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Forgiveness: The Key to Long-Term Marriage?

Dr. Douglas Kelley, Arizona State University
Forgiving is not condoning; hurtful actions have consequences. Yet couples who communicate forgiveness may hold the key to stable marriages. This research will study how spouses, married 25 years or more, ask for and offer forgiveness.

What makes some marriages last a lifetime, while others falter and fall apart?

According to Professor Douglas Kelley of Arizona State University West, the key to long-term conjugal bliss may be in how well a couple communicates forgiveness.

Kelley, a Professor in Communication Studies, will explore the communication of forgiveness among couples in Sun City Grand Retirement Community near Phoenix, AZ who have been married 25 years or more. Building on his previous research, Kelley will study the couples' strategies for seeking and granting forgiveness. All the couples he will work with have been married 25 years or more. "These pairs have worked hard to maintain their relationships for over a quarter of a century. What did they do right?" he asks.

Much forgiveness research, to date, examines forgiveness in therapeutic settings, however, Kelley's goal is to identify how forgiveness plays a part in these couples' daily lives.

Through a series of qualitative interviews, Kelley's team of researchers will examine how each couple has dealt with forgiveness and expressed forgiveness over the length of their partnership. "I believe in the process of story telling," says Kelley. "I want to provide a way for participants to tell this information in their own words."

Kelley hopes to learn not only what makes marriages work, but what drives people to ask for, and to give, forgiveness. "These days the notion of equality, an eye for an eye, is prominent," says Kelley. "That makes forgiveness counter-intuitive - but at the same time a lot of people who don't call themselves religious or spiritual are forgiving one another. Is it because they sense that they will reap the benefits of forgiving for years to come, or is there some other motive?"

Additionally, he points to the myths that many people believe about forgiveness, "Forgiveness is not the same thing as condoning the other person's behavior, nor does it mean that there are no consequences to our actions," says Kelley.

Kelley seeks to gain a greater understanding of the ways that forgiveness can strengthen relationships. In the end, he hopes that embracing and communicating forgiveness can provide a sense of well-being and stability for couples living in an increasingly stressed society.

Dr. Douglas Kelley is an Assistant Professor in Communication Studies at Arizona State University West in Phoenix. He has a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Arizona, as well as degrees in counseling and religious studies. He is a member of the editorial board for Family Communication, the publication of the National Communication Association and gives seminars on marital and family communication to churches and other organizations. Dr. Kelley also loves traveling with his family.


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