Forgiveness Is the Key to A Happy Marriage

Forgiveness Is the Key to A Happy Marriage

When you’re married, you have to make tens of thousands of decisions as a couple over the course of a lifetime. By that standard, it stands to reason that there are going to be more than a few disagreements along the way. Factor in that all of us are innately selfish (as we should rationally act in our own self-interests) and well, it should be no surprise that there will be a measure of conflict in even the best relationships.

We want to exact a pound of flesh from our partner to teach him a lesson.

The question is whether it’s the kind of conflict that should derail a relationship. Most times, the answer is no, but that’s not the way we handle it. We want to be “right” and make our partners “wrong”. We want an apology in the manner we want it. We want to exact a pound of flesh from our partner to teach him a lesson. And all this does is perpetuate the cycle of negativity and arrogance that rots relationships from the inside.

I tell my private dating coaching clients that happy marriages are based on humility and forgiveness. There is no finger-pointing, only problem-solving. No “you should act the way I want you to act”, but rather, extreme tolerance over your partners’ different opinions. Marriage is all about choosing a flawed spouse whose flaws you can accept and realizing that your spouse patiently accepts your flaws as well.

This piece on the Good Men Project, by Nate Bagley, really nails the concept of leading with forgiveness. Money quote:

“Forgiveness is allowing yourself to move on. Forgiveness is letting go of the burden of a grudge. Forgiveness is not allowing someone else’s choices to ruin your life. Forgiveness is acknowledging the imperfectness in us all, and chalking up mistake after mistake to being human… Those who never learn forgive will never have hearts open enough to truly love… because, one forgives to the degree that one loves.”

Find the man you can accept and I promise: he will give you his everything.

If it ever sounds like I glorify my marriage, it’s because my wife embodies this concept better than anyone I’ve ever met.

You want to know what men value more than looks, wit, intelligence or common interests? Acceptance.

That includes accepting things that you don’t like about him and largely keeping quiet about it, as long as it’s not hurting you. If you can’t accept him as he is, then don’t date him. But don’t be in a relationship with a guy whom you feel you have to constantly micromanage, where he’s forced to apologize a hundred times a day. You won’t be happy. He won’t be happy. And all the love in the world won’t save your relationship.

The only thing that will sustain a couple is patience, tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance. Find the man you can accept and I promise: he will give you his everything.

Your thoughts below are appreciated.

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  1. 1

    It also needs to work the other way – men accepting women. I currently left a relationship because my boyfriend could not fully accept my flaws, ONLY my good traits.   It’s too bad, but it’s made me realize how important acceptance is. It’s at the top of my list of what to look for in a man. 🙂

    1. 1.1

      I agree, Nina. I have recently left my husband because I couldn’t stand the erosion of my spirit due to his constant inability to accept me for who I am. His perpetual criticism of my personal beliefs, my politics, my history, just became intolerable and he, by extension, became intolerable too. I found I was echoing his behaviour by finding fault with him, which is not what I really thought of him, just a defence mechanism. It is a death knell to marriage for sure.

      1. 1.1.1

        Isobel @1.1   – I cringe now to think that it was ME who wanted to hang onto my marriage and fought against the divorce.   We had about 10 good years, then slowly over the years, nagging and criticism was the only language I heard from my x-hubby.   It wasn’t until he moved out that I realized how bad it was.   Just coming home and being able to be myself was such a relief.   To not have to hear that every word and action on my part was wrong, annoying or intolerable.   I now look at the divorce as something to celebrate, but I still wonder if I will ever get over the last half of the marriage.

  2. 2

    Great article. I am currently in a relationship with a guy who is kind, loving, funny, intelligent, commitment-oriented   etc., yet has some very different interests and manners than I do. The way he delivers is opinions at times can be strong and passionate and can rub me the wrong way and I have zero interest in some of his passions.
    I have a natural tendency to be critical (very much so of myself) but that naturally extends to others, including him. I find myself always looking at the negatives, at the things that are different between us instead of focusing on the positives and our commonalities. One day he said to me   “I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect, but I feel I can accept all of who you are and I don’t feel you accept me for who I am”.  
    Sadly, this is not the first time I’ve been told this by a boyfriend. I realize now that I am in a relationship that is quite good, that if I continue with this pattern I may very well be single forever as no one will ever live up to my high standards. It’s reflective of myself too – will I ever live up to my own standards? So I’ve taken steps to seek assistance to change my critical ways so I can learn to be kinder to myself and ultimately kinder to others. It really rang true for me line “…one forgives to the degree that one loves“. I believe the more we learn to love and accept ourselves, the side effect will be a deeper love and acceptance of others.  

