3. Does forgiving make you a doormat?
Because we are brought up to believe that being forgiving is a good thing, the cultural pressure to forgive is enormous, and rarely takes the specifics of a particular relationship into account. Similarly, most psychological research has focused on the benefits of forgiveness—which range from improved health and sense of well-being to increased conflict resolution—while relatively few have looked at the downside.
Still, some of us know from personal experience that forgiveness for a narcissistic game-player, manipulator, or inveterate liar is nothing more than catnip—a sign that what he or she did wasn’t “so bad after all,” and a prime opportunity to rationalize both their past and future behavior, too. In this case, forgiveness can be downright self-destructive; what you really ought to be doing is considering getting out, not putting yourself in the line of fire.
Not surprisingly, research shows that in a relationship with an imbalance of power, the person with power is less likely to forgive than the person without it. Forgiving someone who loves and values you less than you love and value him or her is a guaranteed trip down the rabbit hole.
In a contrarian piece of research, though, James McNulty looked at whether forgiveness facilitated changes in negative behavior over the long-term. Participants in his study were newlyweds, who’d been married an average of 3.2 months; that’s important to keep in mind since, in theory at least, these “honeymooners” should have very low levels of interpersonal stress.