Forgiveness in Family Life

In the past, my list of New Year's Resolutions was fairly long... Ten goals at least.
I usually stuck with one or two for over 6 months, but the rest were long forgotten after Valentine's Day.

This year I am sticking with just one: Forgiveness.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about Gratitude, and in that post I mentioned how researchers are finding that the most basic/essential characteristics of healthy marriages and families are also Christ-like attributes (gratitude, sacrifice, forgiveness). One such important attribute is forgiveness.

Researchers have found that there are two dimensions to forgiveness: negative and positive.

Pay attention to the difference, because the distinction is very important.

The negative dimension "involves the degree to which an individual continues to hold grudges, withdraws from the relationship, and desires revenge or punishment against the partner for a past betrayal." (Gordon et al., 2009, pg. 1)
(This doesn't really sound like forgiveness, but it is one way people deal with their emotions)

The positive dimension "involves the degree to which an individual experiences a readiness to forgive, an
increase in empathy, and a release from anger (i.e., positive forgiveness)." (Gordon et al., 2009, pg. 1)

Obviously, positive forgiveness is much more conducive to constructive communication and healthier relationships. However, most people do not know that positive forgiveness is also related to better psychological, emotional, and physical health. Why? Negative feelings toward your spouse create anxiety and stress which can lead to high blood pressure along with a myriad of psychological issues.

How can it help your relationships? Well, that's a no-brainer!
Let's use some examples from my own marriage to illustrate how these two dimensions affect relationships.

The summer before our wedding,  I worked as a dance camp counselor along with an office job, so I rarely got to see Aaron during the week. One night we were talking on the phone and he kept hinting that he was ready to end the conversation (he was hanging out with an old friend), but I kept talking and talking. He finally told me he had to hang up, and he thought he had pushed the "end" button on his phone, but it didn't respond quick enough because before the call ended I heard him say to his friend "She was just rambling."

Um, yeah. My feelings were really hurt. He got an earful later that night, and to this day I still bring it up. That, my friends, is negative forgiveness. The more I think about it, the more bitter I get. And every time I bring it up, Aaron becomes defensive and irritated. Any further attempt at communication is lost.

It's harder to think of an example of positive forgiveness because I can honestly say that I've forgotten about them, but that's the point, right? Anyway, here are some mental notes I've taken when using positive forgiveness with my spouse and other family members, and some of them are also mentioned in the scholarly article below.
  • People make mistakes; it helps to think about all the times you made the same mistake ;)
  • Try to put yourself in their situation (empathy), it helps lessen the frustration.
  • If you notice you're angry, don't say anything. It's a lot harder for you both when your spouse has to forgive you for saying something mean and hurtful while you're trying to forgive them for their mistake.
  • Depending on the mistake, it may take time. Be patient with yourself and the forgiveness process.
  • Talk about your feelings with your spouse. A lot of the time I hear Aaron's side of the story and I realize that his intentions were honorable and I can forgive and forget. Automatically assuming their intentions were good is called benign assumption, and this is key to positive forgiveness.
My goal for this year is to concentrate on being more forgiving, especially with Aaron. It not only helps your relationship, but also your overall well-being :) 



  1. i love this. sometimes it's really hard to hold my tongue when josh says something dumb but i'm getting in the habit of just not saying anything and then assuming the best. it's not that it would cause arguments but that josh is more sensitive and would feel really bad/guilty if i pointed out something bad that he did. so. i'm really working on this one. though its much harder with friends and other family members... working towards that goal will be a much steeper climb than just with josh.

    1. I totally understand! Especially when the other person doesn't even know they offended you because they don't apologize or seem sorry. It's kind of an inner-battle :)