When Things Get Hard: Forgiveness in Family and Marriage

“The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change…Repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change.”

~Elder Dallin H. Oaks

            Before I was married, and early in my marriage, I was studying divorce rates and causes of divorce. One of the main causes was money. My husband and I were poor, but still happy with each other. I would (naively) think that it was so silly that people would divorce over money issues. Why can’t they just work it out?

Today, I am not going to talk too much about divorce, but rather the importance of repentance and forgiveness in marriage and family life. However, my first example does have a point!

A couple of years into our marriage my husband and I were both still in school, working, and had a little daughter. Money was very tight to say the least. We had a series of very unfortunate events occur, that we could have never accounted or budgeted for, that completely depleted our savings. We were also waiting for some money that we had planned on having, that ended up not coming. We were not only living paycheck to paycheck, but it was Christmastime and we were not sure if we could pay some of our bills. The stress of this situation caused us both to be very overwhelmed. After several weeks of trying to find solutions, we started fighting. It was small at first, but eventually we were arguing over petty things and blaming each other when things went wrong. One day, it got to the point where we had to decide that this was enough. Fighting all the time and about money wasn’t helping our situation, and in fact it was making it much worse. Unfortunately though, the damage from our fighting had already been done and we had to begin the process of repentance and forgiveness to work through our hurt feelings.

In Chapter 20 of the book Successful Marriages and Families, authors Elaine Walton and Hilary M. Hendricks teach that, “Repentance and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin and are frequently addressed together. For example, apologies facilitate forgiveness, and forgiveness motivates repentance” (p. 200). I love this because it is so true! An ideal situation is when both people feel mutual sorrow for what they have done or said and apologize to one another. Sadly, many times it is not the case. However, repentance and forgiveness will not only strengthen an individual, but a family as a whole.

I want to talk about apologies. Walton and Hendricks teach that “apologies are essential for reconciliation” (p. 204). But apologies can be hard! It is hard to apologize. It is also hard when you think someone should apologize to you but doesn’t. While the idea of saying “I’m sorry” sounds so simple, it is often a difficult step that people struggle to take. So, I am going to outline some steps that Walton and Hendricks teach that constitute a successful apology.

1) an accurate acknowledgment of the offense

2) an appropriate expression of regret, remorse, or sorrow

3) a suitable offer of repayment or restitution and

4) a pledge for behavior reform to ensure that the offense is not repeated (p. 204)

Knowing how to apologize can be very helpful for both sides. It can be helpful not only between spouses, but in any familial relationship. Children and parents often have to practice forgiveness with one another. It can be especially hard as a parent to go to your child and admit that you did or said something you shouldn’t have and apologize to them. But teaching them the importance of repentance and forgiveness by example is one of the best ways for them to learn.

Now I’ve talked about how to apologize and repent, I’m going to focus more on forgiveness. If you feel like you were the victim in a situation in your family, you have to learn how to forgive. Walton and Hendricks teach that, “For victims, forgiveness means being released from anger and developing empathy for the offender” (p. 205). It also means letting go of the grudges you may hold. They also say, “Being able to say “I forgive you” means that the feeling of injury no longer supports resentment, though the definition of forgiveness does not specify how the injured person arrives at this change of heart” (p. 205). Forgiveness can be very difficult, especially depending on the offense. However, we know that we are commanded by the Lord to forgive every offense. But that can take time and help from the Lord to do in many situations, and that is okay!

I am going to end with one of my favorite quotes from Elder Richard G. Scott. Like I have mentioned several times, repentance and forgiveness are not easy. But thankfully we have do not have to do it alone. We have the Savior, Jesus Christ to help us. Elder Scott said:

“The beginning of healing requires childlike faith in the unalterable fact that Father in Heaven loves you and has supplied a way to heal. His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, laid down His life to provide that healing. But there is no magic solution, no simple balm to provide healing, not is there an easy path to the complete remedy. The cure requires profound faith in Jesus Christ and in His infinite capacity to heal” (Successful Marriages and Families, pp. 207-208).

There is so much more I could write on this subject. But these are just a few things that could help you with forgiveness and repentance in your family life when things get hard. I have linked several talks from LDS.org on forgiveness that are great sources of information and can help you if you have any other questions.

“Forgiveness” by President Gordon B. Hinckley


“The Healing Power of Forgiveness” by James E. Faust


“Finding Forgiveness” by Elder Richard G. Scott


“Forgiveness Fills Hearts with Love” video and multiple sources


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