Forgiveness: One of the essential cornerstones of a happy marriage

Want to have a happy marriage? You have to forgive — even if your spouse doesn't ask and even if he or she isn't aware of having offended you.

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  • Editor's note: This article originally appeared on the May 24, 2014 Gwinnett Daily Post. It has been reprinted with permission.

  • Whoever said “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was obviously never married. Because being married means having to say you’re sorry all the time, even when you’re not.

  • OK, especially when you’re not.

  • Having a successful marriage also means being able to forgive. Constantly. By definition, marriage is the union of two imperfect people. No matter how great they are together, or how much in love, they will inevitably irritate, fail and hurt each other. That’s as certain in marriage as toilet seat disputes.

  • If your marriage is going to work, you’re going to have to forgive — even when the other person has not asked for forgiveness, even when he or she is not even aware of having done anything that requires forgiveness. If you wait for your spouse to come to you, acknowledge fault and ask forgiveness, you’re likely to be waiting a long time. You just have to forgive anyway.

  • The alternative is keeping a mental list of every perceived slight, which you can reintroduce as evidence of your moral superiority or victim status whenever there’s a new infraction. Very few things are more corrosive to a marriage than that.

  • Love is not about collecting grievances. It’s about putting them behind us. It requires us to place the relationship above our own sensibilities. It necessitates forgiveness.

  • And remember, forgiveness isn’t just for your spouse — it’s for you, too. Because nothing is more antithetical to happiness than long-nurtured resentment. As a wise man once said, “Harboring resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

  • And then there’s the fact that if you expect your spouse to forgive your imperfections, you have to reciprocate. I’ve always loved the way Jesus Christ put it in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us” — the word “as” in that passage meaning “to the extent that.” First forgive, then seek to be forgiven.

  • That’s true in all walks of life, but nowhere more so than in a marriage, which can only survive if both partners are determined to forgive each other, over and over, whether they deserve it or not, till death do them part.

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Rob Jenkins is a newspaper columnist, a happily-married father of four, and the author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility," available on Amazon. E-mail Rob at or follow him on Twitter .

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