You sit around the Holiday dinner table, each giving thanks for all the good things the year has brought. It may be tangible things, like the fact you still have your job, or that your spouse was able to trade in your clunker for a decent ride, or intangibles, that most of your family is in pretty good shape and you’re able to honor the Holidays together.
But after dinner, as you gather in the living room to sit and digest your let-out-my-waistband meal, and Uncle Ned says “Great flatscreen, there – let’s switch on the game,” you feel your gut twist, and no, it’s not from that second helping of biscuits with gravy. It’s the TV. You remember vividly the fight with you yelling at your spouse for buying something as extravagant as a flatscreen, it’ll take years to pay it off, what was he thinking - and him screaming that he has the right to get at least something for himself once in a while, considering that 99% of his paycheck goes to you and the kids - and you coming back with “Hey! I’m clipping coupons, packing all our lunches and giving up shoes, for what?! You to have fun on Sundays?!” And on it goes until he caves with “I’m sorry, OK? I’m sorry.” Exhausted, you accept. After all, you’re not going to divorce over a flatscreen.
But you haven’t forgiven him, either. Not really. Every time you see him surfing the channels, the bitterness churns inside you. Every time you don’t have quite enough to pay for all the items in your cart at the grocery store and have to bear the humiliation of giving some back to the cashier, you remember the TV. It sours your relationship with him, because at some level, you don’t trust him not to do it again. And with the lack of trust between you, your intimacy suffers. All because you never made it to true forgiveness.
But maybe now you can. The time of “Peace on Earth” is above all a time for giving thanks. You can’t hold a grudge against someone and be thankful for their presence in your life at the same time. It just doesn’t work. Maybe this is the perfect time to genuinely forgive your spouse and whoever else you believe has offended or harmed you, so that you fulfill the true meaning of the Holidays.
Forgiveness is hard! Forgiveness often feels like you’re giving in, accepting unacceptable behavior in order to preserve your relationship. On an apology you’re not sure has any substance behind it. Good! At least now you know what’s needed: some substance behind that apology. That substance is composed of two things: accountability and responsibility.
Accountability is your willingness to figure out which part of the problem belongs to you and which part to your mate. Hands on hips, you protest: “Wasn’t me slapped that credit card down for a flatscreen!” True, and if you and your spouse had agreed upon a budget and he blew the budget, his would indeed be the larger share of accountability. But your accountability may have been in not setting aside any part of the budget for his – or your - personal wants and needs, focusing the budget purely on family. Understandable, but not necessarily the best choice for all concerned.
Responsibility is your willingness and ability to respond to that for which you are accountable. Responsibility relies on your willingness to understand, rather than judge or blame. Instead of coming to your partner not with “How dare you!” even if that’s what you are feeling, talk to him about “I’m confused. Please help me understand why you chose to buy the TV, etc.” Your job then is to listen with an open mind and an open heart.
Your spouse may say “I feel like I’m giving, giving, giving, all the time. There’s no place for me. I agree I was wrong not to talk with you about it first. I figured you’d say “no way” so I just did it. I’m sorry.” You can step up to your responsibility by saying “I didn’t realize you felt that way. It’s my turn to be sorry. Let’s figure out a different budget. What ideas do you have?”
From understanding how each of you feel, you can look at your problems as issues to be worked out, not daggers in the heart. There’s something real behind each of your “I’m sorry” – and now you can wholeheartedly forgive.
Which means you can wholeheartedly give thanks. For this relationship, this mate, with whom you can engage in honest conversation, with whom you can build a worthwhile life, bumps and hurdles notwithstanding. With whom you can have - a true Holiday.