Day 13: Forgiveness

This post is a part of The 15-Day Relationship Challenge. If you’re just now tuning in, click here for the whole series.

Forgiveness. Letting go, holding on. 

Good morning. Welcome to Day 13.

Imagine dangling from a cliff, you’ve just slipped and caught a tree branch growing from the mountainside with your right hand. Your spouse is above you reaching their hand down to grab your left hand. It’s your only hope to be saved from falling. What do you do with your right hand, the one holding onto the branch? Nothing. You keep it securely gripped to the tree so that your left hand is free to grab ahold of their outstretched hand.

Forgiveness is the hand that is offered to us as we dangle over the cliff. Without it, we will fall into the abyss below. Unknown if we will able to return to the relationship we just lost. 

What I know about forgiveness is that it has a profound cost. Forgiveness that does not include a cost probably isn’t forgiveness, but a platitude. Just think of the cliff metaphor. Forgiveness is costly to the one receiving it. They have to trust their life to someone above with better footing. In order to be saved, they have to let go of the tree branch (which might feel more strong and true at the time).

For the one offering forgiveness, the hand, they have to give up their safe perch on the path above. They have to give up their safety, and risk falling into the abyss below. 

Yesterday, you wrote a letter of responsibility that gave specific details about how your actions hurt your spouse. This letter’s natural progression is towards asking for, and granting forgiveness. You were asked to refrain from that for a very intentional reason: We usually do not consider the cost associated with granting and receiving forgiveness. Taking an extra day to consider what it would mean to forgive and be forgiven keeps you both honest to not escaping from the difficulty of the conflict. 

If you do not sit down and look at the abyss below and how one or both of you flirted with falling into it, you’ll be escaping from the conflict, not resolving it. Sit down and process what hurt, the fears it caused, the damage the actions caused or might have caused, and then forgive. Don’t forgive until you know specifically what you are forgiving. Good intentions don’t mean anything when hurts take place. That’s like saying “I wasn’t trying to fall off the cliff, I just happened to slip and there I was.” Truth be told, if you weren’t so flirty with the edge, an accidental slip wouldn’t have been so threatening.

The Lords prayer says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It’s a combo deal. If we have been forgiven, it is on us to forgive. When we forgive others, there are needs we have that will help keep us safe from similar issues arising in the future. Name those needs.  In our cliffhanger story, the one who rescues the fallen one will likely need them to stay pretty far away from the cliffside in the future … even if that’s the place that makes them come alive inside. 

Lastly, forgiveness is a lifestyle, not an event. Don’t forgive and move on. Remember it. Keep practicing it. Stay with the healing force of it. We must steward the gift of forgiveness, both in our receiving and in our giving of it.

Reflection Questions

  • What did I think about my spouse in reading today’s material? Was it kind? Was it thoughtful? Was it loving?
  • Did I have feelings, thoughts, questions, or stories that came to mind?
  • What is something I can do for them today?
  • How can I welcome and receive what they have done for me today?

Part 1: In your life story, where have you experienced the most significant act forgiveness? What is that story?

Part 2: Think back to what was shared with you in the letter last night and answer these questions: What are the specific actions that you need to offer a hand of forgiveness? What are you needs about what you are forgiving? How can you make this act of forgiveness a lifestyle? 


Hello! Welcome back. Great to see you again. How was your day?

Forgiveness is action that will free both you and your spouse from the chains of resentment. You cannot hold on to resentments if you give or receive forgiveness. This is why forgiveness involves letting go, and holding on. We let go of our individual safety, and hold on to our safety together.

Take 10-15 minutes tonight with your spouse to talk through your day. 

  • What were the highs and lows?
  • Where were you surprised? 
  • Was there anything different about your day because of the assignment(s)?
  • From this mornings reading, what stood out to you? 
  • If you’re willing, share your answers to the assignment. 

Assignment Connection
If you’re ready and able, ask or offer forgiveness to your spouse from what was said in the letter from yesterday. Also ask “how can I make this right?”


Married Teens

What were you like when you were 13 years old? How were you as a kid when conflict happened in the family? Where did you go and what did you do to feel safe? What was your role in the family surrounding conflict?

Sometimes when conflict happens, we can become like a teenager again. We freeze up, fight back, run away, blame, stonewall, scream, mope, depress, and cry. I think everyone would agree that a thirteen year old does not do all that great as husband or wife. The reality is we all act like a teenager every now and then. 

