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My Spouse Never Asks for Forgiveness; How Am I to Respond?

My Spouse Never Asks for Forgiveness; How Am I to Respond

Mable came to me, exclaiming, “I’m frustrated! I am always approaching my husband with my sin, asking for his forgiveness, but he seems never to see his need to ask me for forgiveness. Many times he won’t even bother to forgive me. What am I to do? How can I respond to him when he shows no interest in working with me through our problems?” Her complaint is not unusual in relationships, married or otherwise. In fact, her situation is probably the norm because folks do not mature equally or at the same pace. Let me share with you what I told her, and, of course, you can apply these things to either gender, not just Biff.

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Inequitable Relationships

There is always a smell of death to our most complicated questions because to walk well with God in His world, there is a call to die to ourselves (Mark 8:34). How could it be any other way? Living among the walking dead is not always complicated in some areas of our lives, but it can be pretty challenging in other areas, and when there is sin, there will be ancillary problems that need utmost care. Most of the tight spots where dying to yourself are hard are in our most meaningful relationships.

As I suggested initially, part of the problem will always be the inequity in relationships; everybody is in a different place. Each person has a unique way of seeing things and responding to them. For example, parenting is a testing ground where one child progresses well while the other is not. Marriage is another testing ground where being different can cause conflict. Thinking biblically about our differences while learning how to respond like Jesus to those who are not like us is well worth our consideration.

I will provide you with three ideas that I told Mable and then add four other tips that I hoped would help her reflect Christ to Biff (1 Peter 1:21). I do not assume you are married or that your situation is like hers, so if it serves you, please change and adapt what you need to so these concepts will aid you in your most vital relationships. Perhaps you are Biff, and it’s Mable who is stubborn or oblivious about the needs of the marriage. If that is the case, make those adjustments while asking God to provide you the wisdom and courage to be Jesus to her.

Is He Illuminated?

While I’m sure you’ve considered the condition of Biff’s soul, I would like for you to think about the reasons behind his lack of asking you for forgiveness. Perhaps you live in a Christianized community, or you all are part of a church. What do you think his lack of asking means? There can be a difference between doing Christian things and being a Christian (James 1:22; Philippians 2:12-13). If he is not a Christian, there is no way he can ask you for forgiveness that will be adequate, consistent, or transformative (1 Corinthians 2:14). To know you’ve sinned and to be motivated to remove your sin is a Spirit-led, Spirit-illuminated, and Spirit-empowered gift (John 16:13; 1 John 1:7-10).

Even a non-Christian can premeditate and act out choreographed responses that look like a believer if he has time to think, plan, and implement Christianized responses. He just needs to always be in control of his words, actions, and reputation. Thus, there are two important areas to consider when thinking about whether he is a Christian: (1) those spontaneous moments in his life where he’s “caught by surprise” and (2) how he lives when nobody is looking.

During “surprise moments,” you have to reflex quickly without considering how you might look to others. These unannounced instances do not matter to the Christian because he can keep in step with the Spirit, and be under the Spirit’s management each moment of the day (Galatians 5:16). Nobody ever caught Jesus off guard. He was under the influence of the Spirit rather than fleshly desires (Romans 8:6). Secondly, there is a difference between our public and private lives. When the world is not watching, there is a temptation to let down our guards. There is no craving for favorable opinions or fears of rejection. We relax. We live in harmony with who we really are.

  • How do you know he is a Christian?
  • What is he like in those private moments when it’s just you and him?
  • How does he respond when surprised? What are some of the first things that come out of his mouth?
  • What are his sensitivity levels of morality? Has his conscience been growing harder or softer throughout your marriage?

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Is He Ignorant?

The Ethiopian in Phillip’s day did not understand God’s Word (Acts 8:31). He needed guidance (John 17:17). The Bible speaks about the value of teachers (Ephesians 4:12-14; James 3:1), and Phillip was one to this man. We can’t know what we don’t know. Maybe the “light” of the Spirit is “turned on,” but Biff does not know how to repent, or nobody ever taught him the importance of confession and forgiveness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Practicing the skill of repentance is not universally understood within the Christian community.

For example, Christians regularly say unkind things to each other on social media, while never returning to ask for forgiveness. Thirty minutes on any social media platform would support this claim. I have discovered that most Christian couples I have counseled do not know how to practice repentance. When I ask them to walk me through what repentance looks like in their marriages, nearly all return blank stares or stumble through some sort of an apology process that has no redemptive force.

  • Will he say, “I’m sorry,” for things he does wrong and leaves it at that?
  • Does he know how to ask for forgiveness?
  • Has he ever asked someone else to forgive him?
  • Can he walk you through the process of repentance?

Is He Insecure?

Fear of others is real (Proverbs 29:25). It is at its most acute around people we know best, those where the need for vulnerability is most sensitive. It is easier to be transparent and honest with strangers. People we may never see again are typically risk-free relationships. Online communities are like this so that a person could have more communication in a community like Facebook than in in-person relationships. Shame, guilt, vulnerability, honesty, and transparency are part of the human complexity that needs constant mortification to have redemptive relationships (Romans 8:13).

