July 19, 2024

By Heidi Comes

Dating, when centered on Christ, is a time for couples to strengthen practices that will serve them throughout their future roles as husband and wife. In those tender years of dating, we often are not exposed to the harder realities of married life, including finances, children and selfless love. It is in this time of growing together that the seeds of grace must be cultivated to blossom fully in the difficult times that may arise later.

One critical component that must be developed is learning to forgive.

“None of us are perfect; we all screw up,” says Deacon Thane Barnier, who’s been married to his wife Joanne for almost 30 years. “Forgiveness is perhaps the MOST important thing in forging a long-lasting relationship. Only through [God’s] love can we achieve the gift of his mercy and forgiveness of our sins.”

There is no better time to practice the difficult task of extending and asking forgiveness than in the days of dating. While most of those days are filled with loving expressions and the last thing we imagine is being angered or hurt, hurt indeed happens. Often, we are tempted just to let it sit or give it time, rather than discuss the offense. There is nothing wrong with being slow to react—in fact, it’s admirable. However, ignoring hurts in a dating relationship can have unintended consequences in a future marriage.

How you practice is how you play
There is an expression coaches like to use: How you practice is how you play. While this isn’t a perfect analogy, there is much truth to the fact that how we operate in our relationship before marriage is a very strong indicator of how we will function later on.

Saying “I’m sorry” can seem small, but it can also feel like the most difficult words ever to be spoken. It requires humbling ourselves and acknowledging that we messed up, and in our weakness, we injured someone else. The easy out is to just explain away our mistakes with excuses or blaming others. But true love doesn’t look for an easy way out.

Mother Teresa once said, “If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” Forgiveness doesn’t excuse or ignore behavior or hurt, but it is a necessary part of every human relational experience.

Deacon Thane Barnier serves at St. Therese Parish, Sioux Falls.

“Forgiveness isn’t a get-out-of- jail-free card, it’s an act of love and mercy,” Deacon Barnier says. “A relationship with forgiveness at the center is a relationship with Jesus at the center.”

Let it go and forgive

Accepting an apology can be equally difficult. Sometimes we are not ready to forgive and holding onto the hurt gives us a sense of control. If we just harbor this wrong, we can remind someone over and over when they let us down again. It is a protective mechanism many of us use in hopes that future hurts won’t sting quite so badly because we know the pain already and have grown comfortable holding it. According to Deacon Barnier, this is a mistake.

“If you truly love someone, don’t ever hold a grudge, be quick to forgive,” he says. “Likewise, sometimes couples think that even though they’ve forgiven the person, they can’t show it right away, because the other person needs to learn a lesson so they don’t do it again. That’s just not productive; all it does is foster resentment.”

We were not made to carry hurts. We cannot recognize and accept love, including the love of God, when our hearts are loaded down with unforgiveness. It is in accepting an apology and offering forgiveness that we become more like Christ and more open to experiencing his love and forgiveness in our lives.

Looking forward in love

We all make mistakes and fall short of the person God calls us to be. It is the response we have in those moments of shortcoming that can make a big difference. Deacon Barnier encourages couples with some real-life truth.

“I wish I could say that love conquers all, and if you have true love for each other, you will never screw up, you’ll never have a fight, and no one will ever get hurt, but that’s just not how life works,” he says. “It’s not whether or not you fight in the course of your marriage, it’s most important how you respond to those moments of discord in your relationship.”

Developing healthy practices in dating will lead to stronger bonds in marriage. It is through strong communication that Deacon Barnier believes we can grow through discord. “Communication is the most important thing in a marriage, and we must be honest with each other when we’ve been hurt.”

He encourages dating couples not to be afraid to share with their partner when they are being hurt through words or actions. If something causes a person pain, it’s important to address it.

Marriage requires us to daily lay down our lives for our spouse. Dating needs to be a safe place to begin that process in small matters so that we are well-equipped to live out our vocation of marriage to its fullest potential.

Heidi Comes is the director of campus ministry for Dakota State University and the high school youth coordinator for St. Thomas Parish in Madison. She is a wife of 25 years and mother of five.