“You have to forgive me.” is a magic button every abuser uses to avoid consequences. It’s abuse bulimia. Heaping all the harmful behaviors he wants onto his plate. Thoroughly enjoying every last crumb of his power and control. Then as soon as he’s done, he uses forgiveness to purge it all away. He just pulls the magic forgiveness lever, and it’s your job to flush away all that yuck.
Just like that, the burden of guilt is on you. The second he pulls the forgiveness lever, it’s completely your responsibility. He has no consequences to face for his indulgence in cruelty. And if all traces of his abuse are not instantly washed away, then you are the one at fault. You are an angry, bitter, unforgiving wife.
An abuser uses “forgive” to mean “I didn’t do anything and should see no consequences or boundaries.” He wants the relational slate to be instantly wiped clean, so he is free to abuse again.
And sadly false this idea of forgiveness is backed up by many christian leaders and counselors. They’ll say that it doesn’t matter what he does, your duty of “forgiveness” means you are obligated to give him complete trust, and a restored relationship.
The reality is that this entitlement to forgiveness-on-demand allows him to act abusively… without BEING and abuser.
Just like someone practicing bulimia may routinely overeat, without being fat.
If you are forced to wipe the slate clean, delete the database, and “forgive and forget…” Then you can’t see patterns. In fact, saying “I see a pattern of repeated hurtful behavior…” becomes the sin of unforgiveness. And often the abuser then gets YOU to apologize and ask forgiveness!
In this dynamic, his behaviors can never cling to him. His abuse can never accumulate on his character. He can never become “spiritually obese.” He can abuse… without feeling like or being seen as “an abuser.” Because all memory and consequences for his vice are flushed away by his wife. On demand.
If you believe that God will not forgive your own sins if you remember any harm that was done to you in the past, then you cannot see what is being done against you. If it is reinforced that God will punish you for noticing patterns, then you are blinded from recognizing systemic abuse.
Christ gives sight to the blind; he doesn’t blind those who are whole. Blinding someone isn’t in the spirit of God’s love. It doesn’t fit with the Jesus we meet in the gospels.
And eventually, He opens your eyes.
When women in emotionally abusive marriages do begin to see the truth of what is being done, they usually describe it as feeling like scales are falling off their eyes. Or fog is lifting. Or muddy water has been made clear.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting. Or making the waters murky. Or bringing in a fog. Forgiveness is about clarity and peace. If you are feeling foggy, or confused… then this isn’t godly forgiveness. It’s a counterfeit. And it is chaining your heart to the abuse.
So when can a relationship be restored? There are three main things necessary for a relationship to heal. And without any of these, the results will be toxic.
- The harm stops. Permanently. Period.
- The harmed person forgives. This is a lifelong process, and is internal. Forgiveness does not mean the harmed person owes anything to the abuser.
- The one who harmed voluntarily chooses to take responsibility, with no expectations of gratitude or appreciation. (Can I be frank? Most abusive people will never, or can never choose this path.) Continued relationship requires choosing to help the harmed person carry the burden of debt they have taken from you. For as long as necessary.
Without any of these 3 things, a relationship cannot go back to the way it was and be healthy. What I usually see in an attempt at reconciliation is an abuser stopping the harm temporarily, and expecting praise and gratitude for not abusing. Like a pharisee making a show of repentance. Or, an abuser who tries to help with healing for a while, then gets frustrated when the person they harmed isn’t healing on their schedule.