Men may appear to have a tougher-looking facade, and they may know how to present hardness, aloofness, or “having it all together,” but we’re all weak clay jars (Genesis 2:7; 2 Corinthians 4:7). Eve did not get more shame, guilt, and fear than Adam. Sin came upon all people equally and without measure (Romans 3:23, 5:12). Your husband’s inner person has been penetrated, permeated, and perplexed by Adam. It could be he knows what to do, but his high estimation of himself keeps him from lowering himself to a place where he can humbly ask for your forgiveness.

  • In what ways have you observed his insecurity?
  • What does he do to appear stronger, more fabulous, or better than others?
  • How does he think about and guard his reputation?
  • What areas have you seen where he has been humble, open, and vulnerable?

Are You Doing What You Can?

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18).

I call Paul’s verse the “50 percent verse.” He asks us to do everything we can and what is biblically expected regarding conflict resolution. You can’t do everything for your husband and should not, but you must do as much as it depends on you. Reaching out to others is one of those things that can be helpful when stuck in relational conflict. Don’t hold back from seeking help. God did not intend our journey to be isolated (Genesis 2:18).

If you have followed Matthew’s template for restoring someone (Matthew 18:15-17) and he is not changing, pray about where you can find help. No wife is biblically bound to submit to a sinful husband in every way. God has not called you to be a doormat to him, nor has He called you to be his authority. You’re colaborers, presumably spiritual brother and sister. Unbiblical submission or authority does not leave you without options. You may need to go outside his authority to find another biblical authority that can help your marriage.

  • Are you doing all you can?
  • How do you know?
  • What hinders you from seeking outside help?
  • Do you have a close friend who can offer wise and courageous biblical perspectives about you?

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Are You Assessing Yourself?

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).

Having a sober self-assessment of all the aspects of your life is essential when thinking about helping difficult people (Galatians 6:1-2). Paul never got over the fact of his total depravity. Though he did not wallow in his depravity by practicing a “woe is me” mindset, there was no inhibition in reminding himself of what he used to be. You hear this in his language to the Corinthians. He carried them in his heart as he continually thanked God for them.

Though they may have been the most difficult Christians in his life, you can feel his love for them. (Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.) That attitude is what you want for your husband. I know he has sinned against you, but there is a more significant issue in play—he put Christ on the cross, which is the ground-leveling truth, and so did you. The cross of Christ is the human equalizer where all of our badness (and our goodness—Isaiah 64:6) means nothing when compared to what we did to Christ.

  • How does your attitude objectively and daily reflect that you are for your husband?
  • From your perspective, do you consider him a bigger sinner? (Your day-to-day thoughts, attitudes, words, and behaviors are where you’ll find the answer to this question.)
  • Describe your prayers for him. Does he feel your affection for him?
  • Does Christ’s work in your life have more control over you than your husband’s behaviors?

Are You Practicing God’s Kindness?

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4).

God gave us what we did not deserve. Rather than heaping wrath on our lives (Romans 1:18), He motivated us to change by His kindness. Mercy drew us out of darkness (Psalm 34:6). The Lord heaped riches upon riches on us, and He has not stopped since the first time we repented (Romans 10:9, 13). Paul gives us a short list of God’s riches that He used to help people change; here you go: kindness, forbearance, and patience. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Galatians 5:22-23 for a few more.

God desires to encourage us rather than critique us to the point of deflation. I have already made a case for identifying your husband’s problems and appealed for you to find outside help. The issue I have in view here is not finding fault in him but being a means of grace that encourages him toward change, which is why one of my earlier questions was about whether or not you’re for him. You should overlook his sin as much as you can.

  • What does he experience the most from you—your encouragement or discouragement?
  • Are you quicker to see what he does wrong or right?
  • When was the last time you encouraged him? Explicitly, what did you say to him?
  • Have you gossiped about him or said any other unkind thing to others about him?

Are You Waiting For the Gift?

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

I have occasionally thought about what it would be like to have the ability to make people change, but I always come back to the wisdom in accepting my finitude. The power in repentance needs to rest in the hands of someone a bit more omniscient than I am. And more loving too. At times I fail in knowledge and love. Though I’m okay with not being able to grant repentance, I do struggle with submitting my expectations about others to God. Specifically, when I expect people to be a certain way and they do not meet my expectations, my response at that moment will tell you what controls me.

Whatever controls you will be your functional god. Jesus tied our hearts to our treasures in Matthew 6:21. One of the most effective ways to find out what your treasure is will come in the moments of your disappointments, especially your recurring ones. When a lack of change in someone conflicts with your desires for a better kind of response from them, you’ll have to decide what will have the most power over you. That kind of tug-o-war of the heart is what was going on with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:24).

  • Whose “will” will have the most power over you? Your husband’s? Yours? Or the Lord’s?
  • Do you know how to appropriate God’s grace in your life as you wait for his hopeful repentance?
  • What things have you learned about your faith through this marriage disappointment?
  • How are you fortifying your soul for the potential of a lack of change in your husband’s life?

Call to Action

  1. I have given you several questions to work through as you think about your spouse. Will you take all of them to the Lord and be brutally honest with Him? Afterward, will you share your thoughts and questions with a true friend while appealing to your friend to be compassionately and courageously frank with you?
  2. Your opening statement was about frustration. While it would be great to categorize it as righteous anger, you know that would not be the whole truth. You cannot stay where you are. Your husband may never change, but you must. Perchance he never changes; you need help so that your walk with Christ is not negatively affected by his lack of change. Talk to your friend about these things.

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