The Influence of Forgiveness on Human Being’s Relationships: A Perspective of Positive
Forgiveness in a relationship is a goal advanced by all religions in the world. The deep religious roots have made other disciplines such as philosophy, social scientists, and psychologists to investigate it to understand its impacts on society. More research on the topic has made it possible for psychologists to understand the human strengths and virtues that a person needs to forgive others. Forgiveness is a complex process because it involves the emotions of hurting individuals. It is difficult for a victim to forgive the aggressor when they are still nursing injuries. The process is also challenging because other stakeholders rely on its success. For example, in the case of married couples, a healthy home environment is needed by children and relatives. It is imperative to understand the human strengths and virtues that a person needs to forgive and be forgiven by those they hurt.
The primary purpose of forgiveness is to reduce resentment of the victim and eliminate the motivation for revenge. In close relationships, it is more challenging to get rid of the negative feelings because of the intimate nature of the association. At the same time, other considerations make it difficult to resolve the conflict as quickly as possible (Fincham et al., 2016). The need for other family members to continue with their lives without interference makes it necessary for individuals to mend their differences as quickly as possible. Although forgiveness is essential to maintain relations, it cannot take place instantly. It is a process that all the relevant stakeholders must work to ensure that it is successful. Therefore, it is not possible to just wake up one morning and declare forgiveness but it takes time to deal with the negative emotions to forgive.
Flourishing relationships are characterized by intimacy, growth, and resilience. According to Fincham et al., (2016), it is crucial for relationships to overcome all obstacles they face. They can achieve this objective by being true to the dreams and aspirations that brings them together. If it is raising a family, it is important to ensure that the couples learn the importance of working together to resolve their differences to sustain a marriage. In most cases, families rely on the subsystems, the social networks, and the broader community for support. The authors argue that the reason why some relationships flourish is that they concentrate on the processes that have positive results such as forgiveness, love, spirituality, and trust. Therefore, balancing relations nurture healthy relationships that make it easy to lead an enjoyable life.
Types of Forgiveness
Forgiveness may take direct, indirect, and conditional forms. Immediate forgiveness takes place when two individuals communicate and agree to end an issue. In most cases, it takes place after vigorous discussions about the topic to reach a consensus. It includes deliberation on the offence and the consequences it is likely to bring to the parties (Berry et al., 2005). The open discussion makes the offender explain the circumstances that made them wrong the other party for them to understand the background of the conflict. Such a process results in a plan to end the problem from continuing to affect then and how to avoid a recurrence in the future. Therefore, forgiveness takes many forms depending on the nature of the persons involved.
Direct forgiveness entails the communication of a particular message of pardon to the victim. It is different from the discussion strategy because it is final. Nonetheless, the discussion process is more appropriate because it explains the reasons for the offense, notes the reactions of the parties, and develops a plan to prevent it from recurring (Waldron & Kelley, 2005). The discursive strategy has the advantage of providing the parties with an opportunity to reflect on their mistakes and seek amenable solutions. The most important thing is for the parties to resolve the conflict. Therefore, direct forgiveness requires the offender to approach the victim and request pardon for their mistake.
Indirect forgiveness takes place when a person does not tell the other party that they are forgiven but expect them to understand through some signals. Some victims use this approach when they think that retaining the relationship is more important than resolving the underlying challenges. Some believe that concentrating on the conflict may harm the relationship further and they would rather move forward with their relationships than concentrate on the challenges (Waldron & Kelley, 2005). In most cases, forgiveness is nonverbal and it is characterized by cuddling and hugging as a sign that there is nothing pending between the parties. It can also be a way of avoiding confrontations among the parties. In some instances, the offended individual behaves as if the transgression was not significant. According to Waldron and Kelley (2005), some people use this method in the hope that they would not embarrass or humiliate their partners. Most of the people who use the strategy communicate that they are now okay with the aggressor through humor whenever they are around the partner.
