As individuals are quick to repent and quick to forgive, marriages are strengthened, Rick Miller told faculty and students during the campus devotional in the Marriott Center at BYU on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Although he spoke specifically about marriage relationships, he said the principles of repentance and forgiveness apply to all relationships.
"In most cases, we are married only for a short time before we hurt our spouse's feelings," said Brother Miller, a professor in the School of Family Life at BYU. "Whether it is intentional, based on selfishness or just inadvertent mistakes, we all end up doing things that create hurt in our spouse."
The remedy, Brother Miller said, is to sincerely apologize. But sometimes, "I'm sorry" isn't easy to say.
"In order to be effective, an apology must be sincere and heart-felt," he said. "There needs to be evidence that you are truly sorry, that you are remorseful that you have hurt or offended your spouse. … A sincere apology includes taking responsibility for your mistake or offense."
Brother Miller spoke of ways an apology might be less sincere, sometimes causing more offense. Flippant or inadequate apologies and making excuses for mistakes oftentimes create the opposite reaction, and leave the offended still hurt.
As offenders strive to not repeat the offense and sincerely apologize, they are more able to humble themselves and repent, he said.
"We strive to overcome our weaknesses and develop more Christlike qualities," he added. "By so doing, we become a better person and better spouse."
Sometimes obstacles stand in the way of an apology, Brother Miller said.
"The first thing is that we sometimes don't know that we have done something hurtful or offensive to our spouse," he observed. "It is hard to apologize when we don't know that we actually did something wrong. …
"When our spouse does something that hurts our feelings, we need to let him or her know in order to give them the opportunity to apologize and repent," he said. "That doesn't mean that we point out every tiny weakness and mistake; to do so would be to violate the fundamental requirement in marriage to nurture and lift each other up. But, if we find that something that our partner said or did creates negative feelings that start festering and won't go away, then it is important that we speak with our spouse, and let them know that they did something that was hurtful."
Another obstacle in the way of repenting is pride, Brother Miller said.
"Apologizing and repenting requires us to look inward, be humble and take responsibility for our mistakes and weaknesses. Pride is the antithesis of these virtues," he said.
One way individuals can steer away from pride is by trying to change to behaviors that will make them better people, rather than trying to change a partner's weaknesses, he said.
"As we become humble, we will desire to improve our lives and take responsibility for our weaknesses. We will be willing to apologize and strive to become better people, which is at the core of repentance."
But in order for a marriage to be successful, Brother Miller said, there needs to be more than just repentance, there also needs to be forgiveness.
"These two gospel principles are complementary and both are necessary in order to progress spiritually. Similar to other gospel principles, like faith and works, and justice and mercy, repentance and forgiveness are most effective when they are understood and practiced together."
One of the most lethal poisons in marriage is resentment, Brother Miller said. Although resentment doesn't ruin a marriage overnight, it can destroy love as it accumulates and is left untreated, he said.
"Just as repentance washes away our sins and weaknesses, forgiveness washes away the hurts and is the perfect antidote for the poison of resentment," he said. "Forgiveness completely neutralizes resentment and makes room in our heart for feelings of love to flourish and grow."
Much of forgiveness means letting things go, he said. But sometimes it is hard to forgive, forget and move on.
"There are some hurts that run deep, very deep," he said. "Sometimes a spouse has a difficult time forgiving something that others might consider trivial. In other cases a spouse realizes that their level of resentment has reached the overwhelming point where they simply can't forget it and move on. In all of these situations, the person comes to realize that they can't forgive on their own; they need help."
In these cases, the healing power of the Atonement is necessary, Brother Miller said.
"The healing power of the Atonement extends beyond those who repent," he said. "It also heals those who sorrow, grieve and are in pain. … Consequently, through the Atonement, [the Savior] lifts from us sorrow and pain, which then gives us the capacity to forgive our spouse when they have seriously offended us."
Through repentance, forgiveness and utilizing the Atonement, any relationship can be improved and strengthened, he said.
Even couples on the verge of divorce can turn from destructive patterns of constant fighting to humbling themselves, looking inward, taking responsibility, apologizing for mistakes, and striving to forgive each other. As couples rely on the miracle and healing power of the Atonement, marriages can be saved.
"May we be willing to take responsibility for our own sins and weakness that create stress and hurt in our marriages," he said. "May we use the healing power of the Atonement to overcome our sins, imperfections and weaknesses."
As individuals do so, they are able to heal broken hearts and relationships.
"The Atonement brings hope to each of us and to our marriages," Brother Miller said. "As we are quick to repent and quick to forgive, our lives and our marriages will be blessed throughout the eternities."