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While many relationship counselors (or friends that think they are relationship counselors) will say the best way to get over a couple clash is to “forgive and forget,” a new study of married couples indicates that when it comes to serious problems, sometimes you and your honey just need to hash it out. There is a hidden cost of the “forgiveness” part of the “forgive and forget” equation, the researchers said. Forgiveness may hurt the relationship in the long run, even if moving on keeps things calm in the moment.
“We all experience a time in a relationship in which a partner transgresses against us in some way. For example, a partner may be financially irresponsible, unfaithful, or unsupportive,” study researcher James McNulty, of Florida State University, says in a press release from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. “When these events occur, we must decide whether we should be angry and hold onto that anger, or forgive.”
In his study, McNulty found that a few factors come into play to determine whether to go the forgiveness route or the yelling route. He explains:
“Believing a partner is forgiving leads agreeable people to be less likely to offend that partner and disagreeable people to be more likely to offend that partner,” he says. Additionally, he says, anger can serve an important role in signaling to a transgressing partner that the offensive behaviour is not acceptable. “If the partner can do something to resolve a problem that is likely to otherwise continue and negatively affect the relationship, people may experience long-term benefits by temporarily withholding forgiveness and expressing anger.”
The work is a part of a larger study of what makes some relationships work when others fail. McNulty will be giving a talk today, August 2, at the American Psychological Association Annual meeting in Orlando, Florida.
“This work suggests people need to be flexible in how they address the problems that will inevitably arise over the course of their relationships,” McNulty says. “There is no ‘magic bullet,’ no single way to think or behave in a relationship. The consequences of each decision we make in our relationships depends on the circumstances that surround that decision.”
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