What some 13 year olds need is a little bit of TLC, which is probably what you or your spouse needs when the “inner teen” shows up.

Try this: Get a picture of when you were 13, have it printed in a wallet sized print, and put it in your pocket. Do the same for your spouse. The next time you’re in a conflict, grab the picture of your 13-year old self (not your spouses picture!), and hold it up to your spouse. 

Talk to them about what’s going on with you. What does your “teenage self” need in this moment? What don’t “they” need to say or do? 


Avoiding Hurt Limits Intimacy

Couples that avoid hurt from happening (or the hurt that has already happened) are preventing intimacy from developing.

No one really enjoys being hurt, and being hurt is a part of all close intimate relationships. It’s going to happen. The difficulty is in viewing pain as though it is a gift, not the plague.

Pain is not fun, but neither is numbness. I don’t know about you, but when I leave the dentist after getting a shot of Novocain, I cannot wait for it to wear off. The feeling of not controlling half of my face is miserable (not to mention drooling and talking like there’s a boulder in half my mouth). People were not made to be numb, we were made to feel.

Mary Oliver penned this beautiful line, and it speaks well to the realities couples face: “I was once given a box full of darkness, it took me many years to realize that this too was a gift.”

Pain shapes our lives either in our acceptance of it or our refusal to experience it. Creating a space for hurts to be a welcomed guest in your marriage will serve you well. A noble calling for every marriage would be to create and live out a relationship that engages the hurt, and heals the pain.

Develop guidelines for how you’ll address hurts in your relationship. Setup a regular time to “clear the air” together, and keep short accounts. Find intentional ways to ask for and offer forgiveness.


Grace & Gratitude

Before I release a pre-marital couple to the wild world of marriage, I challenge them to adopt two words (concepts) as cornerstones for their marriage: Grace and Gratitude. Here’s why.

Showing grace implies forgiveness, acceptance, and a belief that your spouse is a better man/woman than what the offending action shows. It’s easy to get offended or hurt and turn away from them as protection. It’s hard to stay engaged and put hurt feelings aside and believe the best. Next time this happens in your relationship, offer grace by placing your hand on their shoulder or chest near their heart and say, “I don’t believe that you intended to harm me, and that you do love and care for me.” Watch what happens next. 

The second is gratitude. As a whole, we are not that grateful of a people. Instead, we are an entitled people. Sadly, I rarely encounter a couple that genuinely like each other. Most couples remember liking each other, but they’ve long since forgotten that part of their lives. Entitlements will destroy your relationship — Gratitude will repair and heal your relationship. 

Practice giving thanks to your spouse, for even the smallest of items.

  • “Thank you for smiling at me this morning.” 
  • “Thank you for sitting next to me on the couch.” 
  • “Thank you for turning off the TV and listening to my tough day.” 
  • “Thank you for marrying me.” 
  • “Thank you for smiling at me when I came home.”
  • “Thank you … <fill in the blank>”

It doesn’t take a lot to change the tune of your day, or your spouse’s day. Show them grace, and gratitude, and see how quickly you begin to like them again. 


Relationship is Conflict

If you want to be in relationships, you have to learn how to do conflict. One of my mentors, Dan Allender, says it well: “All good communication leads to conflict.” Most of us believe that good communication will lead to consensus, not conflict.

The word “communicate” comes from the Latin word communicatus. This word has two parts: Communi (to inform, impart, or share.” and Catus (which means “care”). The heart of the word (and act) communication is to give care. 

Some experts estimate that over 70% of communication is non-verbal. This means that it’s nearly impossible to not communicate. We may not be communicating well, but we’re always communicating. Even if we’ve left the presence of a relationship, we are still communicating something in our leaving.

Conflict is the result of good “transmitting” (communication) of differing messages. The word “conflict” comes from the Latin word confligere which means “to strike together.” Notice this doesn’t say “to strike against each other.” The reason a lot of people, myself included, are afraid of conflict is because it usually feels like a “strike against” not a “strike together.” Unfortunately, avoiding conflict is only going to make it stronger the next time we face it.

Good communication that leads to conflict and then reconciliation is the foundation of a strong relationships. Communication that leads to unresolved conflict after unresolved conflict is what weakens relationships. This idea applies to all relationships: friends, spouse, family, work, professional, doctor, etc. 

