Here’s a riddle for you: What is one of our greatest possessions that becomes more powerful when we give it to someone else?
Everyone’s got relationship advice. If you’re looking for advice via Google (like most of us do these days) and search the title of this piece, the first thing it suggests is an article from WebMD that has seven ways to keep the peace, none of which mention forgiveness, the answer to reconciling your relationship frustrations and the answer to this riddle.
How Is Forgiveness the Answer to All Our Relationship Quarrels?
The best lesson my husband and I learned before getting married was the necessity of practicing forgiveness with each other. While attending a retreat for engaged couples looking to prepare for a successful marriage, we had learned this wonderful and straightforward technique to defuse any tension between us before it could turn into a fight (something which we’ve never had, not even once)!
The best lesson my husband and I learned before getting married was the necessity of practicing forgiveness with each other.
It was taught to us by one of the married couples leading the retreat. The two mentioned that once they knew this “secret” of forgiveness, their marriage improved drastically for the better; the only regret they had was not knowing how to do it sooner.
Why Don’t We Know How To Forgive?
Sure, the concept of forgiveness seems like something we learned in elementary school. You do something wrong unintentionally to someone you care about, and in turn, you then feel sad, ashamed, and embarrassed for your wrongdoing. Thus you’d like them to forgive you so you can move forward from such a horrible, dark moment in your words and actions, something that doesn't reflect who you are or who you want to be, and clean the smudge of misbehavior off your character. You want a clean slate, a do-over, a fresh start; that’s what would feel the best to move on positively in your own day and in your relationship.
No one wants to tarnish a relationship over a small miscommunication.
Well, if that is so simple, ask yourself the last time you’ve turned to your spouse and asked them to forgive you? This doesn’t mean just saying sorry, but sincerely looking your spouse in the eyes, taking responsibility for your wrongdoings (that means saying them out loud to the other person, being vulnerable by admitting you were in the wrong), and asking them to forgive you for it. Sorry does not solve problems and will not properly defuse the precursor tension to a trivial and emotionally driven fight.
Why Saying Sorry Isn’t Enough
While saying "sorry" does show your remorse for hurting the other person and that you're sorrowful for your actions, it stops short of taking responsibility for the way you’ve behaved. "Sorry" is the insufficient button of most conflict resolutions, and I’m not sorry to tell you that it’s not enough. You must take responsibility for your wrongdoings. If you don’t, they will weigh on you and over time cause you internal distress which results in anxiety, guilt, and resentment. And the irritation is not towards the other person, but, whether you realize it or not, you’re resenting yourself for not doing a better job of communicating through a loving perspective with your spouse.
How To Defuse the Fight
Start by noticing your feelings when you're trying to communicate something to your spouse or are responding to your spouse communicating something to you. Are you becoming tense or emotionally impulsive? Take a second to catch yourself before it escalates to a fight. If it has already escalated, there is no harm in being the referee and saying "Hold on, let’s take a moment. This is not the way I want to treat you, and it’s not the way you deserve to be treated by me."
This is not the way I want to treat you, and it’s not the way you deserve to be treated by me.
Remind yourselves that you love each other and the topic can be discussed differently, rather than fighting on opposite sides. If you approach this from a loving place and keep in mind that you want to communicate, then start by stating how you are feeling over what has been said or done. Sometimes for myself, it’s as simple as admitting that I was feeling stressed because of something completely unrelated to what we were discussing and I was responding intensely not because of what we were saying or doing, but because I was feeling anxious over things I needed to get done. That doesn't excuse my behavior towards my spouse and the way I was responding to him. Therefore, I want to seek forgiveness from him for my lapse in proper behavior and ultimately my lack of love in that moment.
How To Ask for Forgiveness
Any time you feel that you have acted wrongly towards your spouse is a great time to ask for forgiveness. I start by calmly taking my husband’s hands into mine, lovingly looking him in the eyes, and vulnerably telling him out loud where I’ve fallen short of my virtues and acted in a way towards him that I didn't intend. I then sincerely ask him, “Will you forgive me for...” and then I state what I did and wait patiently for him to say, “Yes, I forgive you.” This is how we learned it from the couple at the engaged retreat. It’s a tool for both of you to learn together, and it’s really a wonderful thing to use.
Practice Makes Permanent
It’s so simple, and it’ll get easier as you use it more, but you must practice it because practice makes permanent. Also, you have to practice it when you start to feel a fight on the horizon, meaning a tense or emotionally charged moment. So, get ready to embody love and patience with yourself and your spouse because this will take time, and not just when you feel like it, but when you're feeling not at your best. Remember you and your spouse are on the same team, meaning that at the core of all of your decisions lies your values as a couple.
Remember you and your spouse are on the same team, meaning that at the core of all of your decisions lies your values as a couple.
If you value patience, love, and understanding (all concepts that should be embodied in your communication skills), then there shouldn’t be fights, especially over the small stuff. Instead, you should have talks and conversations. You and your spouse are on the same team, so play like it!