Forgiveness Does Not Always Solve Relationship Problems

By
August 6, 2012

The next time you and your partner have a serious clash, do not rush to forget about it and forgive each other. While we have known for many years that the best way to solve relationship problems is to forgive and forget, it turns out that sometimes having 'angry but honest' conversations might be more beneficial for maintaining a healthy relationship in the long-term.

A new study of married couples carried out by James McNulty, associate professor at the Florida State University, came to the conclusion that forgiveness, optimism, softness, and positive thinking may actually build up resentment among spouses and therefore, when it comes to serious problems, partners just need to hash all the anger out.

Psychologists say that the short-term discomfort associated with an angry but honest conversation is much better for the health of any relationship in the long term. According to McNulty, he has continuously been finding evidence that thoughts and behaviors presumed to be linked to better wellbeing in fact lead to worse wellbeing among some individuals, and in many cases among those who need the most help achieving wellbeing.

The professor therefore decided to analyze what are the potential costs of positive psychology. After examining multiple recent studies, he came to the conclusion that forgiveness in marriage can actually lead to some unintended negative effects. Everybody goes through a time in a relationship in which one spouse transgresses against another one in some way, McNulty said. For example, one partner may be a cheater, financially irresponsible, or completely unsupportive. So when such things happen, people must make a decision whether they should become angry and hold onto that anger, or just simply let it go and forgive.

Professor McNulty's research also found that multiple factors can have a negative impact on the effectiveness of forgiveness, such as how agreeable a partner appears to be as well as the severity and frequency of the transgression. For example, if one of the spouses is soft and forgiving, then their agreeable partner can be less likely to offend them and, on the other hand, the disagreeable partner, will be more likely to offend, McNulty explained.

In addition, the scientist claims that anger can play a significant role in signaling to a transgressing spouse that the offensive and aggressive behavior will not be accepted. If something can be done in order to resolve a problem that is likely to otherwise continue and have a negative impact on the relationship, partners will experience benefits in the long run by simply temporarily withholding forgiveness and expressing their dissatisfaction and even anger, McNulty said.

However, psychologists say that they were not able to find a single solution to the problem. When it comes to solving relationship problems, there is nothing like a 'magic bullet,' no single way to think or behave in a relationship. The conclusion is that the consequences of each decision individuals make in their relationships highly depend on the obstacles and circumstances that surround such decision.




Tags: Relationships


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