  3. 3

    ah – acceptance (or lack thereof) was the key driver of breaking up the relationship i just got “dumped” out of…   he couldn’t accept my “weaknesses” per se nor could i accept his.   i also think we didn’t spend enough time getting to know one another before getting intimate – so we didn’t really have a solid foundation that when things did come up, we had a point of reference to think “well lauren’s having a bad day/ moment/ reaction – i’m gonna let this go”.   we actually got too hung up on our differences instead of what we really liked about one another.   and in hindsight (i know – 20/20), his “weaknesses” weren’t all that bad…   acceptance certainly is the key to life!   learn how to accept people, places, and things on a daily basis and you will be a much happier person! 🙂

  4. 4

    I too broke up only yesterday but over something a little more complicated..his teenage child. He is a very troubled lad who uses manipulation as an art form and I knew deep down that our relationship had no future should this lad live with us (again) FT. I could tolerate PT as I reasoned I could be off doing different things on my own and a short time is tolerable…..but my now ex fiance made arrangements to have him FT with him (without telling me) and so yeah….now thats it for me. I know that sounds harsh on my part, but Ive been with my man for over 3 years and during this time all three kids lived in my house with me. It was then I realized how different we are in terms of our value systems so I came to the conclusion (to save my own sanity) that I could only do this PT and my Fiance and I discussed it. He knows how hard it was on me and imagining a future with his kids living with me FT was enough to send me screaming to the loony bin!!   
    My Fiance understood my concerns but essentially needed to be a parent more I guess to warrant his decision. I dont hate him for it…but I dislike the way it was handled as it was manipulative and untruthful on his part as well. I dont appreciate being blamed for his own decisions and I will not accept this behavior from a man I was suppose to share my life with.   Best now than when we got married I guess. Im still feeling shattered though none the less.  

  5. 5
    Myrtle Owens

    Thanks for sharing the blog. Forgiveness in any relationship doing a great job to proceed on a smooth way. Appreciable views.   Keep going. All the best.

  6. 6

    Great post Evan and EXACTLY what I needed to read in the midst of my third week of sleep deprivation with a new born and unprecedented stress upon my usually goodl relationship with my partner. 2 hours sleep and a crying baby seem to bring out my critical side and I really need to bite my lip sometimes to maintain the relationship through this time. Thanks for the reminder..

  7. 7

    It’s easy to be accepting of people if you surround yourself with the right people. Ever notice that being with the wrong people can sometimes bring out your bad side? I think this is one of the chicken and egg question. Is it easy to accept first or find people that are easy to accept and limit your association with negative people? Based on my life experience, it’s better to surround yourself with people you can accept instead of people that just don’t meet your standards. Some people are negative and unintelligent, arrogant, etc and there is no point in being with people like that. Yes you can still accept these people for their flaws but in the long run being around these type of people can be a bit of a drag. I have seen for myself with my different social groups. I felt better around my spiritual group because people had different values and were more sensitive whereas I was friends with a group of introverts and many of these people were emotionally dysfunctional.

  8. 8

    I know that I should be more accepting and I want to be so. But it’s difficult to make this change. I wonder if someone wonderfully accepting like you wife, Evan, was born that way, was raised to be that way, or made a conscious effort to become like this, later in life.

    Having spent 44 years honing ~ and being rewarded (academically and professionally) for having ~ a keen critical sense and finding flaws, I’m struggling to take my personal life in a different direction.

  9. 9

    Last night my former boyfriend and I went to see the comedian Sinbad. His show was largely about the relationships between men and women — specifically married men and women. While it was very funny, it was also kind of sad because he was pointing out the ways in which women just beat the men in their lives down. Fortunately, I didn’t do all the things he mentioned, but I did enough of the things he talked about that I kind of felt ashamed of myself. One joke he told was how when men and women are driving in cars, women will get very annoyed with how men drive and we’ll want to tell them what to do. Sure enough, after the show as my former boyfriend was driving me back home, I was noticing how he was staying in the left lane way longer than I would have given that he was going to have to make a right hand turn soon, and it was on the tip of my tongue to tell him he should start moving over. But, I stopped myself — and believe me it took a lot of strength to do it — because he has taken that drive thousands of times and he doesn’t need to change lanes when I would change lanes. And, you know what, he changed lanes on his own and made the right turn just fine.

