So your significant other messed up – like, big time. Here you are, left with a moral conflict to work through seemingly alone and no idea of how to begin to address this issue. You never thought he'd cheat, you never expected her to betray your trust, but people make mistakes. You yourself have made your fair share in past romantic relationships. Can you forgive your partner, or should you walk away from the relationship?
Resolving conflict is not always as easy as forgive and forget. There are emotions involved, feelings of guilt and betrayal, and love to be repaired from the ground up. To aide you through the trials of determining whether you should give your partner a second chance, I consulted with relationship expert and author April Masini, as well as couples coach and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After with More Intention, Less Work, Leslie Doares.
Here are the times it's mentally and physically OK to try to again, and the times you shouldn't even think about giving your partner a second chance.
1. OK — When You Mutually Agree To Work On The Problem Together
"Simply getting a couple to agree to work together is a win for the relationship. Most people who seek my help do so because they can’t get the partner to commit to work together," Masini tells me via email. If you and your partner can agree there is a deeper issue to be resolved and you're both willing to work it out, that's the best foundation for cutting through your problems.
Even if the desire to work through it is mutual, feelings of mistrust or doubt may be present in the partner who was betrayed. To get past this, Masini suggests, "When you have an idea about your partner that is keeping you from trusting them or forgiving them, and you want to move past this, dig deeper. Talk to your partner and ask them to help you get past this. Try to understand the history of how they got to the behavior that brought you to this place — beyond what you think you know. When there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity to learn and grow closer. It’s not always evident, but it’s there."
2. OK — When Cheating Can Be Forgiven & Resolved
Infidelity is not and does not have to always be the end-all, be-all of a relationship. "The reason it’s a mistake to [separate following cheating] is that betrayals don’t happen in a vacuum. Both people in the couple play a part in a betrayal — even though it doesn’t feel like that at first. When a couple can cool down and look at the reasons behind the betrayal, it’s rarely that someone else was hotter or sexier, and more often that the person who cheated didn’t feel valued in the relationship. This often happens because a couple is overwhelmed, sloppy or upset about some derivative issue. These are all issues to be addressed, not ignored," Masini explains.
There are underlying issues where cheating is involved, and in order to move past it, both partners should agree to be honest and forthright in resolving these problems.
According to Doares, "Steps to healing involve gaining a true understanding of what the problematic behavior was and the extent of the damage it caused. It’s also important that the offender understands what led them to act that way so they can guard against that choice in the future. Giving a clean and sincere apology (with no excuses or reasons) is essential. It is also important for the offended partner to be able to talk about the impact of the behavior and how it hurt them. This is an ongoing process as more and more is uncovered. There also must be complete honesty about what is happening when you’re apart. Lying about anything sets back the trust rebuilding process. Healing begins when the offended partner knows that the offender truly gets how badly their partner has been hurt and owns that they were the cause."
3. OK – When Your Partner Makes A Rare Mistake
According to Masini, "If the problem is an anomaly and not business as usual, it’s worth trying to work things out. For instance, if a person messes up and they’ve never done this before, it’s worth working it through."
When it's out of character for your partner to make a mistake and hurt you in turn, consider forgiving him or her, especially if your partner expresses remorse.
4. OK – When You Both Have A Lot Invested In The Relationship
"If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s silly to throw it away without working through the issues. Or if you have children, breaking up is going to affect them more profoundly than it will affect you or your partner, so if you can, you should try to work things through," Masini clarifies.
When there's a lot invested in the relationship over time, it becomes more difficult to go your separate ways. Consider if the severity of the mistake your partner made is worth throwing it all away.
5. OK – When Your Partner Expresses Remorse, Takes Responsibility, & Seeks Forgiveness
"True remorse is a big indicator of hope. It has to be for the specific behavior and recognition of the damage that behavior did. There also needs to be a willingness to make amends by repairing the damage no matter how personally difficult. It is also important for the offender not to press the partner for forgiveness before these actions are taken," Doares tells Bustle via email.
Where there is no remorse or apologetic behavior for making a mistake, there should be concern for your partner's commitment to the relationship. Someone who displays no regret for hurting you and betraying your trust is not deserving of a second chance. On the other hand, where there is an abundance of regret for a mistake made, there is indication of hope for saving the relationship.
6. Not OK — When Miscommunication Is A Constant
"Unchecked, [miscommunication] spirals out of control, exponentially. Breakups occur because of miscommunication, as does lots of pain. Communication is one of the best places to start healing a problem — either with or without the help of a third party. Checking yourself and checking your partner to make sure you mean what you say and heard what you think you heard. Many times, for many reasons, couples simply miscommunicate," according to Masini.
Allowing your problems to manifest without talking them through leads to bigger, unforgivable issues. If you and your partner are past communicating to resolve your problems, it's time to reconsider your commitment to the relationship.
"Losing connection and lessening intimacy and affection also sends couples to seek help. Inappropriate behavior like excessive drinking, oversharing with friends or family, intimate interactions with other people, poor work/life balance, and money issues are all things that can send a couple to seek help in righting the relationship," Doares shares.
7. Not OK – When Betrayal Becomes Frequent
"Cheating is one of the most common mistakes in a relationship that causes a couple to separate without question. It cuts to the core of many peoples’ self esteem and feels like a strong betrayal. That’s why you’ll see partners quickly split over a betrayal," Masini tells me via email.
Though cheating once may indicate a second chance is viable, frequent infidelity with the same person or multiple people shows a lack of commitment and investment in your relationship. If your partner becomes a chronic cheater, he or she clearly has not learned the lesson of guilt and remorse, and thus, is not deserving of a second chance.
"What one couple finds impossible to overcome, another couple may be willing to try. That said, if there is no remorse or acceptance of responsibility for the damage, it is very difficult to give someone another chance. The same is true if the offender isn’t willing to change their behavior going forward or expecting the offended party to shoulder responsibility for the offender’s actions," Doares adds.
8. Not OK – When Your Partner Becomes A Chronic Liar
"Chronic cheating, chronic lying, and physical abuse should be deal breakers for healthy people. It’s impossible to have a healthy relationship when you’re with someone who practices any of these three dynamics," according to Masini.
If you catch your partner lying to you on multiple occasions, there is an underlying cause of deception that must make you consider whether this relationship is worth your unreciprocated time, energy, and loyalty.
9. Not OK – When Your Partner Becomes Physically Abusive
When any type of abuse comes into play in a relationship, you should consider all avenues to removing yourself in the safest manner possible. No relationship or individual is worth losing your happiness or life. Seek refuge from an abusive relationship and begin healing, looking forward to a better future.
"Surround yourself with supportive people and have a concrete plan of what you will do when you are tempted to connect. Get outside help to work through any remaining emotions—both positive and negative ones—so you can move on with your life and be open to loving again," Doares suggests.
10. Not OK – When You've Made Up Your Mind To Move On
It's OK to find yourself at the point where the love is no longer as strong, or the desire to stay committed begins to fade. Some relationships become beyond repair, at which point you might find yourself ready to walk away.
To do so, Masini says, "Making a clean break requires commitment and discipline. The clearer you are on your reasons and your conviction to move on with a clean break, and the more disciplined you are about boundaries, the easier it will be."
When it comes to your happiness, no one but you can determine how you achieve and maintain it. Even when you've invested significant time and love into a relationship, do not allow your life to be compromised by the selfish actions of another person. When someone close to you acts in a such a way that would warrant dismissing you from his or her life, take the time to allow yourself to heal and determine what would be best for you moving forward.
Though no two loves will ever be the same, there will always be another.