How to Forgive the Continual Offender

A hug 

Okay, my title is a cleverly disguised attempt at “word-management.” Actually, what I really meant to say is, “How to Forgive Your Spouse because … let’s be honest folks, our spouses offend us A LOT!

  • We ask our spouse to pick up his/her dirty clothes and our spouse nods with agreement, but what do we find the very next day lying in our path to the bathroom? Ugh!
  • We feel misunderstood and rejected when we try to tell our spouse something that took so much courage just to say.
  • We are excited to greet our spouse at the end of the day when he/she blasts us with a critical remark or irritated tone that cuts through our “loving feelings” like a razorblade.
  • We hoped our spouse would recognize the difficulty we were experiencing in a certain area and lend a helping hand or an empathetic response, but instead we get ignored or worse—blamed for being in a bad mood.
  • We apologized for something we did and our spouse chooses to rub our nose in it or … get us back.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? I could’ve gone on, but I think you get the idea. And don’t think you’re off the hook either! We ALL offend our spouses A LOT as well. My husband and I have experienced or acted like each and every one of the above scenarios from time to time with each other.

So how do you keep the loving flame burning, instead of being burned or consumed by the fires of resentment?

As a counselor, I’ve studied forgiveness and worked with clients, as well as, working on my own heart in this area for years. When I’m counseling I try to help the client to achieve emotional forgiveness, which is helpful and often necessary. But when it comes to continual offenses … you must add another strategy to your toolkit.

You must decide to forgive.

The decision to forgive is powered by your faith in God. You trust that God will protect you and provide for your needs in the face of rejection from your spouse.

It’s not easy.

It’s a painful surrendering or dying to self, but the release God gives is incredible as we trust Him.

Another factor to keep in mind, like the many offenses, your decision to forgive must be continual. So every time your offender/spouse offends you, you must decide to forgive and release it to God.

It’s sort of like brushing your teeth. You wouldn’t think that just one brushing on one particular day would protect you from bad breath or decaying teeth for the rest of your life, would you? Forgiveness must be granted moment by moment, offense by offense, or we will experience emotional and relational decay, resulting in a  “bad heart.”

I think this is what Jesus had in mind when Peter asked him …

“‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’

‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT)

It may be hard, but it will be harder if we don’t extend the grace to our spouses that God so overwhelmingly extends to us.

Photo credit by h3h (Flickr)

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  • I love the analogy of daily teeth brushing and forgiveness! It is so easy to see the offenses of others, especially our spouses, and to completely overlook our own. Forgiveness is the key for sure. I am so grateful to have been on the receiving end of so much from my spouse.
    Thanks for more great information on living a fulfilling marriage!

    • That’s so great that your husband demonstrates such a forgiving, grace-filled attitude toward you, Kim. My husband’s quite good at forgiving as well. It has really motivated me to be more forgiving along the way. Thanks so much for your support and encouragement. 🙂

  • I love the analogy of daily teeth brushing and forgiveness! It is so easy to see the offenses of others, especially our spouses, and to completely overlook our own. Forgiveness is the key for sure. I am so grateful to have been on the receiving end of so much from my spouse.
    Thanks for more great information on living a fulfilling marriage!

  • Yes, its a two way street isn’t it. I got upset with my husband recently about something I would have normally just let slide. I needed to hold him accountable and be honest but not in the way I did it. I had to ask for forgiveness. Helpful post as usual.

    • JosephPote

      I struggle with that, too, Shelly…knowing when to hold accountable and when to simply overlook the offense.

      With minor offenses, it hardly seems worth the effort to explain and discuss, trying to explain the viewpoint and emotions. Molehills can unnecessaruly escalate to mountains, if we’re not careful.

      Yet, if I continue to find myself taking offense, I can’t expect anything to change if I never explain…

      Marriage requires a lot of grace by both parties…

      • Joe, I was continually asked about my motivations for the minor offenses. Once, I forgot the milk on my way home. For the question “Why,” there is just no real good reason. “I forgot”.
        It’s not an indicator of my love, just a reflection of my sometimes forgetful self.

        • JosephPote

          Yes, trying to explain myself to someone who truly wants to understand my point of view, or what makes me tick, is one thing.

          Being berated to answer an accusation of something that shouldn’t have been a big deal to begin with is something else, entirely.

          Also, something to keep in mind in how I handle offenses, and how I ask questions…

          These darn glass houses!!! 😉

    • There truly is a flip side to this. There are times when we need to be clear about how we’ve been hurt and times when we should keep our mouth’s shut. But, I suppose, both require the internal work of forgiveness. Thanks for sharing how it has played out in your marriage recently, Shelly.

  • Yes, its a two way street isn’t it. I got upset with my husband recently about something I would have normally just let slide. I needed to hold him accountable and be honest but not in the way I did it. I had to ask for forgiveness. Helpful post as usual.

  • JosephPote

    A very good post, Beth, on an important topic!

    I needed to read this, today.

    Yes, forgiveness toward our spouse must be continually given, as a deliberate choice. Otherwise, with each new offense, all the past anger boils up again.

    • I think we all need this reminder, Joe. It’s easy to forget, especially when we’ve been hurt by our spouses or other offenders. And like you’ve said, “it boils up again” if we don’t take care of it quickly! Thanks so much for coming by and weighing in!

  • JosephPote

    A very good post, Beth, on an important topic!

    I needed to read this, today.

    Yes, forgiveness toward our spouse must be continually given, as a deliberate choice. Otherwise, with each new offense, all the past anger boils up again.

  • I’m a first-time visitor and this post hit the nail on the head for me! I’m in the midst of trying to forgive a continual offender (not my spouse but another family member) and I appreciate your steps on how to release it to God. I’m keeping the Matthew verse close to my heart. One of these days, I’ll get there and hopefully be able to write about my success in forgiveness!

    • Yes, it truly is a day by day process and one day you’ll wake up and realize that forgiving is becoming a way of life and may actually feel easier to do. Your heart will have softened and transformed a bit too. I’m working toward that end. I have a long way to go though! I appreciate your honest sharing here, Carrie, and for the encouragement as well! 🙂

  • I’m a first-time visitor and this post hit the nail on the head for me! I’m in the midst of trying to forgive a continual offender (not my spouse but another family member) and I appreciate your steps on how to release it to God. I’m keeping the Matthew verse close to my heart. One of these days, I’ll get there and hopefully be able to write about my success in forgiveness!

  • JosephPote

    I struggle with that, too, Shelly…knowing when to hold accountable and when to simply overlook the offense.

    With minor offenses, it hardly seems worth the effort to explain and discuss, trying to explain the viewpoint and emotions. Molehills can unnecessaruly escalate to mountains, if we’re not careful.

    Yet, if I continue to find myself taking offense, I can’t expect anything to change if I never explain…

    Marriage requires a lot of grace by both parties…

  • So true! I wrote about this today as well. 🙂

    • Yes, I think I came by your place earlier. Forgiveness is such an important subject. I feel as if I only touch on a fraction of the issue whenever I write a post about it. So glad we could compliment each other and add to the necessary discussion, Jenni. Thanks for coming by!

  • So true! I wrote about this today as well. 🙂

  • So true! Forgiveness is a daily choice. I guess that’s why marriage mirrors our relationship with God–He continues to forgive us over and over. Great post!

  • Deciding to forgive is the key. We cannot wait until we ‘feel right” about things, because they feelings often are slow to catch up. Well done and thoughtful. thank you

    • Yes, that’s a great point, David. So many people wait for their feelings to catch up to them when they are deciding whether to forgive or not. We definitely need to live by the Spirit and not by our feelings! Thanks so much for coming by and adding to the discussion!

  • Deciding to forgive is the key. We cannot wait until we ‘feel right” about things, because they feelings often are slow to catch up. Well done and thoughtful. thank you

  • Joe, I was continually asked about my motivations for the minor offenses. Once, I forgot the milk on my way home. For the question “Why,” there is just no real good reason. “I forgot”.
    It’s not an indicator of my love, just a reflection of my sometimes forgetful self.

  • I love the tooth analogy…great post…always good truths for people to take away. blessings~

  • Ro elliott

    I love the tooth analogy…great post…always good truths for people to take away. blessings~

  • JosephPote

    Yes, trying to explain myself to someone who truly wants to understand my point of view, or what makes me tick, is one thing.

    Being berated to answer an accusation of something that shouldn’t have been a big deal to begin with is something else, entirely.

    Also, something to keep in mind in how I handle offenses, and how I ask questions…

    These darn glass houses!!! 😉

  • Kimberly

    As I am the typical offender, I have this fantasy that my husband chooses to see when I don’t always put things away in the same place as endearing rather than frustrating.

    • Haha! That’s a new strategy, Kimberly! I like how you think! 🙂

  • Kimberly

    As I am the typical offender, I have this fantasy that my husband chooses to see when I don’t always put things away in the same place as endearing rather than frustrating.

  • wonderful, as always, beth. the notion of love & forgiveness as a choice, a decision, reminds me of something i read recently that i’ve been chewing on ever since:

    “thanking Me for trials will feel awkward & contrived at first. but if you persist, your thankful words, prayed in faith, will eventually make a difference in your heart. thankfulness awakens you to My Presence, which overshadows all your problems.” ~ Jesus Calling (6/22 devotional)

    and while that excerpt is referring to thanksgiving, i also translated it very much in light of forgiveness. “forgiving will feel awkward & contrived at first . . . ”

    and the Lord showed me that oftentimes, i probably hold. out on forgiveness because in my sincere desire to be genuine, i can think that my feelings have to come around in order to extend genuine forgiveness. but that’s simply not True. i need to prioritize obedience over feelings, & trust that HE is what’s most genuine IN ME!

    thanks so much for this, beth.
    blessings to you & yours,
    tanya

    • Yes, that’s something that I didn’t mention in this post, Tanya. We certainly must decide to forgive even when we don’t feel like it. And I wholeheartedly agree that when we learn to continually forgive, it changes our hearts and minds. We become more merciful–more like Christ, I suppose. Not such a bad trade-off for a few bruised feelings, huh? Thanks so much for your kind words and added insight!

  • wonderful, as always, beth. the notion of love & forgiveness as a choice, a decision, reminds me of something i read recently that i’ve been chewing on ever since:

    “thanking Me for trials will feel awkward & contrived at first. but if you persist, your thankful words, prayed in faith, will eventually make a difference in your heart. thankfulness awakens you to My Presence, which overshadows all your problems.” ~ Jesus Calling (6/22 devotional)

    and while that excerpt is referring to thanksgiving, i also translated it very much in light of forgiveness. “forgiving will feel awkward & contrived at first . . . “

    and the Lord showed me that oftentimes, i probably hold. out on forgiveness because in my sincere desire to be genuine, i can think that my feelings have to come around in order to extend genuine forgiveness. but that’s simply not True. i need to prioritize obedience over feelings, & trust that HE is what’s most genuine IN ME!

    thanks so much for this, beth.
    blessings to you & yours,
    tanya

  • Marianne @ Abundant Life

    I have experienced this in my own marriage and it is such a relief to be able to let go of these types of offenses easily. Saves a lot of frustration and heartache. I think he is quicker to forgive me as well since I have been doing this.

    • It is a huge relief, Marianne! I wish more people would get that truth. So glad that you’ve also been a forgiving influencer in your husband’s life as well. Thanks so much for coming by and encouraging us all!

  • Marianne @ Abundant Life

    I have experienced this in my own marriage and it is such a relief to be able to let go of these types of offenses easily. Saves a lot of frustration and heartache. I think he is quicker to forgive me as well since I have been doing this.

  • OutnumberedMom

    This is SO true. We all continually offend each other in big and small ways. After years, it’s mostly small ways…but if we don’t forgive, they can seem oh-so-big. Humor seems to help us defuse a lot of these situations.

    Just today I read last week’s post. I wish I knew what God was telling me to do with what we’ve experienced! I’m still seeking Him about that…

    • I think we dupe ourselves into believing that the small stuff should just be ignored, when our hearts are still hurt by the offense. We really need the salve of forgiveness no matter how big of small the offense is. Thanks so much for coming by, Laura Lee.

  • OutnumberedMom

    This is SO true. We all continually offend each other in big and small ways. After years, it’s mostly small ways…but if we don’t forgive, they can seem oh-so-big. Humor seems to help us defuse a lot of these situations.

    Just today I read last week’s post. I wish I knew what God was telling me to do with what we’ve experienced! I’m still seeking Him about that…

  • H Copple

    This is an area I am still working on. I have gotten a little better but still need improvement.

    • I think it’s an area we can all work on more. I would love to say that I’ve got it mastered, but I don’t. I guess the point is, we keep on trying and surrendering. Thanks for coming by and sharing, Heather.

  • H Copple

    This is an area I am still working on. I have gotten a little better but still need improvement.

  • Yes, Beth, I agree. Forgiveness sometimes has to be deliberate. I have learned it’s a process, sometimes. But what helps me most is what you say at the end. When I hold human mistakes up to what Christ did for me…well, everything else seems so small.

    • That’s really the bottom line, Laura. Whenever I feel I can’t forgive someone, I’m reminded of God’s forgiveness of me and my sin. That’s enough to get me moving in the right–forgiving–direction. Thanks for coming by and weighing in! I truly appreciate it!

  • Yes, Beth, I agree. Forgiveness sometimes has to be deliberate. I have learned it’s a process, sometimes. But what helps me most is what you say at the end. When I hold human mistakes up to what Christ did for me…well, everything else seems so small.

