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Is Too Much Forgiveness Bad for Marriage?

Maybe it's time for spouses to lay down the law.

This article from New York Magazine tipped me off to a recent study suggesting that when it comes to healthy marriages, forgiveness is seriously overrated. The study author, James K. McNulty (an associate psychology professor at the University of Tennessee), concluded that men and women who are forgiven by their spouse for bad behavior are twice as likely to turn around and repeat the same bad behavior the next day. Perhaps more disturbing, the study showed that spouses who vacillate between forgiveness and anger (i.e., respond unpredictably and inconsistently to their partner's bad behavior) wind up with partners who are six times more likely to behave badly. Takeaway? Don't be flaky with your mate.

I'm not 100 percent sure what I think of all this, as I believe that one of the most toxic things I can do as a wife is hold a grudge -- and I've always thought of forgiveness as the antidote to that. But here's what I'm wondering: When these couples said that they forgave their husbands or wives, what did they really mean? If they just up and forgave them, as in saying a half-hearted, "Fine, I forgive you," then, yeah, that was probably not going to bode well for their relationships. But if they talked about the thing that bothered them ("When you use that tone with me, it makes me feel really disrespected"), and then ended the conversation with forgiveness? Well, then I could see how that would probably have been good for their marriages. Make sense? The second example is what I think of when I hear the word forgiveness, because really, the first example isn't honest. Just saying, "Yeah, whatever. I forgive you," is like saying, "I'm too lazy to really work on things within this relationship."

So that's my opinion. What do you think?

-- Holly

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