You can find numerous studies on marriage providing evidence that money is the primary cause for distress or, ultimately, divorce. If you’ve been married for any time at all, I’m sure you can relate. Family finances are an essential topic, and when you have two people with different life stories, perspectives, and preferences, how you allocate that money can be a point of contention.
You can also find data on how many households have at least some form of debt hanging over their head, causing stress and anxiety. This, too, is a consequential conversation that must be addressed.
But I want to propose something that might sound strange at first: there’s a form of debt in your marriage (and all relationships) far more dangerous than financial debt.
It’s relational debt.
“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12, ESV)
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is not talking about personal finances or budget. Instead, he’s talking about something that’s supposed to happen in healthy relationships—forgiveness.
Why is it such a struggle to forgive? Why don’t people forgive at all? The sad reality is that there is short-term power, albeit destructive, in refusing to forgive the other person. There are dark “benefits” in keeping someone else in our relational debt.
Keeping a record of our spouse’s wrongs gives us the upper hand in the relationship. There is power in having something to hold over another’s head. There is power in using a person’s weakness and failure against them, so in moments when we want our own way, we pull out some wrong against our spouse as our relational trump card.
How ugly and selfish is that?
It seems almost too obvious to say, but forgiveness is a much better way than unforgiveness. It’s the only way to live in an intimate, long-term relationship with another sinner. It’s the only way to negotiate through the weakness and failure that will daily mark your marriage.
Forgiveness is a relational transaction that needs to occur in moments when sin has gotten in the way of the unity, love, and understanding between a husband and wife (or any two people for that matter). Forgiveness lifts the burden off our shoulders of bearing wrongs and restores what has been broken.
The more you are willing to pursue forgiveness, the more you experience its blessings. It’s the only way to deal with hurt and disappointment. It’s the only way to have hope and confidence restored. It’s the only way to protect your love and reinforce the unity that you have built. It’s the only way not to be kidnapped by the past.
Canceling relational debt is a beautiful and necessary thing, not only for your marriage but in every single relationship in your life.
If you’re interested in what the process looks like, let me encourage you to sign up and stream Free From Debt, my brand-new (and totally free) conference on marriage and money.
In three video sessions, you’ll discover the dark “benefits” of unforgiveness, the practice of forgiveness, and how generosity can unite you as a couple in your finances. There’s a study guide with discussion questions, too, making it a resource you can utilize for a couple’s devotional, small group, Sunday school class, or church simulcast event.
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Did I mention that Free From Debt is completely free? Because of the generosity of Paul Tripp Ministries’ financial partners, you can start watching right now at no cost!
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
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Paul David Tripp
1. When was the last time someone explicitly and specifically forgave you? How did you sin against them, and how did they communicate their forgiveness?
2. What was the feeling like for you when they forgave? How did it reconcile or strengthen your relationship?
3. Consider a time when your spouse (or another person) patiently and humbly confronted your sin. How did the Lord use that approach to soften your heart and open your eyes?
4. Compare that to a time when you confronted your spouse (or another person) harshly, in anger, and with a selfish agenda. How can you do better to confront with a spirit of gentleness next time?
5. What might be some of the dark “benefits” of unforgiveness? Be specific. Are you holding any debts over another person as a tool for your selfish power?