I suppose because we’ve been through so much, assumptions could be made about how Bobby and I feel toward one another. Neither one of us have been perfect, and I have deeply betrayed him.
Interestingly, someone recently said to us that we look as though nothing bad has ever happened in our lives or our marriage. I can see why this man over forty with a seminary degree thought this: Bobby and I are loving toward one another, and we’re joyful. He hugs me; he holds my hand. He dotes on me. He sends me silly love messages in the middle of the day, and I call him for no reason, just to hear his voice. I surprise him with sweet graces, like showing up at his work with a slice of cheesecake on bad days or folding his laundry for him, (we both hate folding laundry).
A key to restoring our marriage has been forgiveness without bitterness.
Biblical forgiveness sounds wonderful in theory but is like cutting your heart in real practice if attempted without the power of the gospel. It is so hard to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness. But as many times as someone is repentant and asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive. If we don’t forgive when someone asks, we are mocking God’s undeserved grace for our salvation (Matthew 6:14–15, Matthew 18:21–35, Colossians 3:13)
Genuine forgiveness comes without bitterness. When there is bitterness in a marriage, it is impossible to delight in marriage or to have real fun. In the midst of happy moments, the bitter spouse will be thinking about what happened and be simmering in resentment.
The negative effects of bitterness might be hard to be seen in a marriage where a spouse is good at going through the motions, but think about other relationships that don’t require living together. A friendship that has suffered a conflict might result in never being truly mended if one of the friends retains bitterness. That’s what bitterness does. It destroys.
Married couples do not want bitterness to be apart of marriage otherwise it’ll grow deeper and the chasm between the two spouses will widen. Bitterness is also known as a hardened heart, and one of the most popular posts on TheCourage explains how unrepentant bitterness guarantees to end marriages.
So, how can you measure if you have bitterness in your marriage?
Answer these questions:
- Can you name for me concrete reasons to celebrate your spouse?
- Can you name for me specific, praise-worthy ways your spouse has changed over the last year?
- When is the last time you had genuine, gut-busting fun with your spouse?
- How often do you think about things your spouse did that have hurt you?
- How often do you use “always” or “never” to describe characteristics or actions of your spouse?
- How often do you thank God for your spouse in private?
- How often do you pray for your spouse in relation to their needs rather than your own?
- How often do you ask God to change your heart in relation to your spouse?
If you can’t name concrete reasons why you should celebrate your spouse or anything they’ve done to make real changes in their life, either they really aren’t growing in the Lord, or you’re bitter. If there’s a suspicion that your spouse isn’t growing, you should talk with someone objective, like someone in your small group (not your accountability partner) about ways they have seen your spouse grow over the last year.
If you haven’t had genuine fun with your spouse recently, either you two aren’t making time for investing in one another, which is a huge mistake, or you’re bitter. You and your spouse are one flesh, and in a healthy marriage, there is no one who loves you on this earth as much as your spouse. In a healthy marriage, they have made many sacrifices for you. There is no one who knows you as well as they do (or should). Do you delight in yourself? Most humans would say yes even if they don’t like admitting it. There isn’t any reason that you shouldn’t be delighting in your spouse then.
If you are frequently thinking about how a spouse has hurt you but you haven’t talked with him/her about it, this definitely breeds bitterness. Related to this, if you’re using terminology like “always” and “never” you are expecting your spouse to fail or sin in certain situations that you have allowed to grow bitterness. You need to have a serious, calm talk about these things and explain that this has been building bitterness in your heart. You can’t ignore these issues because they’ll just grow bitterness. Be prepared to forgive and let go or get biblical marriage counseling if reconciliation isn’t totally reached.
If you don’t have a practice giving thanks for your spouse, praying for your spouse in relation to their needs, and asking God to change your heart in relation to your spouse, you more than likely have bitterness. Other possibilities are that you believe that you’re not a sinner or that you aren’t grateful for God’s blessings in your life. And whether you can see this or not, your spouse is a blessing, even if he/she is bringing great joy or pain, as even pain and sufferings are be to received with great joy in a Christian perspective. Regardless of how you feel about your spouse, s/he is an image bearer of God and should be respected and a fellow heir of grace.