If there is a will, there is a way.
You have just had a fight with your spouse. As has been the case with past arguments in your marriage, the two of you are not talking. You are dreading the fact that in a few hours it will be bed time. Think honestly about what is going on in your mind. What are you thinking? Often, your thoughts are likely to be about how you were right and how your spouse has wronged you. You are waiting for your spouse to make the first move to let you know how much he/she values the relationship by apologizing and are seeking your forgiveness.
1. Realize your marriage is a safe place to feel vulnerable. Vulnerability is something that is often not a natural response within relationships. Shame and fear, in particular, block our willingness to be vulnerable. However, vulnerability creates a chance for your spouse to know who you really are and to feel the privilege of being allowed to see the wholeness of who you are, strong and weak. By allowing your spouse into that space, you are letting them know that you trust them and that you trust that they will not use what they see to hurt you.
Seeking forgiveness of your spouse will usually involve admitting to your spouse where you came up short in your interaction with them. This may be something you did that you shouldn't have. It may be something that you didn't do as fully as you should have done. It may be some other breach of your relationship or of your marriage vows. However, in seeking forgiveness, you are acknowledging you're "wrong" and allowing your spouse to see your vulnerability as you see it. This vulnerability is enhanced because you are verbalizing it for them to hear.
2. Repair the holes in your marriage by making amends. If you have a pair of shoes that you really like, there will come a time when the soles begin to wear through and there might be strains made on other parts of the workmanship of the shoes. If you don't do something about where the soles are wearing, there will come a time when holes will appear in the soles and eventually the shoes will be worthless. In the same way, in your relationship, each time there is a strain, damage is done. If this damage is not repaired, then the very fiber of the union can be challenged. Certain types of damage can only be reversed by working on repairing the problem — talk alone is insufficient.
When you genuinely seek forgiveness of your spouse, you need to not only be asking for their forgiveness but also be ready to make amends. Making amends is important when it is possible to make amends and when it does not cause further harm. In working to make amends, you will be repairing some of the worn areas or holes that have developed in your relationship. As you repair these, you are adding a certain amount of resiliency to your marriage.
3. Try to turn a new leave—if you value your marriage. Earlier this year, a couple at church celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows. Talking with them afterward, they were clear that there had been rough spots in their marriage. They spoke of the importance of knowing that each of them were committed to the relationship and to being willing to renew their commitment to move forward as new people on the other side of these problems.
An important part of seeking the forgiveness of your spouse is making a commitment to try and make the future different. Just as it seems ridiculous to ask for forgiveness for something you are going to do, it is also shallow to ask for forgiveness for wronging your spouse when you expect to do the same thing again. That is not to say that if you do repeat a pattern that you were not genuinely seeking forgiveness but that in seeking forgiveness you are truly trying to turn a new life. In this new life, you are seeking to live your life within the marriage differently so that you do not hurt your spouse in the same way again.
Seeking forgiveness is a vulnerable act and may go against your natural way of being. However, as you seek forgiveness of your spouse, your marriage will be strengthened because of the effects of vulnerability, repair of the damages caused and turn to a new way of living. All of these show a value in both your marriage and your spouse. This adds great strength to what you are doing.
If you need help in finding peace and wholeness in your life and relationships, Christopher and his staff are available for sessions through Seeking Shalom in New York and Indiana. You can also explore his books.