    So, that story is a long winded way of saying that yes, when can learn to be more accepting which is also a way of being less controlling . I think part of being accepting of men or people in general, is to acknowledge that they don’t have to do everything exactly the way we do it or even at the in the time frame that we would do it. As soon as you notice you want to make them do it your way, stop yourself…literally talk yourself out of saying anything. Will it take time for acceptance to become second nature, absolutely. I know it’s going to take me time, but eventually, as with most things, the more you do it the better you become. Good luck!

  10. 10
    Karmic Equation

    @Henriette 8,

    Another way to do that compromise is, if you really feel strongly about how something is done, then find a way to have you yourself do the part you really care about let him do the part you don’t care so much about.

    For example, I’m pretty particular about how to LOAD the dishwasher. But I’m not particularly passionate about how it’s unloaded and where the dishes are unloaded to.

    So my ex-bf and I agreed I’d do the loading and he’d do the unloading. And if he felt he needed to load the dishwasher, he was ok when I rearranged it before running it.

    Not too many people believe in “The ends justifies the means.” But I think letting bfs do whatever needs to be done that we don’t want to do ourselves is the perfect time to apply that adage. Focus on the outcome instead of on the process.

  11. 11

    Five phrases for a happy healthy relationship (all said with sincerity): I Love You, Please, Thank You, I’m Sorry/Please Forgive Me, and I Accept Your Apology/I Forgive You. In my heart, I believe that if someone can say these with sincere intent they will have a happy and amazing relationship 🙂 This is not a “get out of jail free card.” This is part of being an extraordinary and very human partner 🙂

    1. 11.1

      Lovely comment. Favourite phrase: ‘very human partner’. In its fullest sense,  one of the greatest aims which exists. Harder than it sounds.

  12. 12

    @ Sabine 11

    My husband was listening to a radio show the other day, where they said the secret to a happy marriage is for the husband to learn to say quickly and without any hesitation the following phrases “I love you”, “You are so beatuful”, “It is all my fault, please forgive me”.

    He told me this, and went to tease me saying ” You are beautiful, it is my fault, forgive me” in the course of the day.

    Truth be told, he is the one to always apologize first and make amends in our marriage. Sometimes I think this is because he is the one upsetting me (and not me upsetting him) so of course he is the one who should apologize.

    I liked Evan’s post very much, especially the phrase that we exact a pound of flesh from the people we think have hurt us. It is shameful, but true in many cases, and I am definetely guilty of this. Somehow, I find it easier to apologize to friends/collegues because I am very pragmatic, and I know that, having to have repeated contacts with these people, I need to put disagreements behind and not dwell on faults. But for the person closest to me, I hold him to a higher standard, i.e. he is the one who should not hurt me to begin with, and forgiveness comes much harder. I am still learning.

  13. 13

    @ Henriette 8.

    Henriette, on this blog you come across as someone who is very kind, sweet, well-spoken and, if I may say so, highly educated. You write beautifully, and because the only way I know you is through your writing, I get the impression that you are a beautiful person, inside and outside.

    You do not sound at all like someone who is highly critical, but then I guess it is all relative, so let me share my opinion on your question.

    People are born different, and differ in their temperament throughout adulthood based on their genetic make-up. However, as they socialize, they learn to develop socially acceptable behaviour and, so to speak, to play different roles, depending on the cirmunstances. Based on the temperament (e.g. extrovert vs. introvert etc) people have a certain comfort zone, in which they naturally, and without much effort exhibit certain behaviors. To act differently, they need to go out of their comfort zone and it costs them energy. This means that you can act differently than your natural tendencies (be accepting instead of critical) but you would expend energy for the effort and possibly feel tired as a result of this. But you can certainly learn, and practice makes perfect :-).

    As I said in my previous post, I myself am still learning, but I think I am getting, at least slightly better with age. I have a friend who is tremendously forgiving, she got divorced by, and then remarried by her husband… this I think is beyond my human capacity.

