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How to Tear Down Emotional Walls


Marriages do not flourish when there are emotional walls between spouses. Walls are built one block at a time. It can be little or big offenses, but each failure that is not dealt with will put another block in the wall. Many couples have built long, thick walls between them. These are the couples that contemplate divorce or decide to live in the same house as roommates, each living their own life. Walls are not removed with the passing of time. When we are confined to close quarters, the wall makes life much more difficult.

Not all couples have walls between them. However, all couples offend each other from time to time. Sometimes it is intentional and sometimes unintentional, but each offense puts an emotional block between them. There is only one way to remove the block: apology and forgiveness. If they fail to apologize and forgive, the offense becomes the first block in a wall. However, if they genuinely apologize and forgive, there will be no wall. The relationship moves forward in a healthy manner.

I believe that apology and forgiveness are essential for a long-term healthy marriage. I say they are essential because there are no perfect spouses. All of us fail from time to time. We don’t have to be perfect to have healthy marriages, but we do need to deal effectively with our failures.

One of our problems in offering a meaningful apology is that we judge sincerity by what we think they should be saying. They often are not saying what we want to hear. So while you have more time together, this would be a good time to share with each other what you consider to be a sincere apology. You will likely discover why you have felt their apologies of the past have been rather lame. Now you can learn how to express your apology in the future in terms that are more meaningful to your spouse. You can also come to accept the sincerity of your spouse’s apology since you now know they learned a different way of expressing an apology than you learned.

Apology alone will not remove the emotional barrier created by our offense. There must be a response to an apology. The healthy response is to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. If you choose not to forgive, then the barrier remains, and your relationship is hindered. Forgiveness means to pardon or to remove the barrier. Forgiveness is expressing the choice to not hold the offense against your spouse.

It is important to know that there are some things that forgiveness does not do. Forgiveness does not destroy the memory of the offense. You may have heard people say, “If you have not forgotten, you have not forgiven.” That is not true. Everything that has ever happened to us is stored in the human brain, and sometimes even after we have forgiven, the memory comes back to the mind. Nor does forgiveness remove all of the painful emotions. When the memory returns, often it is accompanied by emotions. Hurt, anger, sorrow, and other emotions may grip us. What do we do with these memories and emotions? I believe we remind ourselves that our spouse has apologized, and we have chosen to forgive them.

Making every effort to remove the barrier and not allow a wall to be built between you is the path of wisdom. You cannot make your spouse apologize, just as they cannot make you forgive them, but you can lovingly confront. To have a healthy marriage, you must share with each other when you feel you have been wronged. If the two of you can agree on this approach, you will have taken a huge step forward in revitalizing your marriage.

Adapted from 5 Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage: When You’re Stuck at Home Together by Dr. Gary Chapman (©2020). Published by Northfield Publishing. Used with permission.

This excerpt was featured in the August 2nd edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


Gary Chapman is a bestselling author and radio talk show host. Chapman is most noted for his The Five Love Languages series regarding human relationships. He is the senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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