|Sunrise over Lake Erie, Monroe, Michigan|
When Linda and I are asked "What makes for a good marriage?" we respond: confession and forgiveness. C&F.
C&F is more important, more foundational, than clear communication. When X says to Y, "You are stupid," and Y responds with, "I hate you," they are communicating clearly. But this kind of clear communication does not make for a good marriage. The marriage that clearly communicates this way is going down.
Here's how I confess to Linda (and she to me). I say the words, "I was wrong to (do or say this specific thing)."
Then I request, "Would you forgive me for doing/saying this?"
Finally, she responds with, "I forgive you."
C&F is more powerful than apologizing. Apologizing is a one-way street; C&F cuts both ways. Every confessor needs a forgiver. A certain kind of loving response is needed.
To confess requires humility. In confessing I take responsibility for my hurtful actions and do not blame the other for "pushing my buttons." After all, those buttons are mine, and if I didn't have them I wouldn't have reacted the way I did.
The confessor admits their own culpability in wrongdoing. This requires humility, accompanied by regret ("I am sorry I did that to you. Would you forgive me? I never want to treat someone I love that way.") Don't let pride keep you from doing this.
To forgive means: to cancel a debt. When Linda and I forgive one another (which we have done many times over 42 1/2 years), we release the other from any indebtedness.
Forgiveness cancels indebtedness. If the Federal Government forgave your student loan, you would not have to make any more payments. When X forgives Y, X will not in the future "make Y pay" for whatever Y did.
To forgive is not to forget. Yet our experience is that, when C&F are practiced as needed (and this is needed in every deep relationship), a lot of forgetting happens. C&F cuts loose the heavy anchor that had us stuck in a bad place, and now we're moving free from it. We no longer spend our hearts and minds brooding over the details of the struggle, because the matter has been settled and healed.
Why practice C&F? Because we are like the sinful woman who kissed and poured perfume on Jesus' feet. She had been forgiven much. Therefore she loved much.
(Note: If you repeatedly keep hurting your loved ones then get help. If a loved one keeps hurting you with their words or actions then: 1) forgive them; and 2) assist them in getting help for their repetitive harmful behavior. If you live in our Southeast Michigan area make an appointment to get help here.)
For scholarly, empirical data on C&F see University of Wisconsin scholar Robert Enright's The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love.
Check out Enright's International Forgiveness Institute.
The best practical guide to C&F is David Augsburger's Caring Enough to Forgive.
Arguably, the best book ever written on forgiveness is Lewis Smedes's Forgive and forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve.
And the best book on self-forgiveness is Everett Worthington's Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past.