As difficult as it may be, forgiving someone who has wronged you is beneficial for everyone involved. But according to a recent collection of studies, knowing when to forgive someone may be just as important, especially in romantic relationships.
Photo by Tyler Merbler.
When it comes to forgiving a partner for their transgressions, knowing their personality is key. Research conducted by James K. McNulty and V. Michelle Russell, and published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggests that it's not always best to forgive someone right away — even if you want to. Agreeable personality types will see how their behaviour upset you, and when you forgive them, they will feel a sense of obligation to not do it again regardless of when you forgave them. An unspoken moral contract of sorts.
Less agreeable types, however, are more likely to engage in the same behaviour if you forgive them too fast. There will be a disconnect if you're not angry first. To them, anger is the appropriate response to their wrongdoing, so instant forgiveness more or less tells them that they're off the hook. Basically, they think "if you're not mad, it must not be a big deal, so I'll keep doing it." As Annie M. Gordon explains at Greater Good, this can cause a lot of confusion in your relationship:
If you are someone who sees anger as the appropriate response, and your partner doesn't get angered by something you do wrong, you'll likely feel the transgression didn't really matter to them. You might even wonder how much they really care about your relationship. You might also feel confused when your partner seems to overreact to your anger and get angry yourself when your partner continues to transgress in the future.
There's no magic fix for these kinds of problems, but the best thing you can do is have a frank discussion with your partner about it. Identify what forgiveness and anger means to each of you. Maybe it's best to be angry at your partner for a little while before you forgive them when they do something that bothers you. Forgive, but don't let them forget so easily. Or maybe you'd prefer it if your partner showed you they were upset when you did something that bothers them. Either way, if you don't lay it all out on the table and communicate, there's always the chance a little transgression will turn into a much bigger issue.
When Should You Forgive Your Partner? [Greater Good]