Question: “My husband and I are trying to reconcile. I feel in my heart that I have forgiven him and he is truly sorry for his actions, recognizes his issues, and is actively trying to work on them. But I look at him and feel nothing but numbness. How do I move past the lasting effects of what he’s done to me?”

I was convinced I had forgiven my husband.  I had done every forgiveness exercise that I, and others, could think of.  But one day in counseling, I asked for my assignments for the week.  “Look up such-and-such Psalm and meditate on it.”  Cool.  “Read such-and-such book.”  Done.  “Oh yeah, and forgive him.”  What?! I thought I already had. Like a thousand times!  “Well,” he said, “show me an angry person and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t forgiven.” Oh. Crap.

So my first thought is to make sure you truly have done the difficult emotional work of full forgiveness. There are many ways to go about doing this, but I would suggest two things.

I would write out a letter to your husband telling him everything you’re upset about, everything he’s done that’s hurt you. Then I would read it out loud to Jesus. And then I would burn it or tear it up into a hundred pieces.

I would also talk to someone you trust, be it a counselor, a mentor, a good friend. Ask this person if they see bitterness in you. Ask this person if they believe you’ve forgiven as fully as you can. And be open to hearing what they have to say.

Now let me say, bravo to your husband for doing the work. I received an apology from a male friend this past week and I wrote him back saying, “This is how a really good man apologizes.”  When I hear of someone’s spouse doing what needs to be done to fix something that they broke, it restores something in me. Please know that you two are ahead of the game because of your husband’s willingness to recognize his part and to try to repair it. That is huge. So I would start with acknowledging this to your husband. If you need to, sit down during some quiet time alone and make a list of the positive changes you’re seeing, and then thank him specifically for these things. It will reinforce the new, better behaviors and it will honor him and he will feel respected by you.

But then here you are…numb. How do you move on, how do you start to feel again? By being honest.

Tell God. Confess to God all the raw feelings you’re struggling with. Tell him you’re numb. Tell him you’re still not sure you want to be in this marriage, even with all the changes taking place. Ask him to help your heart change, telling him you just cannot do it on your own. Ask him to help you feel things for your husband that you don’t currently feel. Then trust that he will come through for you on this.

Tell a trusted friend. You need someone you can be completely honest with, but someone who will hold you accountable to doing the hard, right thing.

Tell your husband. But gently. Tell him you know that he’s trying and that you’re trying too but that you’re just not there yet. Healing takes a long, long time, and the duration varies on the level of brokenness or betrayal that took place. I believe that if he is truly repentant and wanting you back, he will display a patience and perseverance as he waits for you to come around.

And then, do something.  If you husband has truly made a turnaround and you truly have a second chance at your marriage, this is a gift.  Actions come before feelings.  At least, in real life they do.  For grown-ups they do.  In recovery world, they call it acting as if.  Begin taking small actions as if you are madly in love with your husband. Make him his favorite dinner. Get him tickets to a sporting event. Take him to a movie that he wants to see. Iron all of his shirts. Wash his car. I don’t know, whatever his love language is, however he will feel loved and respected, begin to do these things. Perhaps commit to doing one kind thing each day and ask a friend to check up on you.

Will this be easy? Umm, in a word, no. You are rebuilding a broken thing. The beautiful news is, though, you’re not rebuilding alone. Not only do you have a willing partner in your husband, but God – the creator of marriage – is not only pulling for you, he will give you the strength you need to bring beauty from ashes.

If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.

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