How to Remove That Fishy Smell in Marriage

In my last Normal Marriage post, I talked about the fishy smell that occurs in marriage when you run away from something you know you need to do. In that post, we talked about how to avoid that fishy smell.

But what if you didn’t get the post in time and your marriage already smells fishy? How do you remove the smell?

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A Love-Hate Relationship With Forgiveness

Most people, whether they are religious or not, would agree that holding a grudge and hanging on to bitterness is not helpful.

In an article entitled Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness the Mayo Clinic gives the following negative effects of holding a grudge:

  • It can bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.
  • You can become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.
  • You can become depressed and anxious.
  • You can feel your life lacks meaning or purpose.
  • You can become at odds with your spiritual beliefs.
  • You can lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others.

Referring to a study on holding grudges from the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, David P. Feldman, Ph.D. states

“…those who said they tended to hold grudges reported higher rates of heart disease and cardiac arrest, elevated blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain than those who didn’t share this tendency. “

So, though holding onto a grudge and refusing to forgive may in some way feel good to us, the truth is it is not good for us. But forgiveness is beneficial to us mentally, emotionally, and physically.

For Christians, forgiveness is also beneficial spiritually. As a Christian, I have been given forgiveness I didn’t deserve and didn’t earn. Out of that undeserved gift, I am to learn to do the same…forgive others who are undeserving. Colossians 3:13

In the model prayer known as The Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12

The Christian has been forgiven, but continues to experience forgiveness as they offer forgiveness.

Forgiving, especially in light of severe trauma, is not easy…even for Christians. Certainly the severity of the offense makes forgiveness difficult. How could such a horrible crime be forgiven?

But there are also certain misconceptions about forgiveness that can impede our ability to forgive. Understanding what forgiveness is and isn’t is an important step toward being able to forgive.

Let’s start with what forgiveness is not.

  • Forgiveness is not condoning the offense. Forgiveness does not mean that what happened to you was ok. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened to you was a small thing. The very fact that forgiveness is needed says that there was a serious offense that cannot be atoned for in any other way.
  • Forgiveness is not excusing the offender. Nothing excuses what your abuser(s) did to you. It was wrong, it will always be wrong, and it can’t be undone. That’s why your only two options are bitterness or forgiveness. Forgiveness is not fair, but it is freeing.
  • Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness releases the expectation and/or the need for the abuser(s) to make some kind of restitution for what they have done. Forgiveness does not require you to restore a relationship with the abuser(s). Reconciliation will depend on the repentance of the abuser(s) and the willingness of the abused, but forgiveness is not dependent on reconciliation. Forgiveness is solely in the hands of the abused.
  • Forgiveness is not dependent on forgetting. Often we are told we need to “forgive and forget.” Or we are told that continuing to remember an offense is a sign that we have not forgiven the offender. Neither of these are true. Forgetting our hurts would keep us from learning and open the door for further traumatization. Throughout Scripture, God constantly remembers and rehearses the offenses of His people. Forgiveness does not override memory. Forgiveness overrules memory.
  • Forgiveness is not a quick, one-time decision. Forgiveness starts with a decision, but from there forgiveness is a process of living out that decision. When the offense is small, the decision and process of forgiveness is relatively short and easy. But when the offense large, as in sexual abuse, reaching the decision to forgive and carrying out that decision can take much more time and effort. Look at the amount of time between when God proposed forgiveness in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and when He actually carried it out with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. As Christians, we are called to forgive completely…not necessarily quickly.

So what is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is choosing to give up your right and your need to expect or demand restitution for the wrong that was done to you. Forgiveness is releasing your need to collect on the debt they owe you and in so doing setting yourself free. Forgiveness is a learned and practiced skill. It is totally within your power and ultimately for you more than anyone else.

But having said all this, let me say that no one can pressure you into forgiving your abuser. Forgiveness must be given freely as a voluntary decision and an on-going act of the will.

In his article on holding grudges (quoted above), Dr. Feldman also says

“We’re not implying that victims of crimes, traumas, and atrocities have an obligation to forgive their victimizers. Most experts on the topic of forgiveness agree that nobody should (or even can) be forced to forgive. To do so would be to further victimize the victim. But, to the degree that we naturally feel ready to let go of grudges, it may ultimately be beneficial for us to do so. This isn’t something we do for those who wronged us; it’s something we do for ourselves when and if we’re ready.”

