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Fam Process. 1998 Winter;37(4):425-49.

Understanding betrayals in marriage: a synthesized model of forgiveness.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University, Providence, RI 02906, USA.


Forgiveness is an issue that is problematic for many couples, particularly those in marital therapy. However, little attention has been paid to this construct in the psychological literature. The purpose of this article is to describe a synthesized model of forgiveness using constructs from multiple theories, including forgiveness, trauma recovery, cognitive-behavioral, family systems, and insight-oriented theories. Forgiveness is conceptualized as a process consisting of three stages, each of which has cognitive, behavioral, and affective components. Furthermore, these stages seem to parallel a person's natural response to traumatic stress. First, there is a response to the initial impact; second, there is an attempt to give the event some kind of meaning, or put it into context; and finally, the person begins to move forward and readjust. Forgiveness is conceptualized as attaining: (a) a realistic, nondistorted, balanced view of the relationship; (b) a release from being controlled by negative affect toward the participating partner; and (c) a lessened desire to punish the participating partner. Implications for marital therapy also are discussed.

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