Everyone loves a comeback story. We love it when a coach shows faith in a player who, after playing poorly, becomes a hero. We liked the confidence Lincoln showed in Gen. Grant despite his alcohol problem. On the other hand we all know about Charlie Brown giving Lucy another chance to hold the football.  And there is a little Charlie Brown in all of us.

The most confusing and difficult second chances are the ones we are asked to give to someone who has betrayed or let us down. Worse and even more complicated is when it isn’t a second chance but a fourth or fifth chance that is being asked for. How does one decide whether to take the risk and trust again and give a person another chance ? We’ve all heard the famous Alexander Pope quotation, “To err is human, to forgive is divine” but, we also know that to simply forgive or ignore bad behavior can lead to a lot of pain disastrous consequences.

Today we are talking about both the most common emotional mistakes people make when giving second chances and offering some reasonable guidelines for when a person really deserves another shot.

Common Foolhardy Mistakes 

Although everyone wants to be given another chance, some may decide to forgive and forget because of emotional and unsound factors such as:

  • Personal longing for (addiction to) the person). Giving another chance simply because you miss or long for the excitement or fun of their presence.
  • Wishful thinking, denying and avoiding reality. Refusing to accept the reality of a problem and sweeping it under the rug. It seems easier to just forgive and forget. Being swayed by emotion and the fantasy of the way you wished things were rather than by the facts.
  • Being fooled by insincere or incomplete apologies and lame excuses that sound good but are in fact empty.
  • A false sense of desperation (e.g. I can’t live without him/her or thinking that a bad relationship is better than none ) .

Important signs that the other person deserves another chance

Although no one can predict with absolute certainty whether a person will make good on a promise to change, there are important  issues to consider which can help us to make a reasonable decision.

Likewise, those who are afraid to forgive need to reality test their fears with two simple questions:
1) Is the request for a second chance sincere and authentic?
2) Is the person both willing and able to reliably change his/her behavior in the future?

Here are some helpful questions to help you evaluate whether that person is serious about wanting to change and has the capacity to do so. Does s/he:

  • Understand that his/her behavior was wrong ?
  • Accept responsibility for making the behavior ?
  • Sincerely express regret, make restitution for previous injury and show a demonstrable commitment to changing ?
  • Actually act differently consistently over time ?

To deserve a second chance, a person needs to actually accept and understand that what s/he did was wrong (and not just say the words).

Likewise, understanding one’s mistake also involves owning one’s behavior without excuses,  blaming someone else or externalizing responsibility for what happened. While it may be okay to explain your experience and why you acted the way you did in a bad situation, it’s not okay to use those circumstances as an excuse or justification for the wrong way you acted.

A legitimate apology has to be more than just saying you’re sorry. It has to include a sincere expression of contrition and actions to make up for the harm that was done. It also involves making a demonstrable commitment to change like getting into therapy or going to AA.

Finally, real change takes time to accomplish and perceive.  It is important to be cautious over a reasonable probationary period of wait and see before assuming that all is well and back to normal.  Knowing and doing are two different things. In order to feel reasonably safe about giving it another go, you will need to see consistency and a pattern of following through and actually acting differently.

While we may know what is reasonable, being able to do it is quite a different matter.  Giving someone a second chance may require outside support and dialog for both you and the person who is trying to change. The emotional pull to revert back into old destructive patterns is very powerful.  Likewise change doesn’t come quickly.   It involves many small steps and occasional setbacks.  But the good news, for folks who are willing to take the risk and make the effort, is that real and better change is possible.

Change is not easy  the for couples, family members, friends and co-workers who make the effort to understand and change their frustrating patterns, the reward of having fewer difficulties and having a deeper and closer relationship is well worth it.