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What Warrants a Second Chance and What Doesn’t?

by eharmony Editorial Team - March 5, 2009

Being in a long-term relationship requires that you weather many storms as a couple. If one person is the source of all of your problems, when should you walk in the name of self-protection?

What Warrants a Second Chance and what Doesn’t? If this question is coming up in your relationship, the chances are that you two have dealt with some tough issues and experienced some pain together. And if you’re the one who has been hurt by your partner—maybe by some amount of cheating or lying, or some sort of addiction issue, or even an inability to commit—then you may face a difficult dilemma.

On one hand, you care about this person and want to remain committed to the relationship through thick and thin. But on the other hand, you realize how important it is to protect and take care of yourself, and you know that there comes a time when you have to be willing to say, “Enough is enough.”

The question is, When is that time? How can you know that the line has been crossed—the line that means saying no to a second chance? There’s no easy answer to this question, but there are some guidelines we can use to make sure that we’re making good decisions as we try to do the right thing in terms of our relationship and our own personal health and well-being.

Signs for a second chance

A Second Chance may be Warranted When:

You have reason to continue to believe

You know this person well. He or she has been your partner, and you two have been together long enough to know each other on a genuine and intimate level. If you have serious doubts about the person’s character, or credibility, or ability to do the right thing from now on, then it’s probably time to walk away. But if this person who has hurt you has previously shown time and again a commitment to you and to your relationship—if this person has earned your trust throughout the time you’ve been together—then you may decide that the person deserves a second chance and that you can offer forgiveness for a momentary lapse.

Change is probable

This point is related to the first one. If you can tell that your partner has achieved genuine growth and insight from this painful experience, then you may want to at least hear out your partner’s request for a second chance. But the real question is not whether or not the person is sorry—that’s not enough. The real question is whether you genuinely believe that real change is probable (not possible) and that you’re both willing to put in the hard work it requires.

There really are extenuating circumstances.

Be careful with this point, because you don’t want to talk yourself into offering a second chance just because the other person uses the “It wasn’t my fault” line. But there really are times when some sort of unusual situation arises that helps explain why someone doesn’t act they way that person usually would (or should). So at least be willing to consider this possibility.

You receive enough benefits and rewards from the relationship that you’re willing to forgive and work through this problem.

Let’s face it: Any relationship is going to have its share of problems. And we put up with them because we like the good we receive along with those problems. So decide just how much you’re willing to put up with and figure out how much you’re getting from the relationship. But remember: It’s never OK to stay in a relationship where you’re being mistreated or repeatedly receiving disrespect.

Signs a that a second chance is not warranted

A Second Chance is NOT Warranted When:

You really don’t believe the person will change.

This is when honesty with yourself comes in. Listen to your heart and what you know deep down inside. If you know that offering a second chance will simply get you hurt again, then do the right thing here and walk away. Yes, it’s hard, but you’ve got to be willing to say no—and to mean it—when you know that you can’t trust this person to treat you the way you deserve to be treated.

There’s a pattern, and this isn’t an isolated incident.

Remember, we’re talking here about second chances. If you’ve already given someone a second chance—and then a third and a fourth—and the pattern continues, then you need to recognize what’s happening and move on. One slip-up isn’t a pattern. But if you see the same behavior over and over again, don’t lie to yourself and continue to believe it won’t happen again.

The people who care about you tell you it’s time to face the facts.

If everyone who really knows you is telling you to get on with your life without this person, then it’s probably a good idea to listen. Sure, they could all be wrong. But when you’re honest with yourself, you know that you should at least consider their opinions. Ask yourself whether there’s a chance that everyone who loves you and wants what’s best for you might be right about this person. And if you determine that they are, then it’s time to move on.

When the person can’t help himself or herself and won’t get help.

One of the most painful realizations a person can ever come to is the awareness that the person he or she loves is dealing with some sort of addiction. If your partner is facing addiction and is trying to deal with it in a positive way with the help of an expert or a support community, then you may decide to stay and support your partner in this process. But if he or she refuses to get help with the problem, then you owe it to yourself to say goodbye. It will be painful, but it may be the most loving thing you can do, since your refusal to enable the habit may force the person to deal with the reality of the pain he or she is experiencing and causing in other people’s lives.

Prioritizing Self-Care: Navigating Relationships with Honesty and Empowerment

When you look at the guidelines above, they all amount to one basic principle: Take care of yourself. If taking care of yourself means forgiving and working hard to salvage a relationship that’s been damaged, then forgive and work hard. But taking care of yourself may mean being honest enough to acknowledge that it’s time to say goodbye. Making that move won’t be easy, but just think of what it could mean for you as you look to a future full of new possibilities.

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