The moment you do or say something that hurts your marriage partner, you stand at a fork in the road. Whether you are aware of it or not, at that very moment you can choose to go in one of two directions. You may be standing at that junction right now. Perhaps a thoughtless word or deed in the last few hours or minutes has erected a barrier of distance in your relationship. It may not be a “big deal”; you wonder if your husband or wife even noticed it. But you know what happened. How will you respond to it? Which direction will you choose?
One choice is to go on with life as usual as if nothing happened. You can pretend that everything is fine between you, even though you know it’s not fine. You can be your cheery, communicative self, expecting the incident to blow over. But these kinds of things, even the smallest of them, never really blow over. They tend to simmer below the surface and erupt at the most inconvenient times. So you can do nothing if you want to, but we don’t recommend it.
Your other choice, the second fork in the road, is to set to work to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. It means taking the initiative to set things straight, to clear the air, and to restore the relationship. It requires courage to restore and rebuild a relationship—regardless of which side of the offense you’re on. It also takes time, patience, trust, and maybe even some tears. But the benefits of a restored relationship far outweigh the effort involved.
We call this second step “closing the loop” on relational offenses. Your hurtful words or actions open the loop by introducing pain. It is important to close that loop as soon as possible to deal with the pain and return the relationship to harmony. Closing the loop is forgiving love in action. It’s the biblical pathway to confronting offenses, resolving conflicts, and healing hurts. This is God’s way to restoring mutual acceptance and intimacy in the wake of misunderstanding and pain.
The most important step in taking the path of forgiveness is heart preparation. Your heart must be right, or your efforts at closing the loop will be shallow and ineffective. King David was a man after God’s own heart because he consistently—though not perfectly—invited God to work in his heart. Notice how much David talked to God about the condition of his heart:
“You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night. You have scrutinized me and found nothing amiss, for I am determined not to sin in what I say.” (Psalm 17:3)
“The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.” (Psalm 19:8)
“May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)
How do you prepare your heart for closing the loop through forgiveness? Here are several important steps:
Humble yourself and pray. Before you say a word to your spouse, get on your knees and confess your sin to God. As you pray, God will soften your heart and help you see his priorities for your relationship.
Look for the underlying cause of the conflict. As God searches your heart, keep alert for the real source of the hurt between you and your spouse. You may not know where to look for it, but God does. Listen to his voice—especially as he speaks to you through your spouse.
Make your relationship your top priority. Don’t trivialize the need to clear the air between you and your spouse. You may even want to take a day or weekend away in order to avoid anything that would distract you from closing the loop.
Consider asking a trusted friend to hold you accountable. Sometimes it is very helpful to involve a third person who will hold you accountable for closing the loop. It should be someone you both trust and respect, someone who will treat your relationship and conflict with the utmost confidentiality. God can direct you to such a person if you ask him.
Reflect Together. How would you assess the condition of your heart today in regard to resolving conflicts and healing hurts in your relationship? Are you eager for God to search your heart and point out your part of the problem? Are you ready to humble yourself before God and your spouse to confess your wrong and seek forgiveness? Are you courageous enough to ferret out the real problem behind the conflict, even if it requires further confession of wrong on your part? Will you make your relationship with your spouse top priority through this process?
Jot down a plan of action, noting what you need to say to your spouse or do to close the loop. Prioritize this process by giving yourself a time frame for completion. Get started today.
*For more helpful insights on how to connect with your spouse, check out Renewing Your Love: Devotions for Couples in our online bookstore.