BJ Thompson on Communicating Mercy Within Marriage

Below is a Q&A excerpt from The Mercy Journey for Families, a workbook included in The Mercy Journey collection. These insights accompany new Barna research exploring the role of mercy and forgiveness in practicing Christians’ households.

BJ Thompson is an author, speaker, life coach and the executive director of Build a Better Us, a non-profit that provides resources for holistic development of individuals and couples.

Barna: What is unique about the connection between spouses that seems to foster an awareness of mercy?

BJ: Marriage is probably one of the most vulnerable relationships you’ll be blessed to be a part of. It’s a relationship that exposes deep insecurities, fears, worries and anxieties. Marriage will expose the fact that you’re not as self-sufficient or autonomous as you thought. Your spouse, whether they realize it or not, becomes a necessary agent for dispensing mercy. The relationship is so reciprocal that when you are not operating with mercy, it is no longer a healthy relationship.

Barna: How would you encourage people who might not be married to cultivate merciful responses in their intimate relationships?

BJ: Part of being in a covenant relationship with Jesus means you’re a covenant individual. There are things about you that have to be shaped by wrestling in committed relationship with others. That opportunity and encouragement is available for all people who are willing to risk vulnerability, to risk loving someone outside of themselves.

Barna: Married adults are more likely to say forgiving means forgetting. What do you think about that?

BJ: That’s the traditional or conditioned response. I also think it’s a cheapened response, and I’ll tell you why: To forget could also mean to absorb trauma without processing it. I would advise them to set aside their phones and express the range of emotional intelligence, to do their best to put words to their feelings. Instead of just saying they’re angry, they could use more vulnerable language or communicate the impact of what has happened: “I feel ashamed by that.” “I felt very guilty about what you did.” “I was embarrassed by that.” “You dehumanized me in that way.”

Barna: How should people actually voice confession or forgiveness in the home?

BJ: There’s this phrase: “Is that what I’m hearing you say?” It’s used by counselors to ensure what’s being said is being heard correctly. It resolves what was intended to be communicated from the other person. That’s number one, that understanding. Number two is empathy. Empathy has to do with being oneself and living in compassion. When individuals may be self-righteous or don’t have empathy, their apologies don’t mean much. Once you enter into both understanding and empathy, and then you make the apology, it lands the plane onto the runway.

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