A Rhythm of Forgiveness – Grudges, Apologies, and Making a Relationship Last

A Rhythm of Forgiveness - #staymarriedI am stubborn. I’ve told you this before. I’m basically a pro at crossing my arms and digging in my heels. I come from a long, proud line of stubborn grudge holders.

My mother hasn’t spoken to her mother in over seven years. I know because the last time they spoke was when my grandmother came here to Washington from Texas for my wedding. I still don’t exactly know why.

My great aunt, who used to visit my grandmother – her sister – all the time, hasn’t spoken to my grandmother or my aunts in about 5 years. As far as any of us can tell, she is still upset that one of my aunts told her to get out of the way when she was meandering in the kitchen on a busy and bustling Thanksgiving. She stormed out of the house screeching something about being disrespected and never returned. They live about four minutes away from each other.

After my own parents’ bitter divorce, my mother refused to allow my father to see my sister and I for the rest of our lives. I was five years old for the last visit we had with him. Anytime he requested to see us, she refused. Once, when he told her he was coming to town on a particular weekend and demanded he be allowed to see us, my mom went so far out of her way to prevent this from happening that we took a road trip from El Paso, Texas all the way to Disneyland. I’d say that shows a lot of commitment to a grudge.

Now, of course, relationships are complicated and the underlying current of all of these grudges goes much deeper than I can go into here. Every member of my family has their own trebuchet at the ready with a huge pile of projectiles waiting to be hurled at anyone coming their way. It’s a stubborn, grudge-holding, easily offended, projectile-throwing lineage with an immense capacity to remember who was right and who was wrong… and none of us are ever wrong.

As a woman determined to break that lineage, I sometimes find myself at a loss. I know, in a rational sort of way, that relationships cannot last without a consistent practice of forgiveness. Family relationships, friendships, and especially marriage relationships cannot survive if a person who is hurt and offended decides never to reach across the aisle and extend forgiveness.

Since each of us are flawed and broken human beings, we are bound to inflict pain on one another, sometimes carelessly, sometimes purposefully. Sometimes you’re going to call someone by the wrong name…

Last week I cheerfully said, “Hi John!” to a man named Joe. He was gracious and forgave me. He seemed to do it instinctively, like it was a totally normal thing to offer forgiveness. It makes me curious about his lineage. I’m grateful, but I bet it would have been a bit harder for him to forgive me if I called him “John” while I introduced him to a group of his respected colleagues and presented him with an award for a lifetime of excellent work in his field with “John” as the inscription on the name plate. Some things are easier to forgive than others. Still, for any relationship to exist for longer than an elementary school boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, forgiveness must be practiced regularly.

In Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas’s book When Sorry Isn’t Enough, they say…

“Forgiveness means we choose to lift the penalty, to pardon the offender. It means letting go of the offense and welcoming the offender back into your life. Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision. It is the decision to continue growing in the relationship by removing the barrier.”

A relationship cannot last without a consistent practice of forgiveness - #staymarried Michelle PetersonForgiveness is essential for relationships to grow. Forgiveness is difficult to get to without first receiving an apology. Don’t ask me how I know this but, stubborn people find it nearly impossible to apologize. Fortunately for me, my husband is far less stubborn than I am. Here’s an email I got from him this week…

Subject: This Morning

I’m sorry.

This morning was my fault. I was sincerely interested in hearing the end of the story, and there was another that came up that I want to hear, but I was late AGAIN for my first bus. I was trying to multitask… But I should know better.

That was really lame and hurtful of me, and I can see how asking you a question and walking out of the room was a jerk move. I was planning on listening to you just as I walked quickly to the kitchen and back, but I didn’t verbalize that, and therein made you feel ignored and unimportant.

I am so in love with you, and I treated you poorly. I’m so sorry.

Tony

Dude is a pro, right? Like he said in his email, he had asked me a question and then walked out of the room while I attempted to answer him. I was miffed. Then, before I knew it I heard him locking the door and driving off for work. I went from a little miffed to really ticked off. How rude! I couldn’t remember the last time he left the house without saying goodbye and giving me a kiss, let alone just walk out after he asked me a question and ignored me. What. The. HECK!?

And he called from the road and I said, “What the heck?” and I told him how I felt and he said sorry and I said, “Yeah, I gotta go.” He’s a pro at apologizing. I am a pro at hearing him apologize and still being angry. Remember, I’ve got lots of training… it’s in my blood… stubborn grudge-holder. So, I stewed, even after I knew he was sorry and I knew I would need to forgive him and I also knew that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I stewed for another hour or so. Then I sent him a kissy face emoji and he sent me a little dot and we knew we were ok.

It’s our rhythm. We need to have a rhythm. It’s clumsy and awkward, we are by no means perfect apologizers or perfect forgivers. We keep trying because we keep stepping on each other’s toes and saying backhanded remarks that would be better kept in our heads. We keep trying to apologize in a way the other will receive. We keep offering forgiveness because without it our relationship will not grow. Apologize. Forgive. Apologize. Forgive. Get mad. Apologize. Stew. Forgive. Apologize. Forgive.

I want so badly to slough off the stubborn grudge-holding exterior I carry around. I want to learn to apologize better and forgive more quickly so that my marriage will indeed have a chance to go the distance. Without a rhythm of forgiveness, how can any of us hope to #staymarried?

The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like 7 Ways to Become a Better Forgiver and No Yelling… and 9 Other Rules for Fighting Fair. If you think these could benefit someone else’s marriage, we would love for you to share them.

Tony and Michelle Peterson #staymarriedNew to #staymarried? Welcome! Check out why we started this blog and our first entry to get a little background. You can also find us on the socials: PinterestTwitterFacebook, and Instagram. I’d love to connect on any of your favorite platforms.

Thanks for stopping by!

~ Michelle

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6 responses

  • Thank you Michelle, that was a great article and I took a lot from it. I too come from a line of grudge holders!! Your husbands apology is amazing. The way you both speak to each other is to be commended. I am working on forgiving faster and not stewing for so long.
    Thank you again
    Melissa

  • Michelle – I am a Marriage Therapist in Houston and recently discovered your blog. I am now frequently forwarding your blog to clients and also re-posting your posts on my FB page. What a gift you are offering to couples who WANT to stay married but never anticipated that it requires effort!! I am working with a new couple on forgiveness so this post could not have come at a better time for me. Thanks for saving me from having to blog. I just borrow yours 🙂

  • Michelle-Love, love, love your blog!!
    I too come from some pretty strong grudge holding lineage!!
    Forgiveness really is the only way to be able to make it in our marriages. Being married almost 37 years I would have hoped it would have gotten easier……hummmm…..nope!!
    I still need to go to our Heavenly Father to have Him show me His way!
    I believe that forgiveness is a gift & it is easier for some then others.
    Thank you for being an open book & sharing your lives Peterson Family!!
    Many Blessings!!