'Why you should not forgive your spouse for all offences'

Last Updated 10 January 2011, 10:27 IST

Newlyweds who forgave their partner's bad behaviour were more likely to face additional bad behaviour the next day compared with those who stayed mad, a study of newlyweds the University of Tennessee .

Hearing "it's okay, honey," may be just the fuel the transgressing spouse needs for more lapses of judgement, study author James McNulty said, adding the benefits of forgiveness may need to be weighed against the risks.

"You may feel better if you forgive me," McNulty told LiveScience. "But the question is, what happens down the road?"

McNulty's study followed participants for one week. So it's likely that the unforgiven spouses behaved better in an attempt to get out of the dog house, McNulty said.

For his research, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, McNulty asked 135 newlywed couples to fill out individual relationship diaries every day for a week. The diaries included a questionnaire about whether the person's spouse had done something to upset them, and whether they'd forgiven their spouse for the transgression.

McNulty analysed data from all of the respondents who reported being upset with their spouses one day and described that person's behaviour the next day.

That left 165 individuals (76 men and 89 women). The husbands in the narrowed sample reported bad behaviour from wives on about 29 per cent of days, while wives reported bad behaviour from husbands on about 34 per cent of days.

Overall, spouses who forgave their partners were almost twice as likely to report that their partner misbehaved the next day as those who held a grudge, McNulty found.
However, in a second study that has not yet published, McNulty followed couples for four years—and the results showed a similar pattern.

"I measured, basically, people's tendency to be forgiving and partners' tendencies to engage in verbal and physical aggression," McNulty said.

"The partners of less-forgiving spouses actually showed a decrease... If I'm a forgiving person, you're going to keep [acting aggressively] for four years."

(Published 10 January 2011, 10:26 IST)

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