A new theory of forgiveness

Michele Killough Nelson, Purdue University


The existence of three types of forgiveness was proposed and examined. The first type, Detached Forgiveness, involved a reduction in negative affect toward the offender, but no restoration of the relationship. Limited Forgiveness, the second type, consisted of a reduction in negative affect towards the offender and partial restoration of and decreased emotional investment in the relationship. The third type, Full Forgiveness, was similar to the traditional concept of forgiveness and included total cessation of negative affect towards the offender and full restoration and growth of the relationship. Undergraduate students (n = 407) who had experienced conflict in their dating relationships within the past two months were studied to determine if they had forgiven their partners and to examine differences between types of forgiveness granted. Measures of trust, satisfaction, commitment, loving, and liking, both prior to and after the conflict, were obtained. The data from 300 subjects were used in the first part of the study and the remaining data were used to cross-validate the results. Multivariate and univariate analyses of variance supported the existence of the three types of forgiveness proposed by this author. Results of the discriminant analysis indicated that post-forgiveness differences in the levels of trust, satisfaction, commitment, loving, and liking for the three groups could be used to predict what type of forgiveness a subject had granted with a high degree of certainty. These results were supported in the cross-validation study. In addition, the seriousness of the relationships before the conflict occurred and the degree to which the relationships were disrupted by the conflict were found to be significantly different across forgiveness groups. It was also found that subjects were least likely to forgive when the disagreement involved lying or alcohol. Subjects were most likely to grant Detached Forgiveness when the conflict involved infidelity, the seriousness of the relationship, or physical violence. Limited Forgiveness was most likely to be granted when the disagreement involved family, whereas Full Forgiveness was most likely to be granted when the disagreement involved friends, the amount of time spent together, or the partner hurting the subject's feelings.




Swensen, Purdue University.

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