  14. 14

    So as I sit here watching Bridezillas, I am curious as to how these women are actually getting the men to propose to them.   There don’t appear to be any of the things EMK says attract a man to a woman.   Granted, we   are seeing them during the final wedding planning stages and maybe not how they are in private it, and it may be embellished.   But are men seriously that accepting of women who behave that badly?   Or do these women have some tricks that are inappropriate to discuss in a public forum?

    1. 14.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      They’re hot and men are just as stupid around hot women as women are around tall, rich, charismatic men.

      1. 14.1.1

        Interestingly enough, you do get some who are what society would consider hot, and some who society would consider cute, average, or somewhere below hot.   The hot ones I get how that happens.   But the ones who aren’t I truly do not understand how they are getting a commitment out of guys.   But perhaps the hotness is in the eye of the beholder.

        1. Chance

          They’re getting commitment from insecure pushovers.   Is that the type of man you want?

        2. starthrower68

          Chance,   I don’t recall mentioning what I want or don’t want when posing my question.    I asked because I was watching a TV show.   Not sure how you got to that conclusion but whatever.

        3. Chance

          I wasn’t implying that you wanted a guy like that.   I was trying to say that women are not missing out on anything when it comes to those types of guys.   Sorry for the confusion.

  15. 15

    I am a lazy guy, with high standards with how I live. It is exceedly hard to even forgive myself, let alone other people, especially those who are close to me.   I remember each transgression they made against me over time, I do bring them up, they say they cant help it, and eventually I decide I cant take it anymore, and let them go as a friend or a lover.   Needless to say, I don’t have a lot of friends, or even a girlfriend ( for many years) and this is how I live my life.  

    I’ve tried to work around it for years, and nothing works. I am how I am, a solitary man, and I am more or less OK with that.   

  16. 16
    Not Jerry

    It’s not forgiveness, it’s bygones.

    Much less than forgiveness, since we don’t need to actually fix blame for there to be bygones.   A minor distinction.

    An important part of relationships, being able to not ever hold a grudge.   I never want a momentary disagreement to interfere with my interpersonal relationships. Fight, agree, agree to disagree, and then just let it go.

    That said, my ex could hold a grudge a *long time*.

    After walking on eggshells for a long time, I would finally say   “look, life’s too short to be with someone daily who thinks holding a grudge for weeks or months makes sense in a marriage”.     “Time to get over it, or we’re through”.

    In every case she did let it go at that time, but it made for an uncomfortable home life.     Until we finally divorced, that is. Now, I don’t have to deal with that again.


  17. 17
    Not Jerry

    “Forgiveness” carries the insinuation that someone is wrong, and needs to be forgiven. Mostly, that is not the case, at least in my experience.     Someone is wrong, that means someone is right.   It may be a misunderstanding, or an overreaction. In that case no one is wrong and no one needs to be forgiven.

    Hence, “bygones”.   Just let it go for the good of your valuable relationship!   I for one value my relationships way too much to hold on to anything that is not a disqualifier, like adultery.

    As long as I can find it in my heart to just forget it, I badly want to just kiss and make up.   That makes much more sense than dwelling on the past.

  18. 18

    Evan this is so true. Thank you again for this article. I am one of those people who always has to be right – to my own detriment. I grew up with an extremely critical mother for whom nothing I did was good enough and so I was constantly punished for it. She used to treat my father the same way. I became conscious that I was doing the same thing in my relationships, not only with my partner but also with my friends. I still really struggle with apologizing and forgiveness because it doesn’t feel natural to me. At a subconscious level, I feel like if I am wrong then I will be “punished” it somehow (e.g. rejected), so I tenaciously fight to be right all the time – even when I know I’m wrong.   But you are so right. In relationships you need to let go of the need to criticize and condemn and  be right all the time or else it’ll be the death knell of the relationship. I keep having these a-ha moments from reading your articles. I must say you are saving me a lot of money in therapy.

  19. 19
    Fading dreamer

    After reading these posts, I think that the one , most important characteristic that a marriage can have is COMMUNICATION.   I mean real communication with out defense, with out reaction, just pure heart to heart communication about what is going on.   When defensiveness and ego come into the picture, communication gets blocked.   The couple should be on the same page about how to communicate.   This is where problems start.   Sometimes couples don’t start at the same level of understanding regarding this, because they never witnessed it in their own lives.

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