Forgiving someone may have psychological benefits for you, but it sure doesn’t have social benefits, because, and let’s face it, we’re an angry, angry society. Forgive a cheating spouse, and people will think of you as weak.
A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology has found that people who forgive a cheating mate are thought of as mature but weak, especially if they are leaders. One test saw ninety-five male and 131 female undergraduates read a story about a person who was cheated on; some subjects saw a version that ended in forgiveness, and others did not. The character was rated as more mature if they forgave their cheating partner, but also seen as “weaker and less competent”. Even so, the subjects “preferred forgiveness to retaliation”.
In another test, over one hundred female participants read a similar story, this time about a female governor running for re-election. The participants were less likely to say they’d vote for the governor if she forgave her cheating partner.
These results put a person cheated on in a tough position, in that past studies have found that forgiveness has good personal benefits, but this new one suggests that there are social costs to forgiveness. The question is, what matters more to you?