Learning To Forgive My Husband Saved Our Marriage

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man holding a rose
Forgiving your spouse isn't always easy, but holding onto a grudge can destroy your marriage.

The easy answer would be that my husband is a total jerk, that when you boil him down to his essence, he's just a black lump of meanness. But that's not the case. When I married Jack, I married a wonderful guy. He was my most trusted ally, the one man who "got me" and loved me fully. I felt comfortable baring my soul to him, revealing all of my emotional weak spots. This is partly why I'm struggling with forgiveness, says Frank Fincham, Ph.D., a forgiveness researcher and director of the Florida State University Family Institute in Tallahassee. "A hurt in marriage is particularly poignant precisely because you've made yourself vulnerable," he says.

Oddly enough, vulnerability is the very thing that makes marriage so valuable. "Marriage allows you to be yourself and not put up any more pretenses," Dr. Fincham says. In other words, you feel secure and have such faith in your husband that you expose all your tender parts. So, when he slights you in some way—a hurtful comment, a selfish decision, an inconsiderate act—OUCH, can it sting.

Never did I think that Jack would be so nasty to me. Calling me a bitch? Jamming his middle finger in the air? Who was this person? It was like a kick in the face.

At the same time, I know I don't live in one of my son's fairytales where happily married couples always play nice. The truth is, if your spouse hasn't already done or said something that hurt you, he will. That's just what happens in marriage. "Think about it. Every couple comes from a different place and family, so there will be all sorts of dissimilarities," says Fred Lustin, Ph.D., author of Forgive for Love: The Missing Ingredient for a Healthy and Lasting Relationship and director of Stanford University's Forgiveness Project. "It's inevitable that from time to time you'll butt heads."

According to Dr. Lustin, 70 percent of disagreements that occur early on in relationships—money, sex, chores, children, whatever—resurface repeatedly over the course of marriage. "One-third of couples will learn to adapt," he says. "They realize their partner selection was good enough that they can live with the difference." So, for example, your husband's habit of never finishing projects around the house is a source of contention, but eventually you get used to it without bitterness because his redeeming qualities—a generous nature and an ability to openly express his feelings—are more significant. 4 Steps To Your Own "Happily Ever After"

What happens to the rest of couples who don't make peace with each other's shortcomings? They end up harboring grudges that fester over time. This means you simmer every time you notice the garage is still a mess, the gutters are still not on the house, the mailbox post is practically rotted through. Really, you grumble to yourself, how incredibly lame is my husband? Before long, his deficiency eclipses everything else about him. 

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