Your Marriage Can Be Saved #16: Forgiving Your Own Parents


Years ago I read a quote from Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. Willow Creek is one of the largest churches in the nation. Hybels is someone I have always admired. They have a lot of staff, and Hybels was writing about how to hire staff. He advised: never hire a person who has not worked out things between themselves and their own parents. Especially, never hire someone who does not love their parent and has not forgiven them.

I think this can be applied also to marriage: never marry a person who has not worked out things with their own parents. Put another way: never marry a person who does not, from their heart, love their own mother and father. Why?

First – if they have not gotten things right with their own parents they will bring the bitterness of unforgiveness and pain into the marriage. As their spouse, it can happen that they will take it out on you, as if you are their mother or their father. Persons unable to truly love and forgive often view themselves as victims. Never marry someone who has a victim mentality.

Second – if they do not love their own parents – even if their own parents are not very lovable – they will send a strong message to their children. I have seen this come back to get them, as their own children adopt a relational model of unforgiveness and nonreconcilation.

Third – they will find it harder to forgive you when you hurt them. And hurt them you will. This is inevitable. In Christianity, to forgive means to release the other person from indebtedness towards you.

But how can you do this? Men can begin by reading John Eldridge’s book Wild at Heart, especially his chapter on “The Wound.” Women – read Captivating, by Stasi and John Eldredge, especially their chapter called “Wounded.” Make no mistake about it, unhealed wounds ooze, and what oozes is not good for a marriage. The good news is that there is a road to healing and reconciliation.

When I was a young man I disliked my own father, for a few reasons, among them being that I viewed him as someone who could never admit he was wrong. I saw the way this affected my mother, and it angered me. My dad had a lot of good qualities, but this was not one of them. One day, I had had it with him, and I raged at him. For me, relationship with my father was now over. Emotionally, I hated him. When I became a follower of Jesus I saw that I had to face this and deal with it, and that the anger inside me was not good. So – to make a very long story short – I forgave my father. I told him one day that I loved him. He was not a great communicator, but I know this affected him. Our relationship was healing. I saw him as a brother in Christ. I also was beginning to see that I was no easy person to relate to either.

What really feels humbling to me is that my sons have me as their father. Realizing this, I have many, many times asked them to forgive me for misunderstanding them or being too harsh with them or being unloving and unkind to them.

Finally, and from my Christian point of view, the heart of my faith is the cross of Christ and the resultant forgiveness. I often think that if God, in Christ, can forgive me and love me, how can I not extend such forgiveness and love to others? It’s not always easy, but it is the doorway to freedom and relationship.

(Over a period of 37 years Linda and I have counseled several hundred marriages in a variety of situations ranging from “need a tune-up” to “in cardiac arrest.” While we have at times wondered if a certain marriage would make it, we admit to having never met a marriage that we thought could not be saved and made better.)