Kathy's online shopping got so out of control that she racked up a huge credit card balance. After I found out, she got some professional help, but I am having trouble forgiving her secrecy – and resenting the sacrifices to pay off her debt.
She says: I want to repair our relationship
I know that Mark is upset, and I don’t blame him. But this spending spree was during a time I was depressed more than six years ago – and I am really curtailing my spending now. If Mark can’t forgive me, how can we ever repair our relationship?
What do they do?
Forgiveness and mercy are crucial to any lasting marriage. Jesus himself encouraged us to forgive not just “seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Mt 18:22) God’s grace can help spouses like Mark and Kathy to get past the hurt and rebuild the marriage.
On a psychological level, forgiveness often happens in four stages. In the first stage, the person acknowledges that they have truly been hurt. In the second stage, he or she makes the decision to forgive. The third stage involves the work of forgiveness, and it seems like Mark is struggling through this stage.
It will help Mark if he tries to see things through Kathy’s eyes. Kathy may have stressors or unmet needs that led her to begin online shopping in the first place. These stressors don’t justify her behavior, but they might explain it. Kathy can’t change the past. However, she is doing her best to change the future by attending therapy and controlling her current spending.
Kathy can help by committing to total honesty with Mark, no matter how difficult. She needs to accept responsibility for having damaged his trust, and be patient as she regains it. If she also goes frequently to confession, Kathy will receive the gift of God’s grace to repair her marriage and avoid falling back into temptation.
By succeeding in the work of forgiveness, Mark can enter into the fourth phase and find release from his anger. He may even find meaning in his suffering. Then their marital relationship can achieve true and total healing. None of us is perfect, and yet God waits to forgive us with open arms if we are truly sorry for what we have done. Modeling God’s mercy is difficult, but it is what sacramental marriage calls us to do.
Note: Nothing in this column is meant to provide psychological or medical diagnosis, treatment or opinion.