Case Studies


Case Studies

Learning Forgiveness: Peacemaking Skills For Couples

By Frederic Luskin, Ken Silvestri, and Jed Rosen

September/October 2009


John Gottman, in his often-cited marital research, found that 70 percent of the problems that couples complain about are present from the beginning of their relationship. Too often, these problems devolve into years of criticism and contempt—which, Gottman found, destroy marriages in the long run. Fortunately, Gottman and other researchers have discovered that, even when partners can't change each other, they can forgive each other. In fact, forgiveness, even in the absence of behavioral change, is a key to sustaining a successful long-term relationship. Since apparently unchangeable characteristics and behaviors are found in most relationships, why not help couples learn mutual forgiveness as an indispensable skill for creating and maintaining goodwill, even if they can't realize their most utopian vision of blissful partnership?

A series of research studies called the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, an extensive, long-term exploration of the healing properties of forgiveness, has explored many difficult issues, ranging from forgiving a child's death from political violence to the letting go of resentment over infidelity. The projects found that people who were taught how to forgive showed statistically significant improvement in physical and emotional well-being. Within couples, the projects defined forgiveness pragmatically as making peace when one partner didn't get what he or she wanted from the other, encompassing injuries as slight as…

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