“She says she forgives me, but why is she always checking up on me? If she is really forgiving, shouldn’t she just let the past be the past?”
This was the complaint I heard from a husband whose marriage had experienced significant healing after he had acted out in ways that deeply wounded his wife. They came for counsel in their hurt and fear. There were full and tearful repentance and generous forgiveness. Healing began and hope was revived.
The Gift of Forgiveness
Then he was scheduled for another business trip. His wife wanted to know who he would be with, where he would be staying, and the ways that he would be accountable while gone. This “snooping” and “surveillance” really set him off. He felt like his repentance and restoration were nullified. He felt unforgiven, treated like a little boy, and stuck in the dog house. It began a whole new round of conflict between the two of them.
This husband needed to understand the very important difference between being forgiven and being trusted again. It’s an essential understanding for any healthy relationship, whether in marriage, family, friendship, or the workplace. We are commanded by God to forgive. We pray it in the Lord’s Prayer. We are to forgive others because we ourselves know what it’s like to be forgiven an unpayable debt to God. This is a precious and expensive gift inside every growing relationship.
Ruth Graham said, “A healthy marriage is made up of two good forgivers.” Forgiveness lets the offender out of his or her jail, refusing to freeze them at their worst and letting their guilt be swept away. This is a priceless restart for a broken relationship, and the price is paid by the forgiver.
Earning Trust on a Foundation of Forgiveness
We are also commanded by God to do many emotionally expensive things: to love, to forbear another’s faults, and to go the extra mile even when we are mistreated. But we are not commanded to trust another person who has wronged us, and whom we have forgiven because that is emotionally impossible.
You can’t automatically trust someone who has violated your trust. First, you forgive to provide the only starting point for healing. Then, trust is built on this foundation of forgiveness, but it isn’t bestowed. It must be earned.
So, in our example, the husband needed to recognize that he was forgiven, but he wasn’t automatically trusted. He was granted forgiveness for free as a gift of grace from his wife, but he needed to earn back her trust by making daily installments of trustworthy behavior.
I coached him that he should eagerly seek to regain his wife’s trust by moving toward her and asking her for ways that would prove his trustworthiness instead of waiting for her to question him. There were many simple, daily installments he could make to prove to her that his repentance was real.
But, when he was traveling and away from her sight, he would have to work extra hard to stay visible, open and accountable in order to renew her full trust in him. She didn’t want to be a private eye or the rule maker. So, he stepped up and asked what he could do to make her comfortable. Just taking that initiative switched the momentum of the relationship. Now he was proactive in regaining her trust.
Trust Is the Essential Oil for Healthy Relationships
If you have had a relationship of trust and then lost it, you know how empty that feeling is. Trust is the essential oil for any healthy relationship at every level.
So, when trust is broken because of selfishness and sin, recognize that full restoration is a two-stage process. First comes forgiveness. Forgiveness is a one-way gift to let someone’s guilt be put away and not held against them. Then comes trust. Trust has a chance to grow through visible integrity and willing accountability. Knowing that these two issues are related, but separate will help you work toward complete restoration when there has been a break in any relationship.