Episodic forgiveness describes pardon related to specific interpersonal transgression episodes. It is a type of forgiveness that relies on the severity and the intentions of the offender. People find it more challenging to forgive intentional trespasses that have negative results compared to an accidental offense that has limited impact on the victim (Toussaint, Worthington, & Williams, 2015). When the consequences of the actions are significant and may hurt a person for an extended period, the victim might not forgive the offender. Therefore, it is essential to assess the damage that the behavior of a person causes before approaching the victim for reconciliation as it may not be forthcoming.
Forgiveness in Close Relationships
According to Fincham et al. (2016), forgiveness is related to communication and conflict resolution. More importantly, Karremans et al., (2003), argues that remission is positively related to effective communication in the relationships and negatively related to psychological aggression. They also suggest that forgiveness predicts and restores pro-relationship motivation and behavior. Their study also shows that forgiveness is independent on the level of commitment of the offender to the relationship. According to Fincham et al. (2016), forgiveness in married couples is associated with better conflict resolution mechanism. Therefore, the communication method used and the commitment of the offender determine forgiveness.
The quality of a relationship influences the ability of individuals to forgive one another. McCullough et al. (2001) argue that partners in romantic relationships might be more willing to forgive. Moreover, the partners have a long-term orientation that motivates them to overlook the mistakes to maximize the likelihood of sustaining it. Individuals enjoying high-quality relationship are more likely to apologize or show remorse to mediate the effects of transgressions compared to uncertain ones. McCullough et al. (2001) argue that long-term oriented relationship has a low possibility of adverse reactions such as anger, sadness, or nervous breakdown to offenses. Such individuals are also satisfied with the connection, which reduces the possibility of revenge. Therefore, individuals with long-term orientation in relationships are likely to overlook mistakes done by their partners.
Forgiveness and Relationships
Forgiveness is beneficial to all forms of association. It aids romantic, professional, and family bonds. However, forgiving closer relatives is more complicated compared to distant individuals. The situation is difficult for ongoing relationships because conflicts occur regularly. According to Karremans et al. (2003), people in a close relationship are willing to forgive if they sense that the other party is honest. They further suggest that people in healthy relationships have more to lose, which makes them work harder to sustain them. These individuals are willing to make sacrifices to save their relationships. In other cases, some seek revenge and suffer in bitterness, constant conflicts, and negative emotions. Such individuals fail to develop abilities to handle significant differences when they arise in relationships. Thus, forgiveness can heal all types of relationships as long as the partners are honest and willing to sacrifice.
Forgiveness has a more significant influence on marriage compared to other relationship. According to Karremans et al. (2003), families use forgiveness to build stronger relationships. Their findings indicate that people need to find strategies to survive turbulent periods in their relationships. In fact, forgiveness is rewarding and satisfying if the couples work practice is for long. Karremans et al. (2003) further state that people who had high motivations for revenge exhibit low levels of relational satisfaction. Thus, individuals who forgave their partners enjoyed quality relationships and were more committed to sustaining them.
Issues that affect Forgiveness Communication
Communicating forgiveness is essential in interpersonal relationships. Factors such as empathy, love, relational commitment, the fear of losing a partner, and emotional involvement drive the motivation to forgive (Waldron & Kelley, 2005). It is vital to communicate forgiveness because it creates an environment for conciliation and relational repairs. At times, forgiveness may not repair a relationship but may help the victim see the aggressor in a new light, which helps them relate better in future (Enright, 2012). Communicating forgiveness is challenging to the victim and the offender because of the vulnerability they feel. Moreover, none is willing to start the conversation that may lead to the resolution of a conflict. Thus, conversing after a conflict is challenging to the victim and the offender.
Attachment and perception of equity during conflicts may affect the way individuals communicate and confront challenges. Attachment vulnerability is an issue that a person brings to a relationship and the partner has to learn about them to have a healthy relationship (Enright, 2012). On the other hand, the perception of equity refers to the way couples treat each other, which determines the nature of their relationship. In this case, people who have stayed together for a long time are likely to have a mechanism of resolving disputes. Therefore, the history of a relationship and the way individuals treat each other determines their likelihood of forgiving.
