FORGIVING YOUR PARTNER
Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera
Forgiveness is essential for a healthy relationship and personal well-being
In every relationship there are very likely to be times when our partner will do things to us that we regard as offensive, insensitive to our feelings, or just plain dumb. When that happens, our response is predictable. It’s not uncommon to become insulted, hurt, angry, or have other similar reactions to this perceived harm. We use the term perceived here because we want to emphasize the personal nature of how we interpret situations. Not everyone will construe the same words or deeds as hurtful or upsetting; some are thicker skinned or won’t take some offenses personally or seriously. Nor will we always interpret words and deeds in the same way—it can depend on the context. For example, an off-hand comment from our partner, such as a joke at our expense, might be ignored or even taken as funny in some situations, but regarded as a major insult in others.
When we choose the latter interpretation (and we do have a choice), most of us will confront our partner to let them know that what they said or did is unacceptable. In healthy relationships, discussions will focus specifically on the issue at hand and not go off in other directions, and will then have a good chance of getting to a resolution. But even if the problem is dealt with and resolved, affronted partners might sometimes continue to hold the thing that upset them in their heads. The accompanying negative feelings can affect how we think about and treat our partner, and they can form the basis for holding a grudge, and that’s never good for a relationship.
Ethical codes and most religious doctrines tell us that we should be forgiving to those who harm us. This advice certainly has its socially redeeming qualities, but it’s also sound from a psychological perspective. When we hold a grudge and refuse to forgive, we leave ourselves open to the danger of ruminating about the event, and that’s especially likely to happen if the harm came from someone we regard as important to us, such as our spouse. As we rehash in our minds the episode that’s gotten us upset, we experience all the negative emotions, and perhaps some behavioral outbursts. Yet, the hurt remains because the event can’t be taken back.