Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Jeffrey Green

Second Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Joy-Gaba


Two studies were conducted to determine how self-forgiveness and other perpetrator reactions influence the perpetrator and the victim after a romantic relationship transgression. Study 1 used a longitudinal design to determine how guilt and shame predicted the trajectory of self-forgiveness, self-excusing, and self-punishing in participants who had recently been the perpetrator of a romantic relationship transgression.

Those experiencing higher guilt at baseline had higher self-forgiveness starting out and those lower on guilt starting out had a greater change in self-forgiveness. Those experiencing more guilt at baseline experienced less change in self-forgiveness over time. Shame was not significantly related to self-forgiveness over time. Those experiencing higher shame at baseline were higher in self-excusing starting out. Those lower on shame starting out had a greater increase in self-excusing over time and those experiencing more shame at baseline experienced less increase in self-excusing over time. Guilt was not significantly related to self-excusing over time. Neither guilt nor shame predicted change in self-punishment over time.

In Study 2, couples came into the lab and wrote about the same offense. One participant wrote from the perspective of the perpetrator and the other from the perspective of the victim. Victims reported their forgiveness and perception of their partners’ reactions to wrongdoing. Perpetrators reported their perception of their partners’ feelings of forgiveness and their feelings of self-forgiveness, self-excusing, and self-punishing. Both members reported their relationship satisfaction and commitment.

Overall, self-forgiveness by the perpetrator was not a strong predictor of perpetrator satisfaction or commitment. Victims were more satisfied and committed when perceiving self-forgiveness from their partner, even though their partners’ self-forgiveness did not have an effect. Self-forgiveness only positively predicted perpetrators’ satisfaction and commitment when participants reported decisional self-forgiveness.

Victims’ perceptions of the perpetrators’ self-excusing and perpetrators’ self-punishing negatively predicted victim commitment and satisfaction. Victims’ perceived perpetrator self-punishing positively predicted perpetrators’ commitment. Perpetrator perceived victim forgiveness and victim forgiveness both positively predicted satisfaction for the perpetrator and the victim. This suggests that perpetrators’ perceptions of victim forgiveness may be more important for the perpetrator than the victim actually forgiving them.


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