What Happens If I Don’t Forgive My Spouse?
In the last post, we looked at how to keep the “little things” from building into big bitterness toward our spouse. We need to:
1) Identify the resentful thoughts and nagging issues that lie between you and your spouse
2) Choose whether you will respond in resentment or grace
3) Extend grace and forgiveness to move forward
Sometimes that last point is easier said than done.
Forgive my spouse?
Let them off the hook… just like that?
No penance? No penalty?
A clean slate?
And trust me, I know it’s easier said than done. I can undoubtedly get sucked into the
Why can’t he/she just change? Why do I always have to be the one to cave? It is NOT “caving” to forgive; it is obeying God’s command to love, to forgive others as HE has forgiven us.
You cannot control what your spouse does (or doesn’t) do.
But you CAN seize the opportunity to serve God by being His hands and feet to your spouse. (Click HERE for more on this topic.)
If you don’t, you’ll be weighed down by unforgiveness, crippling yourself with resentment.
All the little things will turn into big bitterness.
Then what happens?
3 Ways Unforgiveness Weighs Us (and our Marriage) Down
1. When we add up our spouse’s little offenses, the built-up bitterness causes us to make BIG assertions about our spouse’s character.
These bitter claims we make about our spouse are often blown out of proportion, or all-together false.
We tell ourselves we cannot trust them because they don’t do what they say they’re going to; their words aren’t meaningful.
What started out as an offense about Monday night golf league has turned into an assumption about his/her character. It becomes easier to generalize and make overarching statements that we believe to be true, even if they're not true.
Take those swirling thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and remind yourself of what you KNOW TO BE TRUE about your spouse’s character.
For example, is he going to play golf because he really enjoys playing golf with his buddies, or because he has a vendetta against you and wants to make you mad?
Alternatively, is she upset about your Monday night golf league because she doesn’t want you to be happy, or because she’s exhausted and desperately needs help with the kids? OR because she wants some quality time with her husband?
2. We use our spouse’s little offenses as ammunition to throw back in their face when they’ve offended us again
Let’s look at another example:
A husband said he would fix the car that has now been sitting in the garage for six months. His wife’s frustration is starting to fester into big bitterness. She communicates this both verbally and non-verbally.
“Hey, when are you gonna deal with that car like you said you would?”
She sighs wistfully (and loud enough for her husband to hear) when they pass a new car lot.
He feels a gentle elbow nudge and sees his wife’s side-eye when their friends tell them about their brand-new Suburban.
What is she doing?
She is quietly insinuating, Hey- you’re not providing for me or our family! Happy wife, happy life… remember?
Resentment gets ugly quick. Even in quiet ways.
When we let resentment build up without forgiveness, we tend toward another form of ammunition: Slander.
This one is painful.
It’s what happens when the husband WANTS his wife to hear him talking to his buddy at the cookout, telling him all about her mistakes and shortcomings.
Or the wife HOPES her husband overhears her telling her friend how much he upset her when he did x-y-z.
Neither one wants to say it directly to the other’s face.
Unresolved resentment is where slander gets its first foothold in your marriage.
Fast-forward 10-20 years and you have two people living in the same house who don’t talk to each other because they know exactly how the other will use their words against them (ammunition).
What does Scripture say about all this?
This is a good place to step aside and check into God’s Word.
(We’ll return to point 3 in a moment.)
Consider the following a “roadmap” for unforgiveness and how it affects our lives and marriage.
In Mark 7:20, Jesus says: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.”
What comes out of us? What does our sinful nature produce?
Galatians 5:19-21 tells us- the acts of the flesh are obvious: impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, and other things like these.
Jesus says in Mark 7:23: “All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
So, what happens next?
Jesus tells us clearly in Luke 6:45: “His mouth speaks from the overflow of his heart.”
And we end with a warning back in Galatians 5:15: If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
The connection is clear:
If we stuff our hearts full of little grudges we hold against our spouse, slander will eventually spew out of our mouth.
3. When we hold onto resentment, our generosity dwindles
Why would we give generously when our spouse doesn’t deserve it?
We see how much they desperately need something, yet we sit in silent protest, refusing to give anything at all, let alone give generously. We sit in the corner of our hearts and tally up their offenses while the world pats us on the back and says, “Good. That’s what you SHOULD do! YOU DESERVE BETTER!”
Do you, though?
Do any of us?
When we look at Scripture, we see in Romans 6:23 that the wage of sin is death.
We are ALL sinners, so we all DESERVE death.
The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is called GRACE.
And we are called to reject resentment, choose grace, and give generously to our spouse. Love them most when they deserve it least!
Vow to change: an encouraging call to action
Often, we don’t even notice the resentment we harbor because it takes months, sometimes years, to reach the point that we’re regularly abandoning God’s grace- grace that we should be giving our spouse- and instead, sitting in the position of judge and juror; continually finding our spouse guilty. It becomes our default mode. (If your marriage has an invisible score board on the wall, check out THIS episode of VowsToKeep Radio.)
Giving grace and dying to ourselves?
Rain down the wrath!
But when we do that, not only do we make ourselves miserable under the weight of our anger, we also squash the effectiveness of God’s grace and become an ally of Satan’s destruction in our spouse’s life.
Ask God to STOP the cycle of sin in your thinking, and hand Him the weight of unforgiveness and bitterness toward your spouse that you’ve been gripping so tightly.
Read the following passages and write down answers to the subsequent questions:
Hebrews 12:14-15 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
What specific ways will you work to live in peace with your spouse?
How will you “look after” your spouse, making sure he/she receives grace, not resentment?
How will you be sure that no bitterness takes root in your heart? Is this an issue for an accountability partner to ask you about from time to time? (For more info. on accountability, click the blog post link and listen to THIS episode of VowsToKeep Radio.)
Proverbs 19:11 Good sense and discretion make a man slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Without seeking revenge and harboring resentment.)
Ephesians 4:32, 5:1 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children.
1 Corinthians 13:5 Love does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
What are you going to do with the mental list of your spouse’s offenses (all the little things)? Will you let them continue to pile up, taking a count of all their wrongs? OR will you…
Be slow to anger, forgiving offenses without seeking revenge or harboring resentment
Be kind, compassionate and tenderhearted, forgiving your spouse as Christ forgave you (being an imitator of God)
God promises that as we live out our marriage relationship in the way HE designed it to be, there will be blessings! Do not trade the best parts of marriage (unity, oneness, companionship, a reflection of God’s love for us) for something which will NEVER satisfy (resentment, bitterness, anger, disappointment).
Ask for forgiveness, extend forgiveness, take no account of wrongs, and take back God’s blessings for your marriage.
God will continue to hold them out to you.
Check it out
For more on living to serve God (not your spouse’s demands) and living out GOD’S purpose for your marriage, check out the following blog posts and their corresponding podcasts:
Blog Post: Happy Wife, Happy Life
For encouragement on how to stop resenting your spouse, and how to forgive your spouse check out the following blog posts and their corresponding podcasts:
Blog Post: How Do I Stop Resenting My Spouse? (Part 1)
Listen to the corresponding podcast: