During the month of March, as you embark on your Lenten journey, reflect on the themes of mercy and forgiveness. As you proceed through the season of Lent, how can you grow in your ability to forgive your spouse so that you can attain greater freedom in your marriage?
“Forgiveness is a process, not an event. You may have to repeat this process many times for the same offence. But each time you do, you will become more and more free.” – Fr. Mike Schmitz 
Marriages are comprised of two very different people, each with their own woundedness and tendency to sin. These differences frequently result in disagreements, hurt feelings, and resentment. This is a normal part of marriage. In these moments couples are presented with an opportunity to work through the process of forgiveness and bring about healing and growth in their relationship.
“Pope Benedict XVI states in Deus Caritas Est, ‘His friend is my friend’ and ‘in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know’. There are times in our marriages when we do not like our spouse very much or feel that we do not know the person we have married. It is in these moments that we are most powerfully called to love and to forgive.”
The process of forgiveness includes acknowledging the hurt that has occurred, making a decision to forgive your spouse, seeking to understand your spouse’s perspective or reasons for their actions, and seeking to find meaning in what has occurred. This process
allows you to use the hurt that you experienced as an opportunity for your relationship to grow. Forgiveness does not mean excusing or forgetting the wrong that has been done, rather it is an ongoing process that can bring about an emotional change within you, allowing peace and hope to replace the hurt and anger you have experienced.
Seeking to acknowledge the hurt that occurred can seem counterintuitive as it brings the focus back on to the offense. This phase is necessary, however, as you need to have a clear idea of how you have been hurt before you can effectively forgive your spouse.
Making a decision to forgive your spouse is important as it brings freedom and authenticity to the forgiveness. If you are feeling forced to forgive your spouse, it can add to the resentment and produce greater hurt instead of bringing about peace. For instance, think of a parent who forces a child to forgive their sibling for hurting them. If the child is not ready to forgive, you see this in the child’s behaviour, including their reluctant body language, tone of voice, and unwillingness to engage with their sibling after the supposed forgiveness has occurred. It is only later once the child is ready to forgive that you see the two siblings enjoying each other’s company again. The same is true in marriage with regards to willingly making that decision to forgive your spouse when you feel ready.
Seeking to understand your spouse will often lead to the realization that your spouse’s actions were not intentional. When our feelings are hurt, it is easy to become defensive; however, it is not likely that your spouse starts their day by creating a plan for how to annoy you or drive you crazy. Taking the time to understand your spouse’s perspective and the struggles that may have contributed to their behaviour can help you to take the offense less personally, leaving you open to further communication. This can make it easier to forgive while allowing you to grow in your understanding of each other.
Finally, it can be helpful to take some time to reflect on the meaning of what has occurred and the changes that may need to take place within your relationship to learn from the experience. Seeking meaning may allow some of the resentment or hurt to be transformed into a new perspective providing the opportunity to connect with your spouse and bring good out of the hurt that transpired.
It is our hope that reflecting on the process of forgiveness will bring about an increase in forgiveness, mercy, and freedom in your marriage this Lenten season.
-This is the first in a series of reflections throughout Lent. Melissa Guzik and Jean MacKenzie are registered psychologists who work in private practice in Edmonton. watch for their monthly column on marriage and family life
Melissa and Jean are co-authors of the To Know, Love and Serve: A Path to Marital Fulfilment book and workbook. They have lectured and led workshops at St. Joseph Seminary, Newman Theological College and dioceses across Canada.