It’s not just a marriage thing. People like holding grudges. They don’t like forgiving. They will stay mad because of something in the past until the point they cannot remember exactly what they are mad at, but they do remember they were mad all this time!
Oftentimes when we observe such behavior, we chalk it up to people being thickheaded or spiteful. For this reason, we may look down upon the Christians who were going to court suing one another (1 Cor 6:1-8). However, we often do not go beyond looking down on such people, because we forget Paul’s admonishment: “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded” (1 Cor 6:7)?
It is within this context we need to understand past wrongs. They do not get less wrong with time. In your flesh, you might not want to let go. I know I don’t. What does Christ have us do in such a situation?
Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering (Matt 5:23-24).
This can be very difficult and from personal experience, I have not yet been able to will myself wholeheartedly to follow it. In my own life, I owned a business for four years, renting the facility I worked in from a family member. I was very immature and did not respond well to stress, so I acted very angrily quite often. It did not help that my landlord reacted even worse. It was a very vicious cycle. It also did not help that the rent was about twice as high as the going market rate according to a Realtor.
Things came to a head, the business was closed, and my landlord was so hurt that he said and done some things he probably should have not (threatened arrest, refused to give back things that do not belong to him, pay back money, etcetera.) Now, obviously it is not easy to want to forgive. I would even go as far as to say that I exert myself to even try (invite him out for dinner, drinks, etcetera). The problem with me is that my heart is not fully in it. Just as Paul observed two different laws at work within him, the one in his mind that wants to fulfill the Law of God and another that wants to live according to the flesh, I see the same thing in myself.
Now, my practical advice in such a situation is that even when it does not come naturally, to strive to live according to the Spirit. As Paul writes, “[I]f you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:13-14). So, we have not fully put to death the deeds of the flesh, but we are putting them to death. When this is the case, we are living by the Spirit.
In marriage, the issue with women much more so than men is a reluctance to live according to the Spirit when it pertains to forgiving past wrongs. If a man ever forgets the sins that he has committed all he needs to do is simply ask his wife. Then, he will get a concise list stretching back from the day they met, or even people and women he knew before that time, of every sin he has ever done.
Now, when done in the spirit of love, there is nothing wrong with having a good memory. When done with a spirit that refuses to seek reconciliation against the one who wronged her, it is counterproductive and in fact, living according to the flesh.
We can know this by understanding what true love is:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7).
When remembering the past, if you are angry about a wrong suffered (or at least seek not to correct such a feeling), refuse to bear all things, and lack trust and hope in your spouse, it appears rather clear you are not willing to “endure all things.” You are therefore not walking in love and indeed walking according to the flesh as all children of wrath do.
To quote Got Answers:
So often, people say they love each other, but, as soon as one gets angry, out comes the list of past sins! Accusations fly, painful memories are dredged up, and bygones are no longer bygones. This is not love. True, godly love forgives and refuses to keep track of personal slights received. The focus of love is not one’s own pain, but the needs of the loved one…
Some people have an ax to grind, but Christian love seeks to bury the hatchet. Love keeps no record of wrongs, for we forgive as Christ has forgiven us. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). That is love.
More and more I am convinced that love is simply to die onto ourselves all the time, just as Jesus has done for us (1 John 3:16). If we refuse to lay down our lives for one another, how can the love of God be in us (1 John 3:17)? So, if the attitude of dealing with past wrongs is a matter of constantly dying to self for the sake of the one who wronged you, which is what Jesus did for us, then we are walking rightly before Him.
Why not rather be wronged? Because Christ decided that he rather be wronged for our sake. Forgive us our trespasses, O God, more than we have forgiven. Teach us how to forgive, Father.