The Gift of Balance: Balancing Forgiveness, Grace and Expectations in Marriage

John: Besides making decisions together and balancing giving and getting, what other commitments are there between you and your spouse?

Tonya: Because of our commitment to the Lord, we also believe in a commitment to grace and forgiveness. You are going to hurt each other; it’s part of human nature. So a commitment to give each other grace and to forgive is very important.

John:  Does that get easier?

Tonya:  Yes, somewhat. After more than 25 years of marriage, I do think it’s easier, NOT easy. The recovery period after a hurtful moment is shorter now.

Mark: I wish I could say it’s gotten easier for us. I still resist the apology.  In fact, in some ways I’m quicker to give apologies to my kids than to my spouse.  I don’t know what that is. My wife is always so graceful and forgiving. You would think with all the mistakes I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had to apologize that it would get easier, yet there is still that resistance. We both recognize the importance of it and offer forgiveness fairly freely to each other, but it’s the coming to ask for it part that still requires swallowing the pride.

Tonya: Yes, that’s hard for us too, but it’s amazing how much better it feels when we do it. It’s hard to humble ourselves. It’s probably even harder for those of us in helping professions. Come on, I’m the therapist, I’m supposed to do everything right. Which is simply not the case, I’m human and have issues like everyone else.

John: I know when forgiveness is challenging for me to give. What I’ve learned about myself revolves around my expectations. Number one, I have unmet expectations of that person. Number two, my expectations were mine, they weren’t theirs. I’ve learned I need to say to them. “I created an expectation here that we didn’t talk about, and we didn’t agree upon. I am sorry for doing that.” This is more my fault than theirs. I need to work on my own perceptions and allow grace to come in. I have to work at looking at others the same way God does.  I can’t have a higher standard than He does.

Tonya: If we could learn to lose or lessen our expectations, we’d be much happier in our relationships. We have to choose to talk through our expectations, understanding we all see the world differently, so our expectations may be different, NOT WRONG, different.

Mark:  The antidote to that is deeper communication. Going deeper into other issues is critical and healthy, and will relieve some of the pressure of these unmet expectations.  Creating the dialogue where you can talk about it is how relationships grow.  It’s critical!

Tonya: Communication is the number one thing that couples come into counseling for.  They tell me “We need to improve our communication,” which usually means, “We fight a lot.” We learn to communicate in our families and therefore bring that expectation to our marriage. I have a lot of words, my husband doesn’t. I’m loud, passionate and demonstrative; my husband isn’t. When we talk I have to be quiet sometimes, bite my tongue, and sit in patience to allow him the time to formulate the words he wants to share. He doesn’t communicate like my dad, who was quite the talker. I have to give him that room to be himself, which has been challenging for me.

John: So how has communication grown from when you first were married to now, twenty + years later?

Tonya: In order to communicate well you have to make time.  The idea you can have quality relationship without quantity is just false.  You have to make time.  Joyce and Cliff Penner say that you need to have some eye-to-eye contact, physical touch and spiritual connection daily. Embrace each other, talk facing one another, pray together, but also set aside 2 – 3 hours of uninterrupted couple time weekly. The Penners recommend taking a full day alone together quarterly and at least a weekend a year (more is better). Time together helps build that communication.

Mark:  My wife shared some important thoughts on this. The first is being intentional, which is exactly what you’re saying.  That’s a word that we use all the time, sometimes as a reminder, sometimes as an encourager. The other thing she said was more comical.  She said, “Remember when our kids were toddlers, and we couldn’t even communicate in complete sentences because of getting interrupted by screams, or something on the floor, or food flying across the table?  We couldn’t get a sentence out without being interrupted.”  That was difficult, but it comes back to being intentional to maintain the balance. As you progress through life together, the needs change.  Now we need to steal away together because our kids are older, they stay up late and there’s not as many quiet places in the house that we can go.  It just changes, and you have to be able to dance with it.

Tonya: Those young years can be the hardest, I have vivid memories of my husband coming home to find all three of us crying on the floor. We also didn’t have the financial means to get away much, so we had to be creative. Make dinner together, steal hugs, kisses in the process. Sit side by side even with kids on your lap, hold hands. Have a candle lit dinner on the back porch when you put the kids to bed, being flexible for interruptions.

Mark: The thought I have always used is maintaining a relationship is a lot like exercise. It doesn’t happen on its own.  If you don’t do it, it will atrophy.  If you are doing it, you have to keep it up.  It’s not a one-and-done thing.

Suggested Resources:



John Gregory – pastor, coach, writer and musician –

Mark Stanifer – life coach, 20 yrs experience in corporate America, husband, father –

Tonya Waechter – leadership coach, 22+ years therapy experience, wife, mother –

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