Forgiveness. It’s a topic we hear a lot about when it comes to marriage and relationships. Lord knows there’s plenty to forgive and I, for one, am grateful for a partner who has a generous and forgiving heart. But I ask you, for all the talk and hoopla about the “virtue” of forgiveness, why isn’t there more said about the conditions under which one is forgiven? You, in return, might ask, “Isn’t forgiveness supposed to be unconditional?” Well, according to idealistic gurus it is, and that would be just dandy if we were perfect human beings. We’re not.
The truth is that forgiveness is conditioned on better behavior in the future. It chaps my hide that so many people think saying, “I’m sorry” is a cure-all that entitles the transgressor to immediate and unconditional forgiveness. That may have worked in kindergarten when you grabbed another kid’s crayon and were forced to give it back with an equally forced apology, but it doesn’t work in grown-up life.
If your sweetheart lies to you once, gets busted, and you forgive, don’t you expect that in exchange for that forgiveness, your sweetie promises not to do it again? What will you do if it happens over and again? Most likely, you’ll stop forgiving, revoke all prior forgiveness, and take a hike. At the very least, your trust will be shattered.
Most failed relationships don’t end because of one major body blow; most suffer death by a thousand cuts, none of which are individually lethal but all of which cumulatively sap the life out of a once vibrant relationship. Since it’s inevitable that we will screw up, it’s a good thing that most cuts can be healed through forgiveness. But here’s a 411 for you: the wound may heal but what’s left is emotional scar tissue. It’s a fact: scar tissue is weaker and inferior to the healthy tissue it replaces. That’s true for physical wounds and equally true for emotional wounds. Every time you do something that requires your sweetheart’s forgiveness, you are weakening the relationship.
Like most things in life, the hurts and disappointments we suffer (and inflict) are relative, ranging from inadvertent to thoughtless to deliberate to downright mean. It’s easy to forgive when your sweetie inadvertently steps on yours toes, much harder to forgive when the person who’s supposed to love you deliberately stomps on your foot. Your partner may give you a get-out-of-jail-free card the first few times you screw up, but you keep doing the same thing and that inadvertent or thoughtless behavior eventually becomes deliberate. Example: If your sweetheart tells you that not calling when you promise to call is a no-no, somewhere about the tenth time you do it, your sweetheart will construe your behavior as deliberately inconsiderate and will stop forgiving you.
Little things count BIG time in every relationship. A forgotten promise to call, by itself, won’t destroy a relationship. The cumulative effect of many broken promises will. So pay attention to the little things, don’t rely on the good nature and generous heart of your sweetheart, and avoid doing those things for which you know you’ll need forgiveness. Then, when you do screw up, your sweetheart will be a lot more generous. And, your relationship will be a lot more intimate.
Your sweetheart’s forgiveness is a finite resource. Use it sparing.