What does Science Say About forgiving?

Should you first forgive yourself or your partner after a dispute or conflict? Common sense would indicate that we must always forgive our partner. That would be the standard practice of instruction by our families, our church, and our therapists.

However common this common advice is, it is wrong. An article published in the Journal of Family Psychology 2013 discovered, that out of 168 couples, satisfaction was higher for both partners when the offender has less negative thoughts and feelings towards themselves. Albert Ellis, the Psychologist, who developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, spoke of unconditional self-acceptance as being an essential component of all human and loving relationships. Little did he know just how right he was! His argument at the time was before you can unconditionally accept someone else for their shortcomings you have to be able to do this for yourself first. Now, remember: Unconditionally. That means regardless. No terms, no buts, ifs, or “it’s just that”.

To be clear, this does not mean that your partner has to accept you first. No, you have to accept the fact that you have been harsh, critical, negative, and perhaps a plain bonehead. This, of course, requires taking an inventory of yourself before you take critical inventory of your partner. A good question to ask yourself “is there anything that I may have either done (commission) or not done (omission) to cause, contribute or exacerbate (make worse) the situation that I/we are in?”

This is where the researchers say we really require USA – Unconditional Self-Acceptance for our part. It is kind of obvious when you think about it. First take the log out of our eye before attempting to take the speck out of our brother’s eye, as instructed in the Bible. To do this requires taking stock, taking inventory, of our commission or omission. Once you have discerned what that may be, it is always a good idea to check it out with your partner. “Is there a chance that my (specify your behavior) may have caused, contributed, or exacerbated this? “Now this is where the researchers say we need to practice our USA. Something like “I can accept myself just as I am for my part of this conflict”.

Failure to do so jeopardizes self-responsibility, self-correction, and the seeking of forgiveness. The blame game continues to no avail, the tensions mount and resentments are fueled. Doing this will cause one of two things: either our partner will say “yes, that’s what it was” or report it was not what you had estimated but another aspect. Either way, you are ahead because now you know what you are dealing with. The added benefit is that if you get it right, your partner is very impressed. And even if you don’t get it, you have still demonstrated an empathic attempt, which generally does wonders for softening things up. Now, be reminded, this is why you have to use the USA method. There may be a bridge of time from 1 to 10 minutes while your partner continues to unload. They may not receive your approach as understandingly as we would hope. At worst, they may continue digging or using barbs to re-engage you. But if your USA is high, it will have no effect because you are able to accept the bad (and maybe even nasty) things that are being said about you.

Here is the real plus. There’s a reasonable chance that after the conflict is said and done, and your partner has gone to another room, he or she will be taking inventory of how well you handled this — and perhaps how dreadfully they have. This may cause another discussion where they are seeking forgiveness for their bad behavior. Even if they don’t, doing this enough times models exemplary high-quality relationships. The fact is, the chances of them eventually getting it goes up with good, not bad modeling. But the research says it all starts with your USA.

PPC has several Rational Emotive Behavior (REBT) therapists with whom you could check this out personally.