Sunday, January 09, 2011

"If I forgive you, I've given you no reason to stop..."

I have sometimes argued against forgiveness (in some, certainly, not all cases). Now it seems that a new study shows forgiveness may not be the answer in your relationship. In LiveScience, an article entitled "Why You Should Hold A Grudge Against Your Spouse" (via Instapundit) makes some good points:
Newlyweds who forgave their partner's bad behavior were more likely to face additional bad behavior the next day compared with those who stayed mad, the study showed. The benefits of forgiveness may need to be weighed against the risks, said study author James McNulty, a psychologist at the University of Tennessee....

Social scientists, theologians and clinicians have touted the virtues of forgiveness, frequently without attending to its downsides," Finkel wrote in an e-mail to LiveScience. "McNulty's work helps to serve as a corrective to the simple-minded notion that forgiveness is always good..."

The most common transgressions reported were mild ones, such as disagreements, nagging, or one spouse being inconsiderate to the other. Some, however, were more serious: About 9 percent of men and 5 percent of women reported psychological abuse. One man reported a betrayal, and one woman reported sexual coercion by her husband.

Sadly, many men think that the answer to a psychologically abusive wife is forgiveness. Time and time again, her bad behavior escalates in response to his passivity and constant excuses, yet like a battered wife, he continues to do it. Until men learn that being a martyr where women are concerned is not the answer, the abuse will continue and men will swallow their pain until it is expressed in high blood pressure, depression, drinking and even suicide. Perhaps, for these forgiving men, taking a look at Jeanne Safer's book Forgiving and Not Forgiving:: Why Sometimes It's Better Not to Forgive will help understand why forgiving is not necessarily going to make the problem go away.



Blogger Cham said...

We need to define forgiveness. If one's definition of forgiveness is ignoring whatever happened and pretending the negative event never occurred one is just asking for trouble, and more bad behavior. If one's definition of forgiveness is not to dwell on the past but outline consequences for additional similar bad behavior then one might see a different outcome.

10:39 AM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger Unknown said...

Forgiveness should come after reform.

11:33 AM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger Topher said...

In Catholic theology, forgiveness is not granted until one has admitted the sin, agreed to a penance (a punitive act) and a path for improvement.

In contemporary Christianity, including some branches of Catholicism, there's a lot of fluff about "forgiveness" like it's Godly to be the bigger man and not dwell on someone else's transgressions. Unfortunately that mindset trains people to be chumps more than anything else. Combine that with the Victorian views on men and women and it's sad that lots of Christians have bought into denying our natures instead of overcoming them.

11:52 AM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger Topher said...

Here's a post on "forgive and remember" management by the author of "The No Asshole Rule."

11:54 AM, January 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's definitely a difference between forgiving someone while still holding them accountable, holding a grudge, and forgiveness as sweeping things under the rug. Holding grudges takes a lot of energy and gives 'permission' to keep doing the wrong similarly to sweeping under the rug - because if you're going to hold a grudge forever, I might as well just keep doing wrong. Holding a grudge implies not doing anything to move on.

I don't know where I got this from now, but I thought the following was a really good definition of forgiveness:

The word “forgive” means to wipe the slate clean, to pardon, to cancel a debt. When we wrong someone, we seek their forgiveness in order for the relationship to be restored. Forgiveness is not granted because a person deserves to be forgiven. No one deserves to be forgiven. Forgiveness is an act of love, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is a decision to not hold something against another person, despite what they have done to you.

Not holding something against someone is not the same as holding someone accountable - being endlessly punitive doesn't help, but the person who has done wrong needs to do some sort of penance for the forgiveness to be meaningful. You can choose to forgive someone even if they don't reform somehow, but the relationship will not be restored and, unless you also cut that person out of your life, you will be a doormat.

12:35 PM, January 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*not the same as not holding someone accountable (that almost starts to sound a bit Monty Python-esque with all those negatives, sorry if it's unclear)

12:37 PM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger Suzanne Lucas said...

I think Cham has an excellent point. As I like to say, "we have to forgive everyone, but you don't have to invite them to dinner."

A spouse that is abusive should be left in the dust, but holding onto the pain and grudge over that will only hurt you. Forgive, but don't stay married to the person, or allow him/her in your life.

2:37 PM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger Topher said...

I heard a great talk by a priest once who told us "forgiveness means not letting someone live rent-free inside your head."

4:18 PM, January 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:58 PM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger RICHSISTAH said...

Forgiving someone does not mean being a doormat. Some people have to be forgiven from a distance.

9:19 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

I read a little of the commerce in topher`s rent-free and penance, for example.

i thought buying your way out of transgressions went out with the dark ages.

and topher, i wasn`t saying that`s your position, merely in the types of things you were referring to.

someone once asked how famous you had to be to get away with paedophilia...or how rich, i suppose.

the church used to forgive all manner of sin....with the appropriate little bag of gold, you know, for the orphans.

personally, i never forgive, i don`t see myself as divinely greater than anyone else to be able to.

the little stuff works it`s self out, otherwise i don`t have to invite them back.

for instance, my wife spends too much money on shoes (the closets are full) but i realise that it makes her happy even though the doors on the hall closet is difficult to close, but i couldn`t reconcile an infidelity no matter what the future held for both of us.

i can`t forgive her shoe fetish and i couldn`t forgive catastrophic harm to the relationship.

the shoes i can live with though....

3:54 PM, January 11, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dr alistair, that you read into Topher's comment "buying your way out of transgressions" says more about you than him. You are confusing monetary indulgences with penance.

And of course you can't mention Catholicism without someone bringing up paedophilia; how very dull.

4:13 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Dr.Alistair said...

no confusion thag, they are the same thing...if you have the money.

and i was referring to michael was you who inferred a catholic attachment.

sorry to be dull.

and i was careful not to be ad hominem regarding topher`s is just that we all live in a sort of gravity well where the catholics can revise history to make a distinction between penance and indulgences.

as christopher hitchens would say "a distinction without a difference".

6:30 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Comment Monster said...

Too many people create private definitions of forgiveness so they can avoid confronting forgiveness-mongers with how asinine it is to demand everyone forgive everything. Yes, I'm saying Jesus was an ass on this subject (and several others).

It is not forgiveness if you limit your relationship or continue to defend yourself against someone. And merely giving up claims or expectations of vengeance or redress is not forgiveness either.

If there is no reasonable chance of getting justice or of a person reforming their behavior, it does make sense to let go of a wrong and move on, taking reasonable steps to protect yourself from further harm.

If an offense is trivial, it makes sense to forgive it in most cases.

It is wrong and stupid to forgive important injustices without appropriate redress and reform on the part of the offender. All you're doing is encouraging the person who harmed you to keep doing it, both to you and to others.

The claim by morons like Dr. Phil that you can't have inner peace if you haven't forgiven every wrong ever done you is patent crap.

3:44 PM, January 12, 2011  
Blogger LarryD said...

Forgiving is supposed to be the fourth step, the first three have to be taken by the sinner (recognition of the sin, regret, then apology). Preemptive forgiveness shorts out the process and does the sinner no good (it doesn't do much for the sinned against either).

In no case should the sinned against be stupid. You don't have to forget the pattern of behavior, even if you've forgiven the offenses. You are free to be cautious, to guard yourself against repetition.

2:33 PM, January 14, 2011  

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