  • messymarriage

    That’s so great that your husband demonstrates such a forgiving, grace-filled attitude toward you, Kim. My husband’s quite good at forgiving as well. It has really motivated me to be more forgiving along the way. Thanks so much for your support and encouragement. 🙂

  • messymarriage

    I think we all need this reminder, Joe. It’s easy to forget, especially when we’ve been hurt by our spouses or other offenders. And like you’ve said, “it boils up again” if we don’t take care of it quickly! Thanks so much for coming by and weighing in!

  • messymarriage

    There truly is a flip side to this. There are times when we need to be clear about how we’ve been hurt and times when we should keep our mouth’s shut. But, I suppose, both require the internal work of forgiveness. Thanks for sharing how it has played out in your marriage recently, Shelly.

  • messymarriage

    Yes, it truly is a day by day process and one day you’ll wake up and realize that forgiving is becoming a way of life and may actually feel easier to do. Your heart will have softened and transformed a bit too. I’m working toward that end. I have a long way to go though! I appreciate your honest sharing here, Carrie, and for the encouragement as well! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Yes, I think I came by your place earlier. Forgiveness is such an important subject. I feel as if I only touch on a fraction of the issue whenever I write a post about it. So glad we could compliment each other and add to the necessary discussion, Jenni. Thanks for coming by!

  • messymarriage

    Yes, that’s a great point, David. So many people wait for their feelings to catch up to them when they are deciding whether to forgive or not. We definitely need to live by the Spirit and not by our feelings! Thanks so much for coming by and adding to the discussion!

  • messymarriage

    Thanks so much for your support and encouragement, Ro!

  • messymarriage

    Haha! That’s a new strategy, Kimberly! I like how you think! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Yes, that’s something that I didn’t mention in this post, Tanya. We certainly must decide to forgive even when we don’t feel like it. And I wholeheartedly agree that when we learn to continually forgive, it changes our hearts and minds. We become more merciful–more like Christ, I suppose. Not such a bad trade-off for a few bruised feelings, huh? Thanks so much for your kind words and added insight!

  • messymarriage

    It is a huge relief, Marianne! I wish more people would get that truth. So glad that you’ve also been a forgiving influencer in your husband’s life as well. Thanks so much for coming by and encouraging us all!

  • messymarriage

    I think we dupe ourselves into believing that the small stuff should just be ignored, when our hearts are still hurt by the offense. We really need the salve of forgiveness no matter how big of small the offense is. Thanks so much for coming by, Laura Lee.

  • messymarriage

    I think it’s an area we can all work on more. I would love to say that I’ve got it mastered, but I don’t. I guess the point is, we keep on trying and surrendering. Thanks for coming by and sharing, Heather.

  • messymarriage

    That’s really the bottom line, Laura. Whenever I feel I can’t forgive someone, I’m reminded of God’s forgiveness of me and my sin. That’s enough to get me moving in the right–forgiving–direction. Thanks for coming by and weighing in! I truly appreciate it!

  • C, White

    I love the “tooth” analogy…although I have been known to “brush just one tooth” and expect grand results. I’ve read this blog too haphazardly in the past and have been encouraged to be more consistant. Thank you for being consistant in your ministry.

    • I’m so happy to hear that! It makes me feel as if what we are offering here is relevant and helpful. Thanks so much for your encouragement and support. Hugs to you!

  • C, White

    I love the “tooth” analogy…although I have been known to “brush just one tooth” and expect grand results. I’ve read this blog too haphazardly in the past and have been encouraged to be more consistant. Thank you for being consistant in your ministry.

  • So much wisdom here, Beth! Marriage can truly sometimes feel like the joining of two continual offenders. And as you point out, God has so much to teach us here! I love the image of “adding another strategy to the toolkit,” and making the decision to forgive. This is something I am always working towards in my own marriage – I appreciate the encouragement you’ve given me to keep at it!
    Blessings,
    Ann

    • And your encouragement means so much to me as well, Ann. I’m so grateful to find a blogging friend who shares the passion to equip and help married couples survive and thrive. 🙂

  • So much wisdom here, Beth! Marriage can truly sometimes feel like the joining of two continual offenders. And as you point out, God has so much to teach us here! I love the image of “adding another strategy to the toolkit,” and making the decision to forgive. This is something I am always working towards in my own marriage – I appreciate the encouragement you’ve given me to keep at it!
    Blessings,
    Ann

  • messymarriage

    And your encouragement means so much to me as well, Ann. I’m so grateful to find a blogging friend who shares the passion to equip and help married couples survive and thrive. 🙂

  • messymarriage

    I’m so happy to hear that! It makes me feel as if what we are offering here is relevant and helpful. Thanks so much for your encouragement and support. Hugs to you!