If you want better relationships, you have to become better at striking together, not against. Start with how you communicate. Instead of communicating to receive something, try communicating to give something of care to someone you love. That might be the conflict that turns things around.


When in Conflict: Take Your Shoes Off

The next time you find yourself in conflict with your spouse, take your shoes off. Seriously.

Conflict in your marriage is holy ground. It’s where our life story shows up at a primal, non-verbal level. Our bodies remember things our words can’t describe. We offer silence and respect when entering a place of reverence. Conflict is this place of reverence.

Taking your shoes off puts your feet in bare contact with the physical ground, and terrain. You’re more sensitive to what you’re walking on without your shoes. You will walk slower, with more caution. If you are aware of it, this practice will help you to be more sensitive to what you’re wading into emotionally with yourself, and your spouse.


Making Peace: Drop Your Weapons

You don’t walk into a peace treaty meeting with a machine gun. And if you do, the meeting quickly changes from a peace treaty to a tense stand off. One wrong move, and there will be a mess.

We all have weapons that we have access to use when we are threatened. After all, these weapons have long served us as faithful tools to bring about feelings of safety, control, and power.

What are the weapons you use in marriage?

  • Contempt?
  • Stonewalling?
  • Name calling?
  • “Calling it like you see it”?
  • Avoidance?
  • Manipulation?
  • Withholding?
  • Rage?
  • Silence?

Regardless of the weapon you can easily brandish, leave it at the door. It has no use in your marriage. None of these will get you what you’re looking for.

What weapon do you need to leave at the door?



Criticism without hope will lead to contempt.Criticism with hope will spawn creativity.

It’s way easier to give the criticism than to receive it, but we all need helpful, loving, critical feedback in order to grow and change. We can be more receptive to hearing critical feedback if we feel secure, valued, cared about, and loved. If you hope for the best in and for me, you can say a whole lot to me, including critical thoughts. 

Tips for giving critical feedback: 

  • Ask for permission to share. “Are you open to me giving you some feedback about the situation?” If the answer is no, “will you let me know when you are ready?” Give it 24 hours, and ask permission again.
  • Tell them what you hope for in sharing the feedback. “I hope we can avoid this particular pitfall in the future.” 
  • Be on their team. “Here is what I want for us.” Rather than “you need to do ‘this and/or that’.”
  • Ladle it with kindness. Don’t feel kindness towards the other person? Don’t share the feedback. 
  • After sharing, ask for feedback about how you gave your feedback. “Did you feel like I was on your team?” “How could I have said this better to help you not feel attacked?”

Trying to enact change in relationships takes a lot of time, consistency, grace, and love. And love is inefficient.



When we talk about having confidence we’re usually referring to the feeling of being steadfast, solid, or steady in our decision/statement. We also use the word to describe telling someone something private or secret that we ask them to keep “in confidence.” 

Confidence comes from the Latin word which means to act “with fidelity.” When we are confident, we act out of faithfulness to what we know or believe to be true. 

In an act of confidence (or lack thereof), a really important question to ask ourselves is this: “To whom or what am I being faithful?” Is the action faithful to a value or morality that is internally held? Perhaps it is faithfulness a boss, parent, spouse, God, friend, or other authority figure? 

Often our lack of confidence is because we are acting with too much faith in what another person says, instead of finding out what it is that we believe needs to be said or done. The risky work for this person is discovering and acting upon what unique interests, beliefs, and needs they have.

When we are too confident in ourselves, it’s because we have lost faith and trust in others. We can’t rely on them, so we act and live in isolation so as to not be hurt or let down again. The maturing work for this person is to risk asking for help from others. 

Too much confidence in others will keep us from making our own decisions and discoveries.
Too much confidence in ourselves will keep us from making wise decisions and finding our need of others. 


The great philosopher, Rocky Balboa, is talking to his manager Paulie. They are in the meat locker, Rocky is punching some cows, and Paulie asks him about his sister:
“You really like her? I don’t get it, what’s the attraction?”
“I don’t know, fills gaps I guess.”
“What’s gap’s”
“I dunno. I’ve got gaps, she’s got gaps. Together we fill gaps.”
(this whole blog post is so much better if read in Rocky’s voice)
Gaps are why we love (and hate) relationships. We have gaps, we need others to fill our gaps, and we need to fill others gaps. How many of us are comfortable with our gaps, as much (or little) as they are filled?
So often we are begging for our gaps to be filled, instead of being the one who fills gaps.