By Kali Dawson, Crosswalk.com
After our three kids were finally asleep the other night, I sat down on the couch next to my husband and asked: "How do you forgive your spouse?" He looked at me without hesitation and said: "I focus on the good." Those five words were all I needed because I knew exactly what he meant. Then he settled into his favorite show. I kissed him and curled up to write (as I do every night after the kids are finally in bed). Our relationship wasn't always this way in the evenings. We used to argue over little things like whose turn it is to watch their show. I used to complain that he didn't engage in conversation with me after his 12-hour workday. I've since realized that he needed a break after talking all day, while I was dying to talk after being home all day with screaming kids and zero adult conversation. Back then, we fought. Sometimes every night.
We've been together almost a decade now, and we've had our fair share of disagreements over little things and hurt feelings over much bigger things. We've gone through sleep deprivation and financial stress. We've had our truck-load of all the frustrating things that can take a happy couple who once ran into each other's arms and cause them to run in the opposite direction. We've slammed doors, thrown words, and hurled insults when we felt offended or just plain exhausted. We've gotten so comfortable being around one another that often we speak without thinking. If there's one thing that's kept us going since we said "I do," it's undoubtedly forgiveness. The problem with forgiveness is that it's incredibly hard to do. It's a learning curve when you get married because you have to forgive constantly, whether it's yourself for saying something foolish or your spouse for not paying attention to what you're saying.
About a year ago, we had an argument, and in the middle of it, I brought up something from the past that hurt me. I had been meditating on it in my mind while arguing, and I wasn't really listening to what my husband was trying to say. Instead, I was thinking about my response. The moment I started to bring up this past hurt, the second the words spilled out of my mouth, he stopped me dead in my tracks and said: "If you keep bringing up things from our past, we will never move forward as a couple. It's like you have this list of all the things I've ever done that hurt you, and you throw them at me when you're upset." I felt punched in the gut because I knew he was right. I did do that—all the time. I always used my detailed list of past hurts to win arguments. Which means I was still harboring unforgiveness towards him in my heart for those things.
I know in my heart that when God forgives me, He forgets because He can. The day after our argument, my morning Devotional By Charles H. Spurgeon just happened to include the following phrase: "The moment a sinner trusts Jesus he is fully forgiven..." I read the words "fully forgiven" over and over again. I meditated on them all day. Have I ever really "fully forgiven" my spouse? Or anyone who has wronged me, for that matter? Because if I keep bringing these past hurts up, it doesn't sound like I have.
I know in my heart that when God forgives me of my sins against Him, He doesn't bring them up over and over again. He doesn't even bring them up once. He forgives, and He forgets. I know this because Psalm 103:2 says: "As far as the East is from the West, so far hath He removed our transgressions (sins) from us." So why am I keeping track of my husband's sins in the back of my mind? My job is to forgive as God has forgiven me. The rest is between my spouse and God. Sounds simple enough, but I am terrible at forgetting, especially when it comes to previous hurts.
Forgiving and not forgetting, as well as focusing on the bad and not the good in my spouse, is something that almost derailed my marriage more than once. My husband is a man of few words, while I could talk his ear off all day long. We are opposites; we are human. We both realized not long after we got married that we both had many of our own flaws we needed to work on. Picking out each other's shortcomings got us nowhere fast. We are still working on ourselves every single day. We are still working on how to respond to each other with love and respect. We are teaching our children how to do the same.
How do you forgive your spouse? Well, my spouse can say a thousand nice things to me, yet I'll focus on the one thoughtless comment he made when he was over-worked and run down. My spouse can do a thousand nice things for me, but I'll focus on the one time he forgot to do something I had reminded him to do multiple times. My spouse can display such patience with our three kids, but I'll focus on the one time he was short with me because he needed a break from the hundreds of questions he answers daily.
So when we sat on the couch last night, and I asked him yet another question at the end of a long day, all he said was: "I focus on the good." And that was all I needed. If you are ever going to forgive your spouse for anything (or everything) wrong they've ever done, you have to focus on the good parts about your spouse. I've listened to others rant and rave about everything that's wrong with their spouse. I know what it's like to be a wife who has nothing but bad feelings in her heart towards her husband. I also know that there were many times my husband locked up and shut down his own heart because he felt the same way about me.
I'll leave you with these two simple steps to forgiving your spouse. When you practice them, they amplify your good feelings toward your spouse and make it easier for the two of you to move forward:
1. Shift Your Focus:
Zero in on the little things you love about your spouse. Remind yourself of these things daily: even and especially when you're upset. The right focus in a marriage can change everything. The wrong focus can very quickly tear the other person down and build a wall between you and your partner
2. Fully Forgive:
Don't do what I did for years: don't say "I forgive you" and then bring up what was forgiven again and again. I wake up with so much gratitude every day that God does not keep a record of my wrongs. (1 Cor. 13:5) Far be it from me to keep a record of wrongs in my mind and heart toward the person that I love so very much.
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Kali Dawson graduated from St. Thomas University with a B.A. in English and a Minor in Journalism and Communications. She is a School Teacher, Pilates Instructor, and Mama of two young children and a beautiful 2020 baby. She is married to her real-life Superhero. When she's not holding small hands or looking for raised hands you will find her writing fervently about faith and family. To read more, you can find her on Facebook at Faith, Family, Freelance.