From time to time, when my husband and I are having a disagreement, he goes too far and says something hurtful. Later, he will act as if nothing has happened. How can I get him to understand that things are still unresolved?
Tom: Having an argument is extremely easy. Resolving the issue at hand is a little bit tougher. But most difficult of all is the act of seeking forgiveness.
This is true in a particular way for a man. A man is so conditioned to be right, to achieve victory, that he can become consumed with "winning" the argument. Too often, this comes at the expense of the feelings of his bride. After a cooling-off period, a husband may realize that he said some things he now regrets. But the notion of asking for forgiveness requires a heavy dose of humility, a virtue that our culture neither understands nor encourages. And yet, for the Christian, no virtue is more desirable than humility. In fact, humility is the manliest of virtues. We need look no further than Christ on the cross for evidence of that.
Caroline: To address this with your husband, you must first model humility. After an argument, be the first to step forward and seek forgiveness for anything hurtful you may have said to him. Don't merely say "I apologize" or "I'm sorry." Those words have lost their strength. Be sure to add, "Please forgive me for what I have done," and spell out exactly what it is you did; take ownership of your actions and words. Next is the tricky part. As a man, he may be inclined to say "It's okay" or "Don't worry about it." Do not accept this response. Insist that he say the words "I forgive you." In this way, you are both direct and certain.
Tom: It is much like the sacrament of confession. We receive consolation from speaking our sins out loud to a real person, and hearing the reassuring words of absolution, instead of being left to wonder if we are truly forgiven. When spouses exchange words of clear regret and forgiveness, the same reassurance and restoration of the relationship can take place.
Caroline: What is also necessary for reconciliation, just like in the sacrament, is the "firm purpose of amendment." You need to articulate the concrete steps you will take to make sure this same hurt does not happen again; otherwise, the apology will ring hollow.
Tom: Hopefully, after you set the example, your husband will catch your drift and start following suit. If not &mdash we guys tend to be slow on the uptake — be clear about what you would like him to say, and even show him this column with the steps in it. It may just be the case that he would be happy to do it if he knew exactly what it was.
Finally, of course, pray for the gifts of humility and charity toward one another, and ask Our Lord to give you the grace to reconcile more quickly.
The McDonalds are family-life directors for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.