published Friday, February 18th, 2011

Forgiveness is more than saying 'sorry'

Should we forget about forgiving?

A University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor has published a study in which he has concluded that forgiving your significant other can hurt the relationship.

"Forgiveness may increase the likelihood that your misbehaving spouse will misbehave again," James McNulty, an associate professor of psychology at UTK, said in a news release.

I only saw the release, not the full study, so I don't know what sort of specifics he gets into in terms of forgivable vs. unforgivable behavior. I'm no expert, but I think we can all agree that "sorry I left the cap off the toothpaste" is more forgivable than "sorry I spent the rent money on Wild Turkey."

From my perspective, giving forgiveness too easily might encourage repeated bad behavior, but being unwilling to forgive can probably be just as unhealthy. Maybe it's about forgiving without condoning?

A college friend, Frank, who is married and has an infant son, said learning to fight and forgive properly is key to his wedded bliss.

"Forgiveness is key ..." he said. "... In every relationship there will always be some kind of failure, disappointment or wrongdoing ... I swear that's the point of like 50 percent of all Christian sermons."

Indeed, forgiveness is a big part of faith in general. Rabbi David Cantor of B'Nai Zion congregation, explained in a recent interview that the point of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, is not to dole out forgiveness but to seek it for transgressions we've committed.

Sometimes we need to be the ones to ask for the forgiveness, not to give it. In other words, no, love does not mean 'never having to say you're sorry' (once again, Holly hates the film "Love Story").

Or as Frank so aptly put it: "If you're looking for (a relationship in which no one is ever offended), go jump into a fairy tale. For those of us in reality, however, we'll learn to love and forgive one another at the same time."

Personally, I'd prefer a chalk drawing to a fairy tale, but you get his meaning.

Here are two things I try to remember about forgiveness, and they work for non-romantic relationships as well. First, don't respond to apologies with "it's OK" unless it is, actually, OK. Instead, say "thank you." You don't have to endorse the offense, but someone is trying to make amends. Be appreciative and meet that person halfway. Second, if you are the offender, shut up and apologize. You did something wrong. Accept it. Learn your lesson. Try not to do it again.

I'm working on that second part. How about you?

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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