hurt that I have caused her. She says she has forgave me but I really don’t think she has other wise we could work on our marriage instead of me asking for forgiveness. Thank you and hope to hear back from you. God bless.
Gene

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Alison August 8, 2017 at 5:41 pm

These responses are encouraging.

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