There are always ample opportunities to forgive others, especially in a marriage. But sometimes we don’t know how. Consider three tips to help you forgive more easily in the context of a covenant relationship.

We remember those long nights in the first year of our marriage. In the infancy of his career, Byron was often late home from work as he juggled the demands on his time. Initially, Francine was so grateful when he arrived that she didn’t register the hurt his lateness caused.

Over time and with repetition, however, this grew to be a significant issue between us. Byron’s lateness fed Francine’s anxiety and sense of abandonment, and in turn, her chilly greeting triggered his sense of failure. Neither of us felt supported by the other.

A breakthrough came when Francine wrote a letter to Byron explaining why she was reacting the way she was and asking for his forgiveness. Byron readily responded with a sincere apology.

Until this heartfelt reconciliation, neither of us fully understood what was happening for the other. It was a valuable lesson for us; what seemed like a minor, even petty, thing was capable of tearing a major hole in our unity.

Over the years, we’ve become practised at forgiveness. We seem to be in particular need of this skill, perhaps more so than some of our colleagues who are blessed with a less contentious relationship.

Here are three tips we’ve found that make forgiveness a little easier.

1. Don’t Rush to Assumptions of Intent

So often, we jump to negative judgement when there was no ill intent or malice there. It’s natural to try to interpret what an upsetting situation or behaviour means. But fixing those assumptions in place with no room for modification is a recipe for heartache.

When we hold our interpretations lightly rather than lock on to them, we leave space for new information to illuminate our spouse’s true intentions. Moreover, we’ll avoid reciprocating the hurt through our condemnation of our spouse without foundation.

2. Manage Your Expectations

Marriage comes with a whole lot of expectations of the other person. Some of these are discussed together and are explicit – like the expectation of fidelity, expressed in wedding vows. Most expectations, however, are implicit and are often never even voiced.

An example of this is the expectation that Byron would be home at a regular time from work. This expectation was normal in Francine’s family of origin but not in Byron’s. This implicit expectation lurked in the background, priming Francine for hurt without Byron even knowing it.

If you’ve ever said, or your spouse has said to you, “I can’t read your mind – you need to tell me what you want!” – chances are you are talking about unvoiced, implicit expectations. Rather than second-guessing each other, try to be clear about what you desire and have a conversation about it.

3. Say the Words of Forgiveness

It’s interesting to note how common it is for us to say ‘sorry’. We even say ‘sorry’ to strangers: “I’m sorry to bother you but could you give me directions?”

Saying ‘sorry’ and expressing our regret and sorrow to each other is important – but it’s not usually enough for serious forgiveness and reconciliation. When we’ve hurt each other, we need to explicitly ask for forgiveness, and we need to say “Yes, I forgive you” when we give it.

The words of forgiveness are powerful. Saying them out loud, as opposed to merely thinking them, makes them efficacious – that is, they help make forgiveness happen.

Mistakes are inevitable in relationships, especially in a relationship as intimate as marriage. The willingness to forgive each other is perhaps the single most important practice a couple can adopt – and we all have plenty of opportunities to practice.

Originally published at Smart Loving. Image by Gus Moretta at Unsplash.

About the Author: Byron and Francine Pirola

Married for 25 years, with 5 children, Byron & Francine Pirola are the founders and co-authors of the SmartLoving Series – marriage enrichment and marriage preparation courses designed to help build successful and resilient marriages. International speakers and authors of numerous articles on marriage, more than 3000 couples have attended their programs, workshops and conferences in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain Byron & Francine are Executive Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre from which they run SmartLoving programs and produce digital resources. Francine graduated from Fordham University with a Masters in Religion and Religious Education. Byron is a founding partner of the strategic consulting firm, Port Jackson Partners Limited, and a Director of both listed and unlisted companies. He holds a PhD from the Commonwealth Centre for Gene Technology, Adelaide University.

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