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How Trust Helps You Forgive

No one is perfect—especially within the context of a relationship. Whether it’s forgetting a birthday or picking a fight, we all make mistakes. But if you trust your partner, you’re more likely to forgive and forget, according a new study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers from Northwestern University and Redeemer University College had participants fill out surveys about the levels of trust, commitment, satisfaction, and attachment in their current romantic relationships. They then completed surveys about their partners’ recent indiscretions every two weeks for the next six months. They also rated the severity of the issue, how their partner tried to make amends, and how fully they forgave their partner. At the end of the study, the researchers asked the participants about the recorded past transgressions and how they remembered them.

The participants in the most trusting relationships remembered their partners’ past transgressions as less serious and were more forgiving of the lapses, according to the study. This held true even after the researchers controlled for sense of self-worth, willingness to forgive, and levels of attachment. Researchers concluded that it was trust that influenced people’s memories of their lovers’ transgressions.

Trust can distort memories, causing one to view a partner’s wrongdoings as less hurtful than they were when they happened. On the flip side, in a relationship that lacks trust, hurt feelings grow over time, according to the study.

“When there is trust between a couple, there is a willingness to see our partner as having good intentions, trusting that they acting from a place of love and thoughtfulness, even when they make mistakes,” says licensed clinical psychologist, and marital and family therapist Anne Brennan Malec, PsyD, Managing Partner of Symmetry Counseling in Chicago. But if trust is lacking between a couple, both partners are apt to dwell on any indiscretions, thinking it’s part of a pattern of bad, untrustworthy behavior.

“When a couple is struggling to see their partner’s good intentions, I often encourage them to visualize changing their glasses from which they see the other,” says Malec. “That is, before a partner responds to a perceived negative intent, stop, pause, and choose to see the partner through a positive lens.” In fact, previous research shows that writing about disputes from a neutral third-party perspective for seven minutes, three times a year boosts relationship satisfaction in married couples.

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