Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Forgiveness in marrige: Is it always a good thing?

When a couple gets married, more than one friend or family member passes on the time-honored advice to “never go to bed angry.” Indeed, relationship experts have long emphasized the importance of forgiveness in marriage, a teaching that can seem hard to argue with.

But how does forgiving one’s spouse for minor transgressions, like nagging, arguing, or moodiness, affect the likelihood that he or she will do it again?

Researchers writing in the Journal of Family Psychology recently asked 135 newly married couples to keep a diary for a week. Each day, participants recorded whether their spouse did anything negative and whether they forgave him or her. Results revealed that spouses who forgave their partners were twice as likely to report poor spousal behavior again the next day. In fact, when partners reported both forgiven transgressions and un-forgiven transgressions, their spouses were six times more likely to transgress the next day if they had been forgiven.

Although the study did not explore whether the forgiving spouse had actually told their partner they had forgiven them, these results indicate that forgiveness alone may not be enough. In fact, forgiveness may actually encourage further transgressions among partners who often behave poorly. These negative behaviors may be a symptom of other relationship difficulties that require more direct intervention. While “never going to bed angry” continues to be wise advice, partners should recognize that truly resolving their conflicts may require more than just forgiveness.

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