Forgiveness Study: Pardoning Your Spouse Reinforces Bad Behavior

Forgive And Regret? Pardoning Your Spouse Reinforces Bad Behavior

Forgiving your spouse may reinforce his or her bad behavior, new research suggests.

As New York Magazine reports, psychologist James K. McNulty recruited 135 newlywed couples and asked each participant to keep track of his or her spouse's transgressions over the course of a week. Each day, participants recorded whether their partners had engaged in negative behavior and, if so, whether they had forgiven the infraction. Negative behavior included everything from moodiness to -- shockingly -- sexual coercion, Jezebel points out.

McNulty's study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, found that participants who pardoned their spouses' misdeeds were twice as likely to see repeated misbehavior than those who took their spouses to task. Moreover, those who forgave inconsistently -- calling their mates out in some instances, keeping mum in others -- were a whopping six times more likely to see repeat spousal offenses.

"It may simply be that negatively behaving partners realize that their negative behaviors have negative implications for them -- anger, loneliness -- and thus engage in them less frequently," McNulty told New York Magazine.

McNulty acknowledges some flaws in the study: The definition of "forgiveness" was left up to the individual participants -- it could mean anything from a stony silence to an open declaration -- and the study did not examine how effectively forgiveness was expressed between spouses. Did misbehaving mates even know when they were forgiven? "This warrants further study," he told New York Magazine.

In the meantime, perhaps we should give some thought to amending the old adage: "To err is human, to forgive unwise" -- at least when it comes to our partners.