Forgiving Your Spouse

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{This is the fifth article in this week’s series on ForgivenessClick here to read other articles in the series, including The Justice of ForgivenessWhat If I Refuse to Forgive?, Family Forgiveness, and Revenge or Forgiveness?}

It’s Not Hard When Things Are Great

Brian knew all about forgiveness, having been raised in the evangelical church where his parents were active and committed Christians. He knew all about forgiving “seventy times seven and more” and that it was expected that we turn the other cheek, forgive those who spitefully use us, and just generally “get over it” when mistreated.

Yes, Brian knew all about forgiveness. He had memorized the appropriate Bible verses on forgiveness in Sunday School and at church camp. But honestly, Brian had not yet had much use for forgiveness. Not really. As a 33 years old married father of three great kids with a great wife and helpful and understanding relatives, a great job at a local company where he seemed to be liked and appreciated and was making good career progress, Brian had just not had a lot of need to forgive anyone. He was not discriminated against or taken advantage of. His kids were not perfect but were doing well, even the older boy who was becoming an adolescent. No major issues, thank God!

But there were some things that were beginning to bother Brian. He was noticing changes in Allison, his wife. She had said a few things in recent months that Brian had to stop and ask himself, “Did she really say that?”. There were times when she seemed to be talking out loud to herself. The two older children had asked him a time or two if mom was okay, and Allison’s mom had wondered to Brian if Allison was under any unusual pressure, which she was not as far as Brian knew.

But something was definitely changing in Allison, and not for the better.

When Life Gets Hard

A visit to the family doctor resulted in an appointment with a psychiatrist. After several weeks of evaluation, a brain MRI, and all kinds of blood work and other tests, the psychiatrist gave Brian, not Allison, the bad news. While he could not be sure and only time would tell, it looked like Allison was becoming schizophrenic.

Brian was a college grad who had minored in psychology and knew very well what schizophrenia was, disordered thinking on a major scale with no cure and medicines that helped control symptoms, more or less, but often with major unpleasant side effects. Brian knew that if the diagnosis was correct, everything was going to change. Brian also know that this could explain some of the many aspects of Allison’s personality that had bothered him over the years, most of all the paranoia.

Allison was eventually hospitalized after a really bad episode of hearing voices telling her to do bad things to the children, an emergency 911 call, and the children going to live with grandparents for a few days. Allison, after several weeks of hospitalization, was now able to come home and be okay as long as she stayed on her meds and avoided unusual stress. The children came home and were told that mom had a mental illness but she should be okay as long as the medication kept working and she visited the doctor on schedule.

For Better . . . Or Worse

Brian’s life resumed, but in a very different form. The children were a little “stand-offish” with mom, the people at church were kind to Allison but often talked to Brian as if she were not standing there. Social invitations stopped completely. Allison had been told of her illness by now but did not agree with the diagnosis (very common) and sometimes did not think she needed to take her medication. This meant Brian was now her “supervisor and care provider” as well as her husband. Well sort of her husband, because Allison’s interest in intimacy disappeared.

Brian now needed to practice forgiveness. Allison was clearly not responsible for her mental illness. Of course not! But now the marriage had changed dramatically, the children were being negatively impacted, Brian’s career was more limited because he did not have a wife who could accompany him to business events, Christmas gatherings, and other social requirements at work.

And Allison could not help it!

All Brian could do, in addition to praying for a miracle and trying to understand, was forgive anyway.

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Brian did not think he was strong enough to meet his wife’s needs in many areas but he learned that he was strong enough to forgive her for the changes her illness had brought on everyone in the family. Brian learned to forgive her for the behaviors that still surfaced at times, even with the medicine. Brian learned the reality of “for better or worse” and he knew that a constant attitude of forgiveness was now a major part of serving God.

Because this is a true story, with names and details changed, I can tell you that Brian and Allison are still together, the kids are grown and have families of their own, and that Brian, to this day, has to practice forgiveness every day and in ways he never imagined. Brian learned he was strong enough to put into practice all those lessons on forgiveness he learned so long ago. Those who know Brian and Allison well know that this family stayed together and overcame constant serious challenges primarily through the grace of God and through Brian’s ability to forgive Allison and for Allison’s ability to forgive God and herself for what she could not understand.

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