Sunday, 24 September 2017

Healing the Wounds Part 2 - Recognition and Regret

[Click here for Part 1]
Imagine you are watching a typical date movie.  Boy meets girl, they fall in love, he does something that hurts or offends her, and now she is at the airport ready to board a plane to Europe and leave her heartbreak behind forever.  He rushes to the airport and catches up to her at the last possible moment and looking deep into her eyes he says "It was only one time, it wasn't my fault, you're making a big deal out of nothing and you just need to get over it."

I don't think she would be very unlikely to change her plans based on what he said.

As I mentioned in Part 1, the path to healing a relationship with a spouse (or anyone else) is the same process as healing our relationship with God when we sin, so I'll be taking quotes from scripture and church leaders about the process of repentance and applying them here to the process of reconciliation.

The first step in healing the wounds is to recognize that you caused a wound.  If you didn't mean to wound you spouse it doesn't mean there is no wound, and if you can't recognize your wrongdoing you won't be able to reconcile over it.

Recognition is something that happens in the mind.  You realize on an intellectual level that your actions or words were not what they should have been.  This may be because you can see the hurt or anger you caused, or because you are aware of how your actions violate expectations and reasonable treatment of other people.

The enemy of recognition is defensiveness and justification.  If you push back against the idea that you are in the wrong and try to rationalize it, then you are not going to be able to make things better.  It doesn't matter what wrongs your spouse has done, or what other circumstances exist, you have to accept responsibility for your actions and embrace the fact that it was the wrong thing to do.  You don't get to decide how somebody else should feel about something.  We all want to be the hero of our own story, but there are times we need face up to the fact that we have become the villain in another person's story and will stay that way until we change it into a story of our redemption.

Regret is probably the most important, as well as the hardest step to take.  We live in an age where anything that produces guilt is labeled as judgmental and intolerant, but that ideology creates a barrier to reconciliation and repentance.  A 'safe space' will not save your relationship, it will allow wounds to fester until the relationship is too infected to survive.

The Apostle Paul praised 'godly sorrow' as something the leads to repentance and salvation (2Cor 7:10).  It is your regret that will provide the emotional fuel to do what you need to do to achieve a reconciliation.  Without an appropriate level of regret you might go through the motions of each step, but they will be hollow and meaningless actions that won't produce lasting results.

While recognition happens in the mind, regret happens in the heart.  It takes heart wrenching regret to bring about a mighty change of heart and that is why repentance is often described as a painful process. The depth of your regret has to match the offense.  You can't cause a bucket load of pain for your spouse then offer a teaspoon of regret and expect it to balance out.

President Spencer W. Kimball said:
There must be a consciousness of guilt. It cannot be brushed aside. It must be acknowledged and not rationalized away. It must be given its full importance. If it is 10,000 talents, it must not be rated at 100 pence; if it is a mile long, it must not be rated a rod or a yard; if it is a ton transgression, it must not be rated a pound.  (What is True Repentance, Ensign, May 1974)
Alma described the regret he felt for his sins as being "tormented with the pains of hell" (Alma 36:13)

Your spouse needs to see your regret as well.  When they see your regret it softens their heart and shows them your heart is changing which builds trust.  If however your spouse has not seen genuine and sufficient regret, don't expect your apologies to carry a lot of weight.  To them it will feel like you are going through the motions, doing what you understand in your head is the right action to take, but lacking the emotion in the heart needed to really mean it.  They can forgive you, even if you don't do any of these steps, but if you want to restore the relationship and heal the wounds you will have to put your heart into it.

This can't be faked either, and it must be regret for what you did, not regret that you got caught.  If you genuinely do not feel an appropriate level of regret over what you did, you will need to work on that.  Have some empathy for your spouse's pain.  Don't make yourself a judge of how they should feel based on how you feel about things.  We all have different sore spots, different insecurities and fears.  The context of your life is not the same as the context of their life.  What may seems like a harmless bit of ribbing or a minor faux pa to you could be a devastating, cruel and hurtful attack in your spouse's eyes because of their past experiences and struggles in life.  You have to respect their feelings as valid and real even when you do not share them.

