Other Husband & Wife Articles

Forgiveness in marriage


By Kevin Aldrich

The first week of April is also the first week of Easter this year, what is called the Octave. This whole week is as “one day” in the liturgical life of the Church. Easter is so important that we are to consider every day of this week as if it were the day of Easter itself.

During this weeklong “day,” I always feel joy that the trying days are over — the trying days of Lent, the bleakness of March, and even the hard work of the Triduum. If you’re like me, you don’t revel in Lent because you don’t like giving up stuff.

Kevin Aldrich and his family.

Kevin Aldrich and his family.

The happiness of Easter is not just that the difficult days are over, but that the good days are here. I have a lifetime of memories of good things of Easter: Easter bonnets and lilies, chocolate bunnies and other treats, childhood memories, teenage memories, adult memories. Adding to this is the delight of witnessing the excitement and enjoyment of my own kids, especially the young, innocent ones. All of this joy and hope are centered around this one joyful truth: Christ has conquered the ultimate “bads” – sin and death – and is offering us the ultimate goods – holiness and eternal life.

Which brings us to forgiveness in marriage.

One of the very first things the risen Christ did was to institute the sacrament of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room, wished them peace, and showed them his hands and side so they would know it was really him. Then, in one of the greatest understatements in all of written history, John the Evangelist tells us, “the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”

I’ll say.

Then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20: 19-23).

In marriage and in the family, when we consider forgiveness, we are not talking about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is not to say that a personal daily examination of conscience cannot help us to see which of our offenses require spousal or family reconciliation and which should also be brought to the confessional (or what one wry priest referred to as the “sin bin”). Within marriage and the family, however, faults and failures do need to be “confessed” to the one offended and pardon asked for (and given).

I’m not talking about mortal sins committed against family members – that is a different subject, a grave matter, no puns intended. I mean the everyday things we do that offend family members and are done to us that we find offensive. A healthy marriage and family life rests on constant pardon.

At the beginning, spouses should be saying “I’m sorry” often. But once an understanding has been reached through experience and maturity, a good deal of what bothers the other is simply let go. Husband and wife know they often experience a bit of temporary insanity when it comes to pride or vanity or hurt feelings. Yet without a word being spoken, we let our spouse off the hook and know our spouse lets us off. It is understood that we forgive and are forgiven.

On the other hand, if you are bothered over what your spouse has done to you, and the bother won’t go away, I think it is your duty to say so. If you don’t, the feeling festers in you while your spouse may not even know there is a problem. In this case, oddly, the offended one starts the confession rolling.

With the kids, when they begin to show to each other they have original sin, it is good for them to be required to apologize (“Say you are sorry!”) and to forgive (“Tell her you accept the apology”).

But probably the best example of forgiveness in family life takes place when a parent who has done wrong goes to his child and personally apologizes.

I’ve apologized to my children for blowing my top and I’ve never regretted it. This is a good season for all of us to do the same.

Kevin Aldrich, a Los Angeles-based writer of novels, screenplays, TV pilots and self-help books, is married for 20 years and has seven children.