Kriste Peoples explores a way to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. Learn how to decide between granting second chances or amicably walking away.
The more I talk with people about their relationships, the more I’m reminded that we’re motivated to a greater extent by our deeper desires than by our differences. What we talk about when we talk about love tends to center around the yearning to belong, to feel safe, to build something that’s true and lasting and to freely give and receive affection. For lots of us, there are the basics: we need to be in our fullness with the one we love. And yet, getting these needs met can derail the relationship if we’re misunderstood or poorly equipped to manage emotional difficulty when it arises.
On the big screen we cheer for the underdogs, waving them on when they wreck weddings, walk out on their lazy life partners and bail on new romantic potentials (all in the name of entertainment). The triumphant dumping scenes where the mousy mates finally summon the courage to roar really get our juices going. When we’re watching other people’s stories unfold we’re not called to invest any more deeply than the cost of the ticket.
As real relationship partners, complicated people don’t get nearly the same permission to blunder at love. By “complicated people” I mean us.
My friend Doug is, by all measures, a sweetheart. Among the most considerate and loyal people I’ve ever known, he’s what I call a “slow burn.” Had we not met in college and become friends over time, I doubt our friendship would have taken root after just a few encounters. Quirky and opinionated, creative and passionate, Doug isn’t much for small talk and artifice. His work ethic is equal parts enviable and insane, and after many years of knowing him, I still admire his ability to be so loving and supportive toward his close friends and family.
Too bad his partners never experienced the same good fortune.
According to Doug, his romantic relationships are short-lived because a.) most men aren’t built for monogamy or b.) they’re superficial and too consumed with chasing perfection. This is his common complaint and because it is, I’d be failing him as a friend if I didn’t point that out. One of the many comforts of our relationship is that we each trust the other to tell the truth with compassion and without judgment.
When I asked him to elaborate, Doug told me that the only men he ever seemed to fall for were more interested in being players, or they weren’t fit as relationship material for other reasons. “So why do you think you keep choosing them?” I asked.
Doug’s response was a familiar one, not just because I’d heard him tell it before, but because I’ve heard it from plenty of people who’d reached impasses in their relationships. He said, “I want to be close but I’m not going to put myself out there just to be hurt or left hanging. So once I see him starting to act suspicious, I’m gone.” Ultimately, he conceded it was his fear of intimacy and rejection (and the fact that he’d been burned by offering too many second chances in the past) that caused him to turn away from love.
After emerging from a major breakup six years ago, Doug had adopted a ‘one-strike’ relationship policy, which meant that one infraction of his unspoken rules meant his partner was quickly erased from his phone, email and all social media accounts, provided they got that far along in the relationship.
The thing about knowing when to give (and take) second chances is different for everyone. This act alone may test your limits of grace and courage, and call you to the edge of what you thought was possible in your relationship. As the philosopher Epicurus said: “You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.”
Here are a few starting questions to ponder when you’re considering whether it’s a good idea to give your relationship a second chance:
Am I safe?
Checking in with yourself is an important first step in any crisis or difficult situation. Have you been cutting yourself off from friends and family? Are you rationalizing bad behavior, or telling yourself stories that keep you put? Have you experienced a creeping sense of fear or anxiety in your relationship? If you’re answering yes, or if you feel your health or well-being is in jeopardy, then taking yourself out of harm’s way will be your primary concern. In this case, giving yourself a second chance at a healthy relationship might mean getting out of the bad one you’re in.
Is it true?
I love a good story. And, in my opinion, pretty much everything is a story—complete with perspectives, villains, victims, plots and drama. All of which have their place, but when it comes to our relationships, we have to be willing to examine which ones we’re telling. What’s true about the case you’re making? For the sake of being accepted, are you pretending to be someone you’re not? If your communication styles are different, and your discussions leave you feeling slighted and unheard, is it more a matter of finding a way to talk that benefits you both? Just because one person may favor ‘the facts’ over emotion doesn’t mean there’s any love lost. Whatever challenge you find yourself in, rather than reacting in rejection look for the deeper truth and be willing to proceed accordingly.
Who is the second chance for?
When it comes to relationships, it’s safe to assume we’ve all been raised by wolves. Meaning, we don’t get each other’s manuals when we meet so we need our partners to teach us how they prefer to be treated. We’d also do well to watch the way they treat us in return. It can offer us insight into the ways they love. Instead of shutting down at the first offense or missed signal, it’s a wiser call to look for ways into mutual understanding. Even if the understanding is that you need to part company. Remember, granting your partner a second chance isn’t about providing a list of demands and putting him or her on notice. It’s about letting go of any agendas or animosity and giving yourself permission to show up, present and accounted for, in your relationship.
Venturing into a deep emotional territory isn’t without its risks. Authentic second chances give us room to be fully human with each other as we evolve; and that’s crucial to the longevity of any healthy relationship. We want connection, trust, love, commitment, yet there’s never any guarantee of how much we’ll get. The only thing we can control is what we give—not just for the second time, but every time.
[image via Ross Griff on flickr]