Forgiveness Can Actually Hurt Your Relationship In The Long Run, New Study Finds
Many of us want to let things go, be reasonable, and accept that everyone makes mistakes. But even though there's a lot of good that comes with forgiveness, is there a chance that it could have a negative impact, too? New research published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that forgiveness can actually do some damage to your relationships. Even though it may be helpful in the short-term, it can cause some serious issues in the long-term.
The research consisted of two different experiments. The first was a survey of 85 unmarried young adults about their relationships, looking at things like conflicts that came up, the blame that was applied, and how they and their partners dealt with forgiveness and accountability. The researchers' second survey was of 135 newlyweds, asking them about disagreements, confrontations, and forgiveness in their relationship. Then, for the next five years, the researchers continued to stay in contact and asked follow-up questions every six to eight months. That's a whole lot of data over a long period of time, so it can give some pretty good insight into how conflicts and forgiveness can affect a relationship long-term.
What the research found was pretty damning. When people forgave more and demanded less from their partner, their partner's transgressions didn't get any better — in fact, they often got worse as time went on.
"While it is good to stand by your partner when it’s the right and just thing to do, you are under no obligation to stand by your partner if your partner is doing the wrong thing," David Bennett, certified counselor and relationship expert with Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle.
So how can you move past disagreements and mistakes, if forgiveness can actually make the problem worse?
Asking For Change
If your partner makes a mistake and you know that you need to forgive them to move on, how can you make the relationship improve? The key seems to be in demanding change from them. The researchers suggested that, as part of the forgiveness process, you should be very clear about what the wrong behavior was and emphasize that it is unacceptable. If forgiveness takes the form of sweeping issues under the rug, the behavior has a chance to get worse. From looking at the results, the researchers thought that pairing forgiveness with a very candid conversation about why the behavior wasn't OK was more likely to lead to improvement. The more that the partner who felt that they had been wronged asked for change, the more their partner's behavior improved and, ultimately, the happier the relationship was over time.
Sometimes, it can be tempting to just let something go and avoid the confrontation, but that's not going to do you any favors. And even if you do have a confrontation, you might not want to spell everything out for your partner — but this research suggests that you should. Don't assume your partner knows how they need to improve or what you need from them. Sometimes, you need to make it very clear.
"If you expect your partner to know how you're feeling or what you're thinking without having to communicate with them, your partner will definitely fail and disappoint you, which will then, in turn, causes anger and resentment for you," licensed professional counselor Julie Williamson, tells Bustle. When something goes wrong, explain how it needs to be better — and then assert that it happens.
Disagreements in a relationship are tricky, because you have to balance getting to the bottom of the issue and letting your relationship move forward. But this research shows that just forgiving someone for a big mistake isn't enough. Make sure to tell them exactly what went wrong and communicate your expectations for them going forward. That's how the relationship can really improve.