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Getting even deeper into forgiveness, we find that there are two types of forgiveness – decisional and emotional.

  • Decisional Forgiveness: A behavioral intention to refrain from seeking revenge and to treat an offender as a valuable person, letting go of any angry and resentful thoughts toward the individual who has wronged you.
    • For example,  Catherine and Steven have been married for six years and have two young children. Early on in their relationship, Catherine noticed that Steven consistently leaves his dirty laundry on the floor rather than placing it in the hamper. Catherine has responded to this in several ways throughout their relationship, including putting his clothes in the hamper for him, leaving them out hoping he notices, and sometimes exploding in anger. However, this has not changed Steven’s habit of leaving his dirty clothes on the floor. Early on in their relationship, Steven noticed that Catherine consistently leaves her dirty dishes in the sink. He has responded to this by lecturing Catherine on the purpose of the dishwasher and the relative ease of loading the dishes. He has also washed her dishes, left them there hoping she notices, and has sometimes yelled at Catherine for this behavior.

      In both cases, these are not only annoying habits but communicate something deeper than differing definitions of cleanliness to the other. For each peeved partner, the other’s consistent behaviors communicate that their partner doesn’t really care enough about them to change their habits, which is why this can be quite hurtful over time. In response to these behaviors, Catherine and Steven chose to engage in decisional forgiveness, meaning they intentionally refrained from seeking revenge (retaliating or making comments) and decided to let go of their frustration with their spouse. For Catherine, this looked like noticing that brief moment of irritation when she saw Steven’s dirty clothes (approximately six inches from the hamper) and choosing to respond differently. Rather than leaving his clothes out and hoping for revenge, Catherine would gently remind Steven to put his clothes away. Similarly, Steven chose to forgive Catherine when he noticed a bowl with old onion dip in the sink by responding differently than he had before. Steven would either ask Catherine to clean her dish or would clean it himself. While cleaning her dishes, Steven noticed the temptation to plot revenge but chose to release that desire and fight his negative feelings toward Catherine instead.
  • Emotional Forgiveness: A replacement of negative, unforgiving emotions with positive, other-oriented emotions (like compassion, sympathy, and empathy). Emotional forgiveness takes us beyond the decision to forgive, but changes how we view an offender into a more positive light as well.
    • To continue with the previous example, emotional forgiveness takes Steven and Catherine beyond the decision to forgive and let go of negative emotions and encourages each partner to view the other in a new positive light. When Catherine sees Steven’s dirty clothes on the floor, she chooses to think about all of the ways that Steven shows his love for her and empathizes with his busy day, which often leaves him exhausted and sometimes forgetting to put his clothes where they should go. By changing her focus to where Steven shows his care for her and replacing her anger with compassion and understanding, she is engaging in emotional forgiveness. Similarly, when Steven notices another dirty dish in the sink, he chooses not only to set aside his desire for revenge or passive-aggressive comments and instead thinks of all the qualities that he loves about Catherine instead. While thinking about all the amazing aspects of Catherine’s personality that he loves, his anger about the dishes subsides, and he evidences emotional forgiveness. Both Steven and Catherine view the other in a more positive light after engaging in emotional forgiveness.