Why Forgiveness May Be Bad for Your Marriage

"Forgive and forget,” the old saying goes. Here's why you might want to think twice before following that advice.

By Reader’s Digest Editors

“Forgive and forget,” the old saying goes. Well, if you care about your marriage, you might want to think twice before following that advice. A new study conducted at the University of Tennessee found that spouses who are forgiven for negative behaviors are more likely to keep repeating them.

In the study 135 newly married couples were asked to keep daily diaries of their interactions, recording if their partner did something negative and whether they forgave him/her for this behavior. Spouses who forgave their partners were almost twice as likely to report that their partner misbehaved the following day as those who held a grudge, the study’s author, associate psychology professor James McNulty, told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

“There is one plausible explanation,” said McNulty. “Forgiveness allows relatively negative partners to continue their negative behaviors, ultimately harming the relationship.”

This doesn’t mean that people should never forgive their partners, cautions family therapist Kay Francis. Instead people must confront negative behaviors and deal with the causes or motivations behind them before forgiving their spouses. If people forgive behaviors without talking about them then the forgiveness isn’t meaningful, cautions Francis.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, Journal of Family Psychology, MSNBC

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  • Your Comments

    • Jbucka

      I think that the problem here is partly semantic.  Forgiveness is appropriate AFTER there has been some reconciliation.  The problem has been discussed and a real apology or perhaps mutual apologies have been tendered.  Just trying to ignore a serious problem is not the same as forgiveness and rarely solves anything.  I do think it’s possible to forgive someone, but still choose not to continue to place yourself in a position where they can continue to hurt you.  The spouse of a serial cheater, for example, may opt for divorce, but not choose to carry a grudge for all the reasons that Vik100 mentions.  Forgiveness does not necessarily imply trust.

    • Dave

      Wrong you have to learn to forgive but the partner must also correct the behavior that is causing the problem or your life will be hell! Ever heard of a two way street! 

    • Chaplainswain

      So when people don’t forgive each other they live happily ever after?  That is nuts!  There is another missing aspect of forgiveness that is lacking in the repeat offender the concept of repentance.  When one repents of for what they have done it means they have made a willful decision to not repeat the offense.  What the article was talking about was not forgiveness but more of an undeserved pardon.

      • Hurting hubby

        I agree! Forgiving someone for something they don’t regret is simply giving them a free pass to do it again.  My wife did something that hurt me very deeply (I guarantee it’s *not* what you’re thinking!), and she keeps saying “forgive and move on!” I desperately want to (I do not want to end the relationship), but I need her to show some remorse first. It’s not enough for her to say “I’m sorry you are choosing to suffer”. She needs to sincerely say “I’m sorry I did that to you — it was wrong”. And she refuses to do so.

        • Erinsfire

          Apologies are meaningless. What is needed to heal is:
          1. Agree re: the issue needing forgiveness. What happened?
          2. Each party takes responsibility for whatever part he/she played in that incident.
          3. The offending party shows remorse and makes sincere amends.
          Apologies without discussing what happened and making proper adjustments to learn and grow from the offense guarantee reruns of misunderstandings.
          Loving and constructive conflict resolution is the only way to truly heal and grow.

    • Vik100

      This writer has it wrong.  Forgiving is not bad.  You don’t forgive to do the offending party a favor.  You do it to do YOURSELF a favor and not harbor all these bad feelings that ultimately kill you inside.  When you forgive there is a burden that comes off your shoulders and a true feeling of peace.  The party asking for forgiveness must show signs of true regret otherwise he/she will continue to live a life of hypocracy in which he/she ultimately pays a high price but that’s up to them.  They suffer the consequences of their own harm.

      • http://www.koussa.com Lilyrosalie

        Can I tell you how much my ex didn’t mind living with hypocrisy???   Best thing I did for myself was to no longer forgive and to get divorced.