It may help to talk with your spouse to try and understand the situation from their perspective.  It may be a painful conversation to have, but it will help you understand your spouse better and show you are serous about trying to fix things. It may help you to avoid inadvertently causing more pain in the future.  Listen and don't judge, you are trying to understand them better so they need to be the one doing most of the talking.  Questions to get clarification are OK, but don't try and talk them out of feeling what they feel or back them into a corner.  Seeing their pain will hopefully soften your heart as well. 

Vindictiveness, hardness of heart, and pride will block genuine regret. If you struggle with those, pray for greater humility, empathy and understanding.  Bring the spirit into your life to soften your heart by reading the scriptures, attending church, going to the temple, and serving others. Seek to tap into the gifts of the spirit to help discern your spouse's side and empathize with them.

When you property recognize and regret what you have done the rest of the steps become things that your heart will compel you to do to free yourself of that pain.  They still may not be easy steps to take, but you'll have a strong motivating force to push you through it.  We will discuss the first action steps in Part 3.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Healing The Wounds Part 1 - Where To Start

I hope that those of you reading this blog do not assume that my marriage is perfect.  Many of the ideas I talk about here are things my wife and I are trying to live up to (with varying degrees of success).  While my wife and I love each other dearly and do our best, we are imperfect people and there are times where we cause hurt to each other.

This is a normal part of marriage.  Getting close to somebody emotionally goes hand in hand with giving them the ability to cause far deeper wounds to the heart than any stranger could ever inflict.  It often happens with no intent to cause harm, and even no realization that their actions or words would cause pain.  Certainly sinful behaviour like adultery, pornography usage etc. causes serious hurt in marriages, but spouses can hurt each other without committing such sins as well. 

These hurts are damaging to the relationship, and they must be addressed and healed. Don't count on time to erase everything, that often will make things worse.  If not dealt with correctly, some wounds may fester and spread.  Even if that doesn't happen and it seems to have been swept under the rug, over time an accumulation of scars take their toll.

Situations like this, even though they may not involve sin, are still closely related to the gospel principles of forgiveness and repentance.  God loves us more than we really understand.  When we rebel against his will, betray our covenant to follow Christ and instead commit sins, we hurt him.  We damage our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  The process of repentance is not a legal process, it is an emotional process for repairing that relationship and seeking a reconciliation.  The same process applies when we need to repair a marriage relationship, friendship, or any other relationship. 

Forgiveness: Human and Divine
The starting point of that process is forgiveness.  There are two types of forgiveness, human and divine.  Christ said:
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.  I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. - D&C 64:9-10
Divine forgiveness, the forgiveness a sinner seeks from Christ, comes only on condition of repentance.  When it is obtained, the stain of sin is washed away from the transgressor's soul by the power of the atonement.

Human forgiveness however does not cleanse the sins of the offender, and we are obligated to give it freely and unconditionally, even if they never repent.

Forgiving somebody doesn't mean you pretend it never happened.  It doesn't mean you extend to them the same level of trust as before.  It doesn't mean  you stop hurting.  It certainly doesn't mean you make excuses for what they did or give approval.  While this video is not from an LDS source, but I think it does a good job clarifying what human forgiveness is and is not.

What it means to forgive is that you let go of your anger, bitterness, vindictiveness and hostility.  You don't lash out and try to 'make them pay' for what they did.  It doesn't let them off the hook, but it does give them an environment that encourages and facilitates their repentance while preventing your soul from becoming poisoned with hate and contention.  Whatever your spouse did, not forgiving them for it is a bigger sin because you make yourself an obstacle to their repentance.

Repentance and Reconciliation
To repair the relationship the offender must address what they did and do what is needed.  For the sake of this blog, if the relationship being repaired is between a person and God I'll call it repentance, and if it is between a person and their spouse or other person I'll call it reconciliation.  The process is the same in either case but with repentance comes divine forgiveness and reconciliation is most easily achieved when human forgiveness has already been given.  Only after we have repaired our relationship with God is He justified in cleansing us of our sins.

The onus is on the offender to make this effort, and they do not get to decide at what point the other party should reconcile with them.  When reconciliation does happen however, the relationship is restored, even strengthened. Repentance is often described as a painful process, and with good reason.  Likewise reconciliation can be painful too.  There are times where repentance requires the guidance and counsel of a Bishop, and times where reconciliation requires the help of a professional marriage counselor.

In Part 2 I'll start to go over the steps of this process, and more importantly why those are the steps that need to be taken, and how to proceed with them.