By Maureen Otremba, M.A, and James Otremba, M.Div, M.S., LICSW (Maureen and Jim offer marriage workshops and retreats for parishes and dioceses. To learn more go to: http://www.eucharisticmarriage.com/.
Every marriage has conflict and hurts; that’s a constant. It’s what we do with those hurts that varies. Christ desires that we forgive those hurts and allow the Holy Spirit to heal and bring new life into our marriages.
Here are some forgiveness fundamentals that we hope will be helpful for your marriage.
Forgiveness is a paradox
Forgiveness is tricky; it is both a decision and a process. It is a decision because it involves using our will and intellect to decide to forgive. It is not a feeling; we need to decide to forgive. Yet it is also a process because we have a right to work through the hurt with somebody who is helpful and will validate our feelings (a good friend, a priest, a therapist, etc). Do not wait to feel like you need to forgive because that may never happen. That said, if you have a very hard time forgiving, the very first place to start is prayer: ask God for the grace to decide to forgive as you process the hurts with somebody you trust.
Forgiveness does not excuse
Forgiving somebody does not, in any way, excuse the hurt that was done. It is a decision to let go of retribution and to allow God to begin to heal. When we let go of the hurt, God can start to redeem it and bring good from it.
Use rituals to forgive and heal
Many individuals and couples love to privately write down all their hurts and then safely burn the paper in order to grieve and let go of these hurts. If you choose to do this, watch the ritual. The ash is a different substance from the paper (a chemical change). And ash can be used as fertilizer! This is exactly what God wants to do with our hurts as well. God will turn our hurts into good when we give them over to God. But if we hold onto our hurts too much, God respects our free will and may not be able to transform them into the new life God wants for us.
You have a right to your justified anger
You do not have a right to take that anger out on yourself, your loved ones, or your spouse. Think of an “anger bottle” or “anger safe.” Place all your daily anger in this space and tell it that you will get to it later that day. Then when you are able, set aside time to journal your anger out, talk it out, exercise it out, pray it out, etc. When you exercise and start to sweat, that is when you open your “anger bottle” up and let go of the anger, harness the anger. As a member of the Body of Christ you have dominion over your anger and your hurt. You own it and you can use it for the good; it doesn’t own you.
Forgive and forget…not!
I am not sure who coined the phrase “forgive and forget” but only God is fully capable of that, and even God forgives and redeems (brings good from it). When it comes to understanding forgiveness it is good to understand how God made us. Women have larger hippocampi compared to men. The hippocampus is a structure in the brain that is connected to memory. Women remember differently (think 70 inch HDTV)! Men usually remember in much less detail (think black and white stick figures). As a therapist, Jim has heard this from so many couples over the years:
(wife): “Jim, I can’t forget this thing he did.” (husband): “Jim, I can’t remember what she can’t forget.” Both have been correct because of biology. Don’t even try to forgive and forget. It doesn’t work biologically.
Learn to forgive yourself
After you ask forgiveness from God and the person you offended, it can be very freeing to put your hand on your heart and tell yourself: “I forgive you.” If you do this use your first name and listen to your words of comfort. This has been a wonderfully freeing ritual for many people.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
Catholics have the powerful Sacrament of Reconciliation, if they’re willing to use it. The wisdom of Father Pio (the twentieth century stigmatist) summed it up well: Even clean rooms need frequent dusting. Yes, our marriages need cleaning and dusting and the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation is a powerful way to open up our souls to the Holy Spirit’s refreshing life.
© 2010, The Foundational Intimacy: Eucharist as the Model for Marriage Workshop. Used with permission.