Are you secretly unraveling your marriage in your heart? It is easy to do if you are harboring unforgiveness. The Bible, in Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ spring up and cause trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
I have seen the destructive consequences of unresolved anger and bitterness of heart. It destroys marriages, families, and even organizations. It destroys lives too.
Dealing with anger and resentment is kind of like surgery, however painful, it just has to be done. If we want happy, healthy relationships, we have to address it.
The Signs of Becoming a Bitter Person
Some signs of bitterness to detect in yourself might include:
- A sharpness in your speech toward another person
- You have a hard time making eye contact with that person
- You love making sharp jokes about them (present or not)
- You are agitated by the mention of their name
- You can’t get yourself to pray for them, or it’s not easy
These are not absolute, but can be helpful diagnostics. Subtler forms of bitterness may be harder to spot. Some of us become proficient at covering our scars or hiding behind a public image.
Overcoming unforgiveness is a process that also requires a change of perspective. Jesus taught his disciples in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9–13) “forgive us our sins as we forgives those who sin against us.” The earliest Christians were taught to pray the Lord’s prayer three times a day!
Forgiveness is a choice and a discipline, NOT A FEELING. If you have been the victim of serious mistreatment, you have a long road of healing ahead of you. That is okay. You need to just accept it and begin the process. To not take this road is only to hurt yourself. This involves both a choice to see the other person with the same dignity as you, as well as a disciplined choice to forgive.
Here are four keys to letting go of unforgiveness, anger, and resentment.
1. You always marry at the same maturity level — This is a tough one to swallow for many. Sustained anger and resentment usually swim in the petri dish of pride. This is thinking that our spouse is somehow less mature or worse than we are.
David Schnarsch contends that you ALWAYS marry at your own maturity level. It is relational natural selection. People do not tend to stay in relationship when the two are at unmatched maturity levels.
We need to view and treat our spouse with equal dignity. That requires seeing our equal brokenness too. Then we have a solid foundation of mutual trust and humility to build on.
2. You do exactly the same “kinds” of things to each other — They may not be exactly the same things (many times they are though). You will both do the same types of things to each other, at the same magnitude, and at about the same frequency also.
Until we accept #2, we will have more conflict. The old saying, “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones,” applies here. A heightened focus on the other person’s faults leads to more tension in the relationship.
When we accept that we do the same kinds of things as our spouse, we will be humbled and softened by it. This empowers us to approach each other more gently and patiently. When we remain oblivious to our own faults we become more critical and unsafe relationally.
3. You are guilty of the same — If we are at the same maturity level, and if we do the same things, then it begs the question: What right do I have to be bitter with my spouse? Jesus had a label for judging one person and then doing the exact same thing. He called that person an “actor” or “hypocrite.” (Matthew 23:23)
Jesus had much to say about judgmentalness. A judgmental and impatient spirit can tear a family, group, or organization apart. A flawless spouse is something you will never have. We must look to gracious patience, not perfection as the basis of lasting relationship.
4. Bitterness is keeping you stuck and hurting your marriage — Bitterness destroys relationships. It is inherently judgmental, often assuming a posture of superiority. You could also have bitterness toward another relationship that is preventing you from going “all in” emotionally and intimately with your spouse. How is that robbing you of the potential joys in your marriage?
And even in the rare case that your spouse is much worse in the things he/she does, we are all sinners in need of grace (Romans 3:23). Moreover, acting like you are somehow a little more mature than your spouse never got anyone in the mood to cuddle either.
Striving Together for Equal Dignity
Spouses should strive together for a posture of mutual dignity. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart.” Love holds the other person in high regard. It disallows us from having contempt for the other person because of their faults. It is contempt, that belittling hidden in a scoff, a subtle eye-roll, or wag of the head, that defines the other as “less than.” It is the subtlety of contempt, not your big fights, that is the constant drip eroding the shores of your relationships.
Release from Prison
So here is a challenge. You may be deeply struggling over what that person did to you. What if that apology never comes? What if they continue to blame you? How will you move on? Can you move on?
Yes you can. That is the power of forgiveness that Jesus taught us in the Gospel. You have the power to heal and have joyful relationships again. Your peace and joy is ultimately not dependent on the other person. That is a comforting thought.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts. I want to know what you think. And please share on social media!