Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for.

Proverbs 16: 6

If we can stop hurting each other, we can heal from the hurt of the past.

Dr. Bing Wall

Atone: Definition:  To reconcile, literally, “at one.”  To make amends for a sin.

Oftentimes when couples come to see me for marriage therapy they are at their wits end.  They’ve tried everything, it seems, to bring peace to their relationship but the hurt has piled up too high.  Either they both are filled with relationship pain at the hands of their partner or one is in deep pain and the other is unable to console the hurting spouse.  This is when I hear statements like: “I don’t know if I can ever get it back.”  “I just can’t take it any more.” “The pain is too great.”

This is when I tell couples my philosophy of marriage counseling.  I tell them it’s based on a verse from Proverbs.  The old way of saying it is: “through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for.”  My way of explaining the concept, which has formed the basis of my counseling practice at Heart to Heart Communication is: If we can stop hurting each other, we can heal from the hurt of the past.

Then I explain:  If you have had many arguments with hurtful things said or done, all these arguments heap up like a pile and the pile just gets higher and higher and never goes away.  Each argument reminds each of them of past hurts and if they are not careful these past hurts become part of the new argument: Not only have you hurt me right now, but this reminds of all the other times you have hurt me such as this and this and this.  Now the past hurts are brought into the present, taking on new life again.  It would seem that being hurt by something once is enough.  But in an argument like this, they are hurting each other again with old hurts.  It seems overwhelming.  We can never get away from these hurts.  You must be totally disgusted with me.  There is nothing good in me at all.  The old hurts are dragged along, never to be let go.

I use a common farming metaphor to illustrate: it’s as if the hurts are connected to the tractor of marriage in a series of huge trailers each piled high and overflowing, each connected to the next, making a long train.  As the couple goes through life they drag these trailers of hurt with them.  No wonder they are unhappy.  I have a hard enough time dealing with today’s problems.  I would have a terribly hard time having to deal with the sum total of my whole life’s shortcomings everyday, let alone yours, too, and the problems between us.

But what if they didn’t argue like that any more?  What if they actually talked?  What if they actually listened?  What if instead of dredging up the past, they developed new experiences of love and tenderness?  What if this happened over a long enough time that they began to trust each other that neither would use the past again as a weapon or present shortcomings as club?  What if, instead of associating one’s partner with pain, each was able to associate their partner with warmth and a smile?  What would happen to the past then?

It would be as if they stood behind the tractor of their marriage and pulled the pin out of the hitch and left the hurts there.  They could then get back on their tractor and pull away, leaving their hurts behind for good, only to be a distant memory.  After awhile they’d rarely think of them.  If things turned around, really turned around, there would come a time they wouldn’t think of the past hurts at all, except in joy of how far they had come.

This is why I like marital therapy: they both can learn to NOT hurt each other ANYMORE!  They can work together as a team.  I’m just the coach.  Soon I’m a bystander.  Eventually, a distant memory.  But marriages are spared.  Kids are protected. Lives are changed.  Sin is atoned for.  Wounds are healed.  Peace reigns.  The past forgiven.  The future faced, no longer with fear.

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