Forgiveness in Relationships

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if a blog post like this could tell you how to avoid all problems, disagreements, conflicts, and annoyances in relationships?  Unfortunately, no one has a cure for those all-too-common things in relationships.  So, the next best option is to learn how to overcome the problems, disagreements, conflicts, and annoyances, while maybe even coming out a stronger couple on the other end.  One way to do this is through forgiveness.  Forgiveness in relationships means changing your feelings, desires, thoughts, and actions toward your partner.  It means feeling less negatively (e.g., let go of grudges, less desire for revenge and retaliation, abandon anger and bitterness) and more positively (e.g., empathy, goodwill) toward your partner.

Forgiveness doesn't mean that you approve of, accept, excuse, or forget about the offense (in cases of severe offenses, forgiveness also does not mean going back to your abusive or neglectful partner).  Because of this, you forgive despite the offense being wrongful and despite the offender maybe not being entitled to forgiveness.  Take, for example, Kira and Craig.  Maybe Kira purposefully didn’t take out the trash when Craig asked her to because she wanted to make a point.  After being frustrated by this for a few hours, Craig not only decides to let go of the grudge he was holding against her, but he also abandons his plan of hiding the trash under the covers on her side of the bed as a way of getting back at her.  Instead, he tries to understand why she was feeling the way she was. However, just because he forgives her in this way does not mean that he approves of what she did or that she necessarily deserves to be forgiven.

Forgiveness can help you feel more satisfied in your relationship, sustain your relationship through hard times, and help your relationship function better. Forgiving your partner can also be very beneficial for your physical, emotional, and psychological health.  Further, even though forgiveness might be easier when the offender apologizes (because then both partners are striving to overcome the problem), you can still forgive even if your partner isn't apologizing.

Keep in mind, though, that forgiveness takes time.  As much as you may want it to be a simple decision that takes no more than an instant, you'll likely find that forgiveness is often more complex than that.  Forgiveness is a gradual process by which you remove a poison that would otherwise slowly weaken both you and your relationship.  But the good news is that you can forgive, and it can help you and your relationship.  It certainly isn't the only thing you'll need to make your relationship work, just as one gear in a clock won't make the hands turn by itself.  But forgiveness is an important gear in your relationship clock, and you'll hopefully find that forgiving your partner has valuable benefits for everyone involved.

References

Braithwaite, S. R., Selby, E. A., & Fincham, F. D. (2011). Forgiveness and relationship satisfaction: Mediating mechanisms. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(4), 551–559.

Fincham, F. D., Hall, J., & Beach, S. R. (2006). Forgiveness in marriage: Current status and future directions. Family Relations, 55(4), 415–427.

Fincham, F. D., May, R. W., & Sanchez-Gonzalez, M. A. (2015). Forgiveness and cardiovascular functioning in married couples. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice4(1), 39.

Gordon, K. C., Hughes, F. M., Tomcik, N. D., Dixon, L. J., & Litzinger, S. C. (2009). Widening spheres of impact: The role of forgiveness in marital and family functioning. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(1), 1–13.

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