Last week, my 91 year (and ten months) old neighbour, Trixie, asked if I would stand in for her to assist at the Marriage Course given at our local church. Her day was already fully committed and she just could not manage another thing. Trixie, a figure so slight a strong wind might blow her away, was widowed 2 years ago after a 70 year marriage. She implied that she had learnt something from the previous 3 sessions of the course.
Assisting involved helping to set up the room, hand out teas and coffees and clear up afterwards. Nothing to it. Have you ever found that you have been called to do something simple to help out, and been more than rewarded as a result?
Session 4 turned out to be on The Power of Forgiveness, a topic that fascinates me. How often do couples bury a hurt and let it rot the relationship over time? It can take courage to openly let your partner know when they have hurt you, so that you place yourself in the position to forgive them; for them to express their love and regret for the misunderstanding or incident. It should be easy with the one you love the most to be that caring and honest. But often, as was in my own case, it is not.
Very common is to hold on to the hurt, making them wrong for inflicting pain on you; to withdraw or withhold your love, or hold on to resentment that grows into bitterness, even hatred over time. What is it that makes forgiving so difficult? What makes forgiving possible?
A story was told of a couple who had been married for 30 years. On their wedding day, when the husband had turned to see his bride entering the church, he saw her scowling. He thought she was scowling at him, not feeling the joy of their wedding. He held on to that hurt for 30 years. When he finally came to tell her about it, she clarified that she had had a problem outside of the church door. Her apparent lack of pleasure at that moment had nothing to do with him.
To be tender, and vulnerable, with the one you love the most is to risk. What if by speaking up, you lose the approval of your loved one? What if by being true to yourself, you rock what is an otherwise comfortable boat? Is that "comfort", or is it really a comfort zone that is limiting your courage, individually and as a couple, for producing greater joy, loving and fulfilment?
"Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function
regardless of the temperature of the heart."
Corrie Ten Boom
Look at it another way. How can anyone behave differently towards you if you keep your hurts in the dark and do not give your loved one the opportunity to know what is true for you? How can you fully love someone else when you are holding on to the toxins of bitterness, sadness or regret? To be vulnerable has the meaning both to be wounded, but also importantly to be blessed.
This process that follows offers freedom and support for greater experiences of love in your close partnership, not to mention a better sex life.
1. Create and set aside Marriage Time
The purpose of this time is to clean and clear the air so that the loving between you flows more easily and generously; to honour the love that you share, and grow your respect for each other. Make sure you will not be interrupted, and set aside enough time to complete the process.
This time is for caring and healing the hurts, not to apportion blame and shame, nor make your loved one wrong.
2. Connect with your love
Bring to mind the depth of love you have for each other. You might recall your wedding vows; have photos from your wedding or other heartfelt and memorable occasions; what it is you most love about your partner, that brought you together in the first place or that you have noticed in the years you have been together.
3. Express the hurt
In this loving context, bring to mind any hurts that you are aware of causing your partner, or that they have caused you to feel. Know that we are each of us doing the best we can with what we know. That when we know better, we do better.
Give yourselves each time to express your awareness of the hurts that have happened between you. Choose maybe one or two for each Marriage Time you set up.
4. Be forgiving
Complete the following statements as appropriate:
Please forgive me for when I....
I forgive you for.....
I forgive myself for....
For example, the exercise could look like this, but not necessarily in this order:
Please forgive me for when I criticized you for not being on time.
I forgive you for shouting at me when I got back from work last night.
I forgive myself for wanting to be right and not listening to your point of view.
5. Express appreciation and acknowledgment
Speaking directly to your loved one, acknowledge them for the ways they give to you, and to the partnership. Let them know the qualities, strengths and attributes you most appreciate and love in them.
Forgiving from the heart offers the forgiver deep peace within, a peace beyond anything words can ever describe. It serves to strengthen the connection you share. Deep peace is the fertile ground for growing greater love, intimacy, trust and confidence - all qualities that can help to sustain us through challenging times. Set aside the shadows and let your love see the new light of day. You will be glad that you did.
Have you experienced how forgiving has given you new strength and vitality? Are there things that you can forgive now, that you were not able to forgive in the past? How do you think forgiveness could make a difference to your health and well-being?