The Art of Forgiveness

By: Rachel Nutter, Edited by: Renee Schroeder

We’ve all been there. In the heat of the moment, it can happen to the best of us. You’ve probably gotten into a fight with a significant other and either got your feelings hurt, or you hurt theirs. After the fight is over, the thought of apologizing is likely far from your mind.

We typically want time to cool off and calm down before giving an apology. This is helpful, as long as the wait is not too long. If the wait is too long, it could cause the other person to feel neglected or forgotten.

In a previous relationship, my significant other and I would fight verbally almost constantly. It was not the healthiest situation, but I was blinded by what I thought was love. The cycle went something like this: we’d have an argument, simmer in our negative emotions until they eventually lessened, then sweep it all under the rug. We’d move on without any sort of apology, let alone accept forgiveness for the other’s actions. We didn’t know how to properly approach apologizing after a fight.

A lack of communication when it comes to apologizing and forgiveness is a surefire way to destroy a relationship. Of course, forgiveness is the main goal after an apology is given. But what is the best way to actually achieve forgiveness?

According to a study by Guy Foster Bachman and Laura Guerrero from Arizona State University, there are a few strategies used in apologies that will give the offending partner a better chance of being forgiven, as well as some strategies that lessen a chance of being forgiven.

The study gathered data from 263 individuals who had been hurt by something their significant other had said or done. It found that when the hurt individuals believed their partner had sincerely apologized, they were more likely to forgive them. The most common strategies used when it came to forgiveness were integrative communication, distributive communication, and de-escalation. The healthiest strategy, integrative communication, involves disclosing feelings in a nonthreatening way to solve problems. Distributive communication is on the unhealthy side of the spectrum, as it includes face-threatening behaviors such as yelling, making accusations, and blaming the partner. De-escalation is another unhealthy method used in forgiveness, which promotes the termination of the relationship through actions such as letting conditions get worse and threatening to break up.

Out of these strategies, only integrative communication is positively associated with the willingness to forgive. Distributive communication and de-escalation, while used frequently, actually lower one’s chances of being forgiven. Opening up a dialogue with integrative communication is the best way to get on the path to forgiveness.

The researchers found that a sincere apology is the best way to gain forgiveness from the hurt partner. This makes sense and may not come as a shock to anyone, but just how easy is it to actually forgive? Apologizing can be tough, but forgiving someone who wronged you or hurt your feelings? That’s a different type of battle.

The decision to forgive is something that may be harder for others, specifically when it comes to different genders. Robert Sidelinger from Oakland University and his colleagues sought out information on the likelihood of forgiveness based on gender styles and sex in romantic relationships in a study.

Sidelinger took into account gender types, the forgivingness of a person, the degree of commitment in the relationship, and the severity of the transgression while conducting this study. When it comes to women and men, women are just as likely to forgive a transgression in any type of relationship, whether it be casual or serious. Men, on the other hand, tended to be less forgiving in less-developed relationships. In relation to gender styles, feminine women are more forgiving as well as androgynous men. In an unexpected result, men were found to be overall more forgiving than their female counterparts. By reaching beyond biological sex, this study gives a more in-depth insight on if gender styles change the way forgiveness occurs.

Forgiveness is key in a romantic relationship, as it is critical in determining if couples can bounce back after a fight. Telling your partner, “I’m truly sorry” or “I forgive you” creates a communication opportunity that will benefit the relationship in the short and long term. A continuation of this practice after a conflict can assure a better chance of moving past transgressions in the future.

The act of forgiving requires empathy, caring, understanding, and responsiveness. Are you willing to embrace these qualities next time you and your significant other have an argument? I am positive that both of you will appreciate this gesture in the long run.

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