“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.