According to van Oyen-Witvliet, Ludwig, and Bauer (2002), individuals who ruminate past transgressions hardly forgive the offenders. In fact, individuals who hold grudges experience physical arousal at the mention of the offender through sweating, anger, and stress. However, when they were requested to show remorse to the offenders, their physical distress reduces. Moreover, individuals are likely to forgive once they learn that they do not benefit in any way by holding grudges. However, it is a complicated process that takes the time that varies depending on the beliefs of individuals. Moreover, people with religious backgrounds are more receptive to the idea of forgiveness than others. Therefore, a person holding a grudge after they are hurt is unlikely to forgive but they can change their stance, especially after they learn that they do not benefit.
Forgiveness associated with faith and spirituality increases with age. According to Toussaint, Williams, Musick, and Everson (2001), older and middle-aged individuals are more forgiving compared to younger persons. The groups had a similar perception of the faith that they receive God’s mercies and forgiveness regularly. In fact, the researchers found a correlation between the forgiving nature of the older and middle-aged Americans and positive health (Waldron & Kelley, 2005). Their findings show that individuals above the age of 45 years forgive others more frequently and report more satisfaction with their lives and standards of living. They also reported fewer incidences of psychological distress such as nervousness, sadness, or restlessness as a result of holding grudges against their friends and families (Waldron & Kelley, 2005). Individuals inclined to religion forgive more compared to those that do not hold such views.
A person who forgives is less stressed by other issues of life. According to van Oyen-Witvliet et al. (2002), people in unstable relationships are less likely to forgive others compared to those in stable unions. Moreover, any memory about the relationship is a source of distress, which has negative consequences in other life issues. In addition, the stress levels caused by bad relationship negatively impact their work, which makes such individuals to blame their partners for any misfortune that they face. On the other hand, happy couples are likely to disregard any mistakes done by their partners. Moreover, they do not pile unnecessary pressure on each other. Therefore, stressful relationships can hinder the progress of a person on other issues.
According to Enright (2012), people with various temperaments and backgrounds can learn to forgive. The writer argues that it is possible to forgive by following a 20-step intervention plan he provides. The writer argues that following the strategy allows a person to learn to move on from the problem through the assistance of professional psychologists. He suggests that the process teaches people to overcome anger, anxiety, and grief. Enright (2012) suggests that his study shows an improvement in the power to forgive after holding twelve 90-minute sessions with men whose wives procure abortions without their concurrence as well as victims of incest. Therefore, people can learn to forgive their transgressors through the assistance of psychologists.
Farrow and Woodruff (2005) support the suggestion that it is possible to learn to forgive. The authors claim that the limbic part of the brain that handles this process. They insist that a person can learn to forgive because the process does not involve much reasoning as is the case with the cortex part of the brain. Fincham et al. (2016) also suggest that it is possible for any person to learn about forgiveness and its benefits as long as they have an interest. Teaching a person about forgiveness helps them to perceive issues from the perspective of the offender and vice versa. Therefore, each person feels the pain the other party felt, which hastens the forgiving process. People can learn to forgive as long as they are committed to learning the experience of others.
Forgiving a person depends on the behavior of the offender. In most cases, a sorry and remorseful offender is likely to get a positive reception from the victim than an arrogant person. On the other hand, insincere apologies make the situation worse and the conflict may escalate in future (Fincham et al., 2016). Therefore, confident individuals can easily ask for forgiveness successfully. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the forgiveness process takes time and the offender may have to allow the victim to take time to heal. Forgiveness depends on the attitude of the offender in which case humbled individuals are likely to succeed compared to arrogant ones.
The forgiving process depends on interpersonal relationships among individuals. Moreover, some couples forgive each other without necessarily communicating with their partner but the approach may be misinterpreted by the offending party. If the offender notes that the mistake they made did not raise a lot of issues with the spouse, they may think that the behavior is acceptable to the other individual. They may repeat the same mistake subconsciously only to deal with far-reaching implications. Therefore, it is vital to be clear about issues that offend a person to avoid escalation of conflicts in future.
