When Donnie and I were struggling in our marriage we followed the typical abuse cycle. We had many really good days that would be followed by not so good days that would be followed by really bad days that then led to empty apologizing which led to good days for a while.
During the good times I would try really hard to forgive and forget the previous bad days. That is what I thought I needed to do to be a good person, a good wife. One time, early in our marriage, I even took to memorizing a passage of scripture from the Book of Mormon about charity:
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (Moroni 7:45) When Donnie and I would disagree, instead of saying something that I’d regret-aka that would make Donnie more angry-I would rehearse the scripture in my mind, take deep breaths and let him walk all over me. In doing this I honestly though I was being charitable.
But no matter how many times I said the scripture, in my mind and aloud, under my breath, and in my heart, our marriage did not get better. To me each fight was like a sledge hammer. Only the hammer did not stay the same size and hurt the same amount each time, it got bigger and more powerful and more damaging. Every time something bad would happen the hammer would come smashing down with the force of not only the current argument but every argument we had had up to that point. All of the forgiving and forgetting had not worked.
And I beat myself up for it mercilessly. “Why can’t I just forgive him?! Why can’t I just let the past go and stop talking about it? I am an awful awful person.” So, what did I do? I dove deeper into the scriptures and articles about marriage and I kept hearing the same thing over and over…don’t bring up the past, let past offenses go, don’t be petty. And so on. And I felt defeated, like I would never be a good enough person to only focus on the fight that was happening at the current moment. And I beat myself up some more.
When I had finally had enough and was alarmingly close to ending our relationship altogether, we tried professional counseling. Through the months and months of talking and learning how to be honest and getting stronger I realized something. Something very important. I was not the awful awful person I had thought. I had not been able to let go of the past because the past had been my present. The past was now. The past was still happening. And no amount of ignoring it or trying to forgive it was going to make it go away. We actually had to change.
Now, I am not saying that there has to be change in someone else for forgiveness to happen. But there does have to be change. And for me, to really forgive and forget the pain of what had happened over and over again for so many years, and to be able to stay married to Donnie, we both needed to change. If he had not chosen to take the journey with me, I would have still found peace and forgiveness because I was changing, but that serenity would have come and our relationship would have ended. I am so glad that is not what happened! I also want to add a quick note that I remember all of the things that happened, all of the bad nitty gritty painful icky things. For me, forgiving and forgetting, does not mean that the majority of our marriage was erased, haha, it means that I can now view those times as a learning experience. As an integral part of my growth as a human. And not as a hammer precariously poised over my head, waiting to deliver it’s next blow.
Now, when we disagree about something or have a bad day, it still hurts, but it’s just the hurt of that day, and it’s manageable because I know that we have the tools and the charity to talk it out and come to a place of love and understanding. It’s an amazingly different feeling. It’s real love. Because charity is not being a doormat. Charity is not forgetting negative situations from the past so that people don’t have to change. Charity is not sitting back and taking the blows as the sledge hammer grows. Charity is honest, and it’s powerful, and it’s love and it’s pain that leads to change.
I have relationships in my life that are still run by a hammer. Relationships that are hard and painful and aren’t changing. Every day I evaluate how to best radiate charity with those people. I know they are upset that I won’t just get over and forget the bad things in the past that are the same bad things happening now. But I’ve tried that. I tried it for 13 years and it didn’t work. It was miserable and awful. And I refuse to go to that place that I know won’t change or fix anything or actually bring a real honest relationship. Some of these relationships may not make it or may end up being acquaintance type relationships. Either way, I will know that I showed as much charity as I could by staying true to myself and the hard lessons I learned by trudging through a broken marriage for so many years. I refuse to forget the powerful lessons that I’ve learned. The lessons that saved my life and my marriage.
Charity is a powerful gift. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Thank goodness. Because I’m certain I would not have learned so much had things been easy. Dammit.