Not always easy, but always the best choice.

The year was 1970. A movie came out with a slogan that swept the country. You saw it or heard it on billboards and magazines and newspapers, TV and radio. It seemed like you just could not escape hearing this endearing slogan. Any guesses? . . . . . .Times up.

The movie was Love Story, and the slogan was (some of you know this one) “love is never having to say you’re sorry.” Oh isn’t that so sweet. There’s just one thing wrong with that idyllic concept. It’s a bunch of nonsense. Love means frequently and regularly having to say you’re sorry. This is especially true when love has led to marriage.

Marriage is a union of two imperfect people who join together to try to form a perfect union.   There will be times when you will step on each other’s proverbial toes. Most of these times will be accidental, and an apology quickly follows. Some of these times are intentional, and that’s usually when an apology is most needed.

So rather than love and/or marriage being the lack of a need to say you’re sorry, I propose that marriage is better portrayed as the union of two good forgivers. And marriage does indeed provide ample opportunities to practice and cultivate the art of forgiveness.

Some years back I read the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. It’s a Christian book with heavy emphasis on Bible teaching so some of you may want to leave it on bookstore shelves. For those of you not averse to such teaching it’s a must read.

I love a line he uses in the book, which is much more practical than the one from Love Story. He writes that “unforgiveness is the poison we drink expecting the other person to die.” That is so right on. When we refuse to forgive another, it is we who suffer far more than they. In fact, the other may be blissfully unaware that they are not forgiven in the first place. Yet we hold on to the attendant bitterness, anxiety, negative thinking that accompanies a willful refusal to forgive.

We still live in a free country, and you are entitled to withhold forgiveness from someone who has wronged you. I invite you to count the cost, however and decide if that’s really what you want to do.

To forgive, by the way, is not the same as to forget. You can likely remember your first-grade teacher, and some of you haven’t thought of him or her in decades. Our minds are such that somewhere within is the memory of everything we have ever seen, done or heard.  It’s not a matter of “forgive and forget” as much as it is “forgive and move on” or “forgive and let it go.”

You might not be able to control the emotional component of your resentment or bitterness, but you can certainly choose to not act on those emotions. Over time it gets easier and easier to truly be past the hurt or offense.

To forgive is also not to say you weren’t really hurt that badly in the first place. The damage and pain can be severe, but you can decide that it is in the past and not let it dominate your thoughts and treatment of the other in the future. I realize this may be easier for some than for others. Some have been hurt so deeply that it will be a real struggle to choose to forgive. Please never forget, however, that we are free moral agents and we really can choose to forgive if we want to.

If you find yourself having difficulty forgiving your spouse, or someone else for that matter, please call me. I have access to some fine resources to help with forgiveness.

It’s a sad reality that withholding forgiveness has led to many divorces which likely could have been prevented. I am not one to judge or to say that anyone who has gotten a divorce is a terrible person. There are certainly times when divorce is right and appropriate. It’s extremely rare, however, that divorce should be the first option

This is even true in cases where cheating has occurred. I’ve heard that 80% of couples who endure affairs do not divorce. What was that? You might be as surprised as I was, but the statistics don’t lie. Most couples are able to overcome infidelity and build a stronger marriage as a result.

Ann Bercht wrote a book written with the strangest title I’ve ever heard. It’s called My Husband’s Affair Became the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me. Ann and her husband Brian, the cheater, have built an organization called the Beyond Affairs Network in which they help couples overcome this horrific attack on their marriage.

Willard Harley, the author of His Needs, Her Needs, refers to adultery as being the single worst thing one person can do to another. I find myself in agreement, although I, fortunately, have no direct experience to draw upon. Even with that, however, forgiveness is powerful enough to overcome the breach and to begin to repair the damage.

When I sat down to start this article I didn’t know it would go in this direction. I’ve got a hunch, however, that it will touch some nerves as adultery, cheating, infidelity or whatever you call it is rampant in our society and wreaking havoc in families.

In fact, the odds are that you know a couple who is in the midst of dealing with this as we speak – or write. Please don’t be silent.  If you know a couple who is struggling in their marriage be brave and let them know help is available. You and they might be so glad you did.

 

Ron Price is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Four Corners Coalition for Marriage & Family, a 501-C-3 organization dedicated to strengthening and equipping marriages and families in the Four Corners Area. He can be reached at ronp@fccmf.org or 505 327-7870.