The Healing Power of Forgiveness in Marriage and Remarriage

Learning how to give and accept apologies are an essential ingredient of a strong, healthy marriage. Accepting that you and your mate do the best you can will help you be more understanding. This does not mean you condone his or her hurtful actions. You simply come to a more compassionate and realistic view of your spouse.

This can be especially important for a remarried couple who have baggage from their former marriage and may unpack it during arguments. Becoming better at giving and accepting a sincere apology will help you move on from bitterness and resentment and to be more emotionally available to your partner on a daily basis.

Remarried couples often mistakenly believe that things will run on automatic after they wed. But when the bliss of new romance wears off, couples often experience increased stress due to financial pressures, the challenges of blending children and families, and scrambling to find time to communicate and have quality time alone and with their children.

For instance, when Danielle married Tim, she wasn’t prepared to deal with Caitlin, her jealous teenager stepdaughter who began acting out shortly after their wedding. When they tied the knot, her two children were ages five and seven and accepting Tim as a new stepfather. Danielle found herself feeling resentment that she was the target of Caitlin’s anger and that Tim was too passive with her.

Danielle put it like this “Looking back, I should have seen it coming when Caitlin pitched a fit when we wouldn’t allow her invite boys to her party and have a sleepover. Tim works weekends and I just didn’t feel comfortable handling a bunch of teenagers with their hormones surging. But when Tim sided with Caitlin, I was very angry and suggested she move in with her mom even though Tim has full custody. I know my words were hurtful and I apologized a few days later, but I just felt so hurt.”

Danielle reflects, “It took us at least a year and lots of counseling to work through our mutual resentment and to do the repair work to get back on track. Tim finally realized that we need to be a team and by siding with Caitlin, he was pushing me away. We both realized that we need to forgive each other and have realistic expectations of ourselves and our kids – that it will take time for us all to adjust.”

Forgiveness is Essential for Healing and Health

Practicing forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical and emotional well-being. And forgiving others and yourself is necessary for achieving healthy relationships. It is about being willing to acknowledge that you are capable of making mistakes, of being wounded, and can also risk being vulnerable. By embracing forgiveness, you can enjoy better health and harmony in relationships.

According to Dr. Fred Luskin, author of Forgive for Good, and the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, practicing forgiveness is also connected to better sleep, and lower rates of depression and substance abuse. In fact, people who are more forgiving report better health, less chronic illness, and less stress. In general, when you hold a grudge, it can set off a chemical stress response in your brain that takes a toll on your body.

Why are apologies important for remarried couples?

Forgiveness means different things to different people but for many it signifies letting go of resentment and revenge. Remarried couples who practice forgiveness are able to let go of large and small transgressions that occur due to the complexity of their lives. As a result, they’ll be available to enjoy a deep emotional connection and intimacy that’s essential for the sustainability of their marriage.

When you acknowledge your flaws – the things that make you human – it means that you can be vulnerable with your partner rather than allowing your fear of rejection or failure to overwhelm you. By doing this, you can rid yourself of the toxic hurt and shame that holds you back from feeling connected and emotionally attuned with your partner.

Often people equate apologizing with weakness and it’s widely believed that if you apologize to someone, you’re making yourself too vulnerable. However, apologizing can also be seen as a strength because it shows you are able to show goodwill toward your partner and it promotes forgiveness.

If you do apologize to your partner, be sure to do it in the right way that does not include excuses for your actions or words. Not all apologies will be the same but most will contain some of the following elements.

7 effective ways to apologize to your partner:

  1. Identify two reasons you feel sorry for the hurt that your behavior or words caused your partner. Gaining awareness of the emotions you experience about your own past hurt can help you feel empathy for your partner. Ask yourself: why did I feel the need to behave in a way that caused my partner pain or upset? Was my behavior intentional?
  2. Accept responsibility for your hurtful actions or words. Acknowledge that you messed up by saying something like “I take responsibility for my actions and I’m sorry that they hurt you.” One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Dr.’s Julie and John Gottman write: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.”
  3. Use the words “I am sorry” and “I was wrong” when you apologize. Your apology will more likely be heard and accepted if you use these words. Be specific about exactly what you did to hurt, humiliate, or embarrass your partner.
  4. Explain to your partner how you plan to repair the situation (if this is possible). For example, if you said something to hurt your stepdaughter’s feelings, you might offer to apologize to her over lunch or by writing her a note.
  5. Describe why you said or did what you did without making excuses or blaming your mate or someone else. Using “I” statements rather than “You” statements can help you avoid the blame monster. For instance, you might say “I lost my temper because you were late picking up the kids and I was worried. I very am sorry for treating you this way” rather than “You are always late and never make our family a priority.”
  6. Ask your partner to grant you forgiveness. Be specific about your actions and words that need to be forgiven. Be sure to do so when the setting is conducive to a private conversation and there aren’t any distractions (TV, cell phones, children in the room, etc.).
  7. Don’t let wounds poison your love for your spouse. Be vulnerable and don’t let your pride cause you to dig your heels in. Discussing what happened with your partner and taking responsibility for your actions will allow you to let go of resentment and find happiness.

The capacity to seek and grant forgiveness is one of the most significant factors contributing to marital satisfaction and a lifetime of love. Studies show that forgiving someone is one way of letting go of your baggage so that you can heal and enjoy a better quality of life. Apologizing and practicing forgiveness is about giving yourself and your partner, the kind of future you and they deserve.

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Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and Her book award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.

Terry’s newest award-winning book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

**Terry offers coaching to individuals and couples about divorce, marriage, remarriage, or relationship issues. She is also an expert on matters related to children of divorce and the challenges facing adult children of divorce. You can sign up for low-cost coaching here. In most cases you will be able to meet with her within a week.