I agree with Dr. Feldman. Forgiveness is not to be forced out of a sense of a sense of duty to the offender, but rather offered as an act of freedom for the abused. Forgiveness allows the victim to move forward without continuing to drag the abuser around with them.

Facing the Witch

Dorothy and her companions reluctantly leave the safety of the Emerald City to do the unthinkable…face the Wicked Witch of the West. They try to be confident, but are far from it. They travel through a dark and ominous woods, weak in the knees and constantly looking over their shoulders for a much feared attack.

The attack comes as fearsome images begin to darken the sky and swarm around Dorothy and her friends. Dorothy is caught in the clutches of flying monkeys that carry her away to the witch’s castle. There she finds herself alone with the one she has feared and tried to avoid since the beginning her journey…the Wicked Witch of the West.

She fearfully stands face-to-face with the witch. Dorothy wants her freedom and the witch wants what is left of Dorothy’s power and independence…her ruby slippers. Knowing there can only be one winner, the witch threatens Dorothy’s life then leaves her alone to sink into the depths of fear and desperation.

But her friends are loyal and loving, and they will not abandon her. Covering rough terrain and difficult circumstances, they march into the heart of Dorothy’s darkness and break down the door that holds her captive.

Reunited, Dorothy and her friends make a break for it. They try one escape route and then another, but they can’t escape the witch. Cornered by the witch, this innocent little girl unexpectedly discovers the power to destroy the witch. In an attempt to save the scarecrow from flames, Dorothy throws a bucket of water. The liquid redemption drenches the witch, melting her into a puddle of goo on the grimy castle floor.

And with that, the war is over. Dorothy is stunned that something as simple and pure as water could bring the witch’s reign of terror to an end.

With the witch’s broom stick in hand, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion head back to the Emerald City to see the Wizard and finally claim what they’ve longed for. Dorothy will finally take the road out of Oz.

As a survivor, it can feel like a punch in the gut to have come so far and gotten so much better only to find out you still must face the witch. Your witch may be the insult of unfairness and injustice. Your witch may be the failure of others to protect you. Your witch may be the abuser(s) who have seemingly escaped justice and consequences. Your witch is whatever is large, looming, and seemingly unredeemable about your abuse.

Some survivors resist and even refuse the idea they must face their witch, deciding they would rather stay where they are…out of the woods but never really home. Others reluctantly accept it and start down the road to a final show down.

The road to your witch is a dark and frightening path. It can cause your heart and mind to race with dreadful possibilities. That’s why it’s good to travel this road with others you trust. Never underestimate the power and importance of traveling with others. You need their strength and encouragement when the “flying monkeys” threaten to swarm you and sweep you away.

But in the end, if you want to be free, you and you alone must face your witch. And make no mistake, there will be a winner and a loser. Either your witch will own your life or you will.

So what is the bucket of water that will bring an end to your witch’s fearful reign over your life?

It is the water of forgiveness. I know the mere mention of forgiveness may repel you in disgust, but hear me out. I am not talking about a quick and easy forgiveness that cheapens the offense and the damage done to you. I am talking about a hard fought forgiveness that comes at the end of a long hard journey. I am talking about a forgiveness that is undeserved by the offender, but freeing to the offended. I am talking about a forgiveness that covers the offense and frees you from waiting for a restitution that may never come and will never be enough. When you finally apply the water of forgiveness to the evil that has ruled you for so long, you will finally be free from your witch. (I’ll write more about forgiveness in a future post.)

When you walk away from this final showdown, you will still carry mementoes of your experiences. Instead of a broom stick, there will be memories, triggers, and feelings from the past. But like the broom stick Dorothy carried back to the Emerald City, your mementoes will no longer have power over you.

At that point, you are ready for home.

Forgiveness or Justice ?

Scale_Depositphotos_20352529_xsWhich is more important, forgiveness or justice?  It depends on who you are.  If you’re the offended, justice is more important.  If you’re the offender, forgiveness is more important.   Whether you’re looking for forgiveness or justice, you need to understand that getting it will also be problematic for you.  Here’s what I mean…

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