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Cheaters and Liars: Should You Ever Give Them a Second Chance?

Here’s an idea that’s deeply ingrained in our cultural mythos: “Everybody deserves a second chance.” 

In real life, however, the practical truth is not quite as simple. While forgiveness after an offense is always advisable—letting go to free yourself from lingering bitterness and pain—resuming the relationship is not. Second chances must be viewed on a case-by-case basis, each on its own merits. Sometimes resetting the relationship is the right move. Sometimes it’s not. Here are seven questions to help you know what’s right for you:

Did your partner’s transgression involve physical or psychological abuse?

If the answer is yes, to any degree, stop right there. Delete this person’s info from your phone, return all of their belongings, and move on. Threatening or manipulative behavior is never an isolated event. Odds are good that a second chance will only result in a repeat performance.

Did they take responsibility for their actions?

Here’s a little-understood fact: Deceptiveness is a form of psychological abuse. A partner who lies to you is clearly communicating there are things more important than your trust—an essential ingredient in all healthy relationships. Take the hint, and let them go.

Did their behavior put you or others at risk?

Did this person drive your car while intoxicated? Did they take you somewhere that put you in an unsafe situation? Did they post information about you online that jeopardized your reputation or employment? Incidents like these all reveal a disregard for your safety and well-being—a character flaw that’s unlikely to be easily or quickly reformed, no matter how many chances you give them.

Is the offense part of a pattern?

This only applies to infractions that don’t rise to the level of abusive or risky behavior. Rather, it’s meant to help you see when one small slip-up should be overlooked because, well, nobody’s perfect. On the other hand, lots of little transgressions can add up to big problems. When weighing whether to give a partner a second chance, widen your view to see the forest, not just the trees.

If he or she has apologized, does it consist of more than words?

Is there tangible evidence that your partner truly understands how they hurt you and is willing to alter their behavior? Second chances must be built on verifiable change, not just promises.

Are there two sides to the story?

Sometimes, it’s easy to lay all the blame for an incident on your partner when, in fact, some of the fault lies with you. Were your expectations unrealistic to begin with? Did you communicate as well as you could have? Did you overreact in the heat of the moment and make matters worse than they should be? Take responsibility for your part as you decide whether to give things another try.

What does intuition tell you?

Weighing evidence and tallying pros and cons is a wise way to approach the decision about second chances—but it’s not the only way. Sometimes your gut feeling will lead you in a different direction, one way or another. Don’t be afraid to give intuition a seat at the table too.