Forgiveness is good for the soul: In the Bible, Jesus told us (NOTE: subscribers can still listen to this show) to forgive our enemies. Forgiveness is even good for our health–it lowers our cholesterol–but it may encourage whoever hurt us to do it again.
Psychologist Jim McNulty studies the costs versus the benefits of forgiveness. In one study, he found that the day after forgiving a partner, people were 6.5 times more likely to report that in a marriage or partnership, when one partner did something wrong and was forgiven, he was more likely to repeat the act, compared with when there was no forgiveness.
In the October 30th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Bernstein quotes McNulty as saying, "The potential cost of forgiveness is that it doesn’t hold the partner accountable for the behavior. Forgiveness always makes people feel good immediately, but the question is what does it do to the person I am forgiving?"
In another study, McNulty found that people who forgave their basically nice partners remained happy in their marriages, while people who forgave NOT-so-nice partners became LESS happy. But people who refused to forgive not-so-nice partners stayed happy (maybe they enjoyed fighting?)
Emotional hurt may even be an evolutionary defense. Bernstein quotes communications expert Sean Horan as saying, "You feel sadness and fear so you don’t want to go back to the person and get hurt again."
So when should you forgive? Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky thinks it’s appropriate to forgive someone if three conditions are present: You want to keep having a relationship with them, if they are not likely to repeat the transgression, and if their bad behavior wasn’t typical.
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