When Should You For­give Your Part­ner?

Fiji Sun - - Sun Spectrum - Source: Huff­in­g­ton Post Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­jisun.com.fj

Your part­ner just made fun of you in front of your friends. Now, you have to de­cide how to re­spond. Should you shrug it off and let it go, or re­ally let them have it when you have a mo­ment alone to­gether? On one hand, for­giv­ing your part­ner is a nice ges­ture that might en­cour­age car­ing and re­spect be­tween you two. On the other hand, not get­ting an­gry might let your part­ner think they have carte blanche to do as they please. So what is the right course of ac­tion?

Re­cent re­search sug­gests that it de­pends on your part­ner’s per­son­al­ity—in par­tic­u­lar, whether they ex­hibit a trait known as agree­able­ness. Peo­ple high in agree­able­ness pri­ori­tise their re­la­tion­ships over their own needs, and are more co-op­er­a­tive and con­cerned with so­cial norms; peo­ple low in agree­able­ness are more fo­cused on pur­su­ing their own self-in­ter­ests.

Across four dif­fer­ent stud­ies, the re­searchers found that more agree­able peo­ple feel a strong need to re­spond in kind when they are for­given, which means not re­peat­ing the be­hav­iour that both­ered or up­set their part­ner — such as smok­ing, flirt­ing, ne­glect­ing chores, or over­spend­ing. Why? The re­search pro­vides some ev­i­dence that agree­able peo­ple feel a sense of obli­ga­tion when they’re for­given, a kind of moral con­tract: You for­gave me, so I’ll re­cip­ro­cate by treat­ing you well.

In con­trast, the re­searchers found that peo­ple who are less agree­able are ac­tu­ally more likely to en­gage in sim­i­lar trans­gres­sions af­ter re­ceiv­ing for­give­ness. What is go­ing on in their minds? They tend to be­lieve that anger is the ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to wrong­do­ing, but a part­ner pro­vid­ing for­give­ness is not a very an­gry part­ner. Th­ese peo­ple seem to be think­ing, “You didn’t get mad at me, so you must not care that much about what I just did—so I’m go­ing to go ahead and keep do­ing it.”

So what are you to do af­ter your part­ner hurts or of­fends you?

This re­search iden­ti­fies a prob­lem but doesn’t pro­vide a so­lu­tion. How­ever, sim­ply recog­nis­ing how you and your part­ner might have dif­fer­ent re­sponses and ex­pec­ta­tions fol­low­ing trans­gres­sions can be a launch­ing point for a con­ver­sa­tion about how best to deal with them.

To do this, you can be­gin by iden­ti­fy­ing whether you and your part­ner have sim­i­lar or dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. Are you both for­giv­ing? Both easy to anger? If so, you are well-matched to deal with trans­gres­sions in your re­la­tion­ship. But if not, you may of­ten feel un­sat­is­fied or un­heard. If you are some­one who be­lieves that for­give­ness is the right way to re­spond when some­one you care about hurts you, but your part­ner doesn’t, then you might be con­fused as to why your part­ner seems to ig­nore your for­give­ness. You might also feel hurt or con­fused when your part­ner gets an­gry at you af­ter you mess up, when you were ex­pect­ing for­give­ness.

Recog­nis­ing th­ese dif­fer­ences and hav­ing a frank con­ver­sa­tion about what anger and for­give­ness mean to each of you and whether they mo­ti­vate you to be­have bet­ter might help il­lu­mi­nate the best path for­ward.

Recog­nis­ing th­ese dif­fer­ences and hav­ing a frank con­ver­sa­tion about what anger and for­give­ness mean to each of you and whether they mo­ti­vate you to be­have bet­ter might help il­lu­mi­nate the best path for­ward.

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