Hold That Grudge! It’s Good for You!

January 14, 2011  |  

While we are often encouraged to release ourselves from the ‘bonds’ of anger and forgive our lovers for their misdeeds a new study suggests that giving your spouse a pass may encourage them to *gasp* do the same thing that upset you in the first place! According to study author James McNulty, a psychologist at the University of Tennessee, responding to bad behavior with “It’s okay, honey” may very well find you seeing the same actions become habits.

The study required 135 newlywed couples to update individual relationship diaries every day for a week; the diaries included questions about anything their spouse had done to upset them over the course of the week and if they had forgiven them. McNulty analyzed data from those respondents who described being upset with their spouses and made note of their reports of their spouse’s action the following day. The wives reported bad behavior from their husbands on about 34 percent of the study’s days, while husbands had complaints on some 29 percent of days.

McNulty found that spouses who forgave their partners were nearly twice as likely to report misbehavior the following day, compared to those who carried a grudge. Most of the transgressions were small; respondents recorded disagreements, nagging or mild incidents of being inconsiderate. However, there were some far more serious charges as well: some 9 percent of men and 5 percent of women claimed psychological abuse, with one man reporting a betrayal and a woman describing sexual coercion on the part of her husband.

While this study is hardly enough evidence to suggest that forgiveness as a rule is bad, it does suggest that if we give our partners too many passes, they will continue the behaviors that we take issue with. In a second study that has yet to be published, McNutly found similar results with couples that he tracked over a four year period. He states that forgiveness is only a potential problem when dealing with a mate who has the inclination to take advantage of her spouse’s trust. “If I forgive you, I’ve given you no reason to stop,” McNulty said. “But if you rarely do it anyway, then that’s not much of a problem.”

He advises taking steps to address problems head on instead of forgiving for the sake of keeping the piece. “You may feel better if you forgive me,” McNulty says, “But the question is, what happens down the road?”

Instead of rushing to let things ‘slide’, perhaps the best approach is to discuss the things that bother you as they occur. Putting your man on the couch for leaving the dishes in the sink overnight may be unreasonable, but if you fail to let him know what upsets you, prepare to keep observing the same actions–which can breed resentment and taint an otherwise sweet relationship.


Have you ever forgiven a lover for a big “mistake” only to have that person do it again?

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