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    Forbearance as an Attribute of Marriage

    July 24, 2006 by Brandy Vencel

    Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines forbearance as, “The exercise of patience; long suffering; indulgence towards those who injure us; lenity; delay of resentment or punishment.” When we were in premarital discipleship, our pastor defined it a bit more simply. He said that to forbear is to forgive in advance.

    I have mentioned before that Si and I are very involved in a Sunday School class for newly married couples. Oftentimes, the discussions within the class-time bring back memories for me of lessons we had to learn, too.

    When we were first married, there were many lessons to be learned. Oh, one would think most of them should have been obvious, but sometimes one must learn through experience.

    One lesson I had to learn was that a man mostly means what he says. Female types like me will sometimes engage in discussion at different levels, with words perhaps having layers of meanings. This is why a female will quickly retort, “What did you mean by that??” while the male is thinking that he meant precisely what he said, and nothing more.

    {I also, by the way, had to learn not to try to use said layers of meaning when speaking to my husband. He assumed I was like him, and meant what I said. Trying to artfully use my feminine wiles in speech only complicated our communication, and frustrated us both. Now I try my best not to play games, unless I really mean it in fun. Games are not the best framework for a serious discussion, anyhow.}

    Yesterday’s discussion in Sunday School intersected with this a bit. It was suggested that it would be beneficial for men to frame their conversations. Some of the men in our class like to debate issues, but this puts the wife on the defense, and, next thing the husband knows, a debate over politics becomes personal, and he is baffled as to what happened. So framing was suggested. Something like, “Let’s debate the war in the Middle East for the next fifteen minutes.”

    I had an immediate aversion to this, but mainly because I despise the idea of interactions with my husband needing to sound like a business meeting, which also seems remarkably similar to how a 4-year-old needs to be addressed. Everything must be spelled out, nothing taken for granted. This is, perhaps, a personality issue more than anything else.

    But I also think that the idea of forbearance can be very helpful, not only in this area, but in all areas, if it permeates the marriage. I have never heard anyone teach on this quality in our five years of marriage, so I can only say that I feel very fortunate that we were discipled in it before we even took our vows. It has made much peace for us already, in this short time.

    Forbearance is, really, founded on an acknowledgement of reality. It is grounded in the idea that other people are not perfect. If one is to forgive in advance, one necessarily recognizes that the members of one’s family are sinners, and though one hopes that they do not sin regularly or grevously, one expects to forgive them for any future trespasses.

    Forbearance is a reflection of the Father, who planned salvation through His Son before His children were even born, before they committed their first infantile acts of rebellion. God forgave in advance, and a Christian can follow that example.

    Another aspect of forbearance is that, though it firmly believes in sin, it also seems to believe the best about the other person. I mentioned that I had to learn that my husband means what he says, and nothing more. Underscoring this is a certain amount of trust that something he said that sounded unkind to my ears was not meant in meanness. Sometimes, our mouths make mistakes. But wrapped in the angry reply of, “And what was that supposed to mean??” is the assumption that the other person really meant to do evil. It assumes not a sinful mistake, but an evil intention. Forbearance is exactly the opposite of this. It accepts and forgives the worst, but, in doing so, it tends to assume the best, or at least give the other person the benefit of the doubt. To reiterate Webster, it is the “delay of resentment or punishment,” the act of refusing to rush to conclusions.

    In all, though “framing a conversation” may be helpful for a man {or a woman…I know that some marriages do not neatly fall into these categories} early on in his marriage, I think that a better solution is for the woman to first pray God fills her soul with grace for her husband, and then teach her to express that grace through acts of loving forbearance.


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  • Reply Crystal Brown October 20, 2023 at 3:40 am

    I’ve practiced forbearance in my 12 year relationship (6 married) with my husband many times. He’s now had 2 affairs the last 4 years. I was just made aware of this a month ago. I’ve shut down the last 2 years because of other things that have transpired over the years. He was arrested 2 years ago for drugs and I just couldn’t fight anymore. He had a fling 4 years ago and now is in a full blown affair with another woman. I’ve recently started to pray with urgency. I actually started again right before my husband came home last month ( he works out of state 2 weeks out of the month) and he was in 2 car accidents in one day. One he created on purpose, but it wasn’t severe. He got away with that one. It was deemed the other drivers fault because of the way my husband made it happen. The second accident was severe enough to total my husbands car ( he was going 110 mph). I’m grateful that neither my husband or the other driver were seriously injured. My husband just doesn’t see the consequences of anything he does. Getting arrested was like a Tuesday afternoon to him. He’s very impulsive and doesn’t seen to think things through. He’s got a great job and makes good money, but he just doesn’t seem to give much thought about anything. I’ve been forgiving him for years and he just seems to get worse. God tells me to have forbearance towards my husband still and to stay by his side. I know God has a plan I just can’t see the big picture. I’m so lost in all of this. I love my husband and pray that he seeks God. My husband says he’s a believer but I don’t really know how true that is.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 21, 2023 at 8:48 am

      I wrote that post 17 years ago, just to give some context. We are still married and we still have to regularly forgive one another, of course. But neither of us have ever had this level of character defect you are talking about here. I do think there is always hope. I didn’t use to think that. I used to think some marriages (like yours, honestly) were unsalvageable.

      Are you familiar with the work of Laura Doyle? I highly recommend her book The Empowered Wife and also her podcast by the same name. While there is a bit of advice in the book that is very worldly, I am utterly astounded at the stories I’ve heard coming from women using her Relationship Skills. They are turning around marriages that I would have never expected to survive.

      Biblically speaking, he has broken your marriage covenant. You are not obligated to stay with him. Adultery is one of the only acceptable grounds for divorce in the New Testament. BUT … you sound willing to keep trying, and I really admire that. It would be very hard to give up on a relationship in which you have invested so much time and so much of yourself, even when it has gone sideways. I really think learning Laura Doyle’s relationship skills and applying them would be your best bet. God be with you, Crystal. This is an incredibly hard road to walk. ♥

  • Reply Mary July 24, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    Really great observation. Thanks

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