Equally important is the method that the parties use to communicate as it determines the success or failure of the process. It is important for the victim and offenders to communicate their feelings openly and clearly to make the process easier (Fincham et al., 2016). They have to communicate skillfully to avoid escalation of the situation. Particularly, the offender must be humble when approaching the victim to ensure that the latter is in a stable of the mind to have the conversation. For example, asking for forgiveness should come as demands and ultimatums. It must be in a manner that the victim feels comfortable to address the issues. Therefore, it is essential to be skillful in requesting and communicating forgiveness to make the reconciliation process easier.
Timing when to communicate is an essential factor in determining the success or failure of forgiveness request. Since communicating forgiveness is a process, it is critical to ensure that one approaches the victim at the right time. In most cases, married couples and siblings are always under pressure to reconcile because of the nature of the relationship. Therefore, one of the parties may be rushed to decide before they are ready. The pressure may cause a person to make an inappropriate decision because they may not be prepared. Therefore, it is critical to ensure that the parties take their time to interrogate their plans before formally communicating with each other about forgiveness. In fact, rushing the process may make the offender think that the process is complete but that may not be the case (Fincham et al., 2016). Therefore, allowing victims’ time to heal makes it easier for them to forgive and forget.
Forgiveness is an essential concept that assists many relationships to survive. Religion, philosophers, social scientists, and psychologists agree that the idea is vital in building a cohesive community. Scientists and religious scholars agree that forgiveness is a process and not an instantaneous issue. It takes a lot of effort to ensure that the victim and the offender are ready to converse to reach an agreement to forgive each other. Numerous factors inform the process of forgiveness. First, there are multiple types namely direct, indirect, and conditional. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages. Secondly, there are more stakeholders than the offender and the victim. For example, in a family setup, there are children as well as other members. As a result, the parties in the conflict must consider the plight of all the stakeholders to make decisions.
The primary purpose of forgiveness is to eliminate anger of the victim to prevent further escalation of the conflict. It is critical for close-knit relationships such as married couples to forgive each other quickly to proceed with their daily lives without looking back. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the disputes are resolved within the shortest time possible using correct strategies. Some of the factors that make individuals forgive each are the nature of the relationship and the investments made. For example, individuals in high-quality relationships are likely to forgive each other than their counterparts in the low-quality group. Therefore, they value their partners more and would like to sustain the relationship. In the case individuals experience problems forgiving, they can learn from others and professional psychologists. Therefore, forgiveness is critical in building lasting relationships among couples, families, and the community.
Berry, J. W., Worthington Jr, E. L., Wade, N. G., van Oyen Witvliet, C., & Kiefer, R. P. (2005). Forgiveness, moral identity, and perceived justice in crime victims and their supporters. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations, 136-162.
Enright, R. D. (2012). The forgiving life: A pathway to overcoming resentment and creating a legacy of love. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
Farrow, T. F., & Woodruff, P. W. (2005). Neuroimaging of forgivability. Handbook of forgiveness, New York, NY: Rout ledge
Fincham, F. D., May, R., Beach, S. R., Knee, C. R., & Reis, H. T. (2016). Forgiveness interventions for optimal close relationships: Problems and prospects. Positive approaches to optimal relationship development, 304-325.
Karremans, J. C., Van Lange, P. A., Ouwerkerk, J. W., & Kluwer, E. S. (2003). When forgiving enhances psychological well-being: The role of interpersonal commitment. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(5), 1011-1026
McCullough, M. E., Bellah, C. G., Kilpatrick, S. D., & Johnson, J. L. (2001). Vengefulness: Relationships with forgiveness, rumination, well-being, and the Big Five. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 27(5), 601-610.
Toussaint, L. L., Williams, D. R., Musick, M. A., & Everson, S. A. (2001). Forgiveness and health: Age differences in a US probability sample. Journal of Adult Development, 8(4), 249-257.
Toussaint, L. L., Worthington, E. L. J., & Williams, D. R. (2015). Forgiveness and health. Amsterdam: Springer.
Van Oyen-Witvliet, C., Ludwig, T., & Bauer, D. J. (2002). Please forgive me: Transgressors’ emotions and physiology during imagery of seeking forgiveness and victim responses. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 21, 219.
Waldron, V. R., & Kelley, D. L. (2005). Forgiving communication as a response to relational transgressions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22(6), 723-742.
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