Ah that famous quote from Love Story that set the tone for all the hopeless romantics in the 1970s. But does that famous quote hold true? Was it true then? More importantly, is it true now?
In my practice, I’ve seen everything in terms of couples and infidelity. Only one detail is a constant: When it comes to cheating, it’s hard to forgive and forget, much less apologize. Sometimes the relationship is solid enough and the infidelity forgivable — and the couple prevails. Other times, it’s just a symptom of a crumbling union. So how can you tell?
Here are five key points to consider when thinking about whether your ex has changed their ways enough to consider giving the relationship a second chance:
1. What has your ex been doing for the last year?
More than likely if they’ve truly changed their ways, the change is consistent for at least 12 months. Six months? Nope. It takes at least 12 months for someone to truly change in their life.
Have they kept a job for 12 months? Have they stayed off drugs or alcohol for 12 months? Have they stopped seeing their old flame for 12 months? Real change takes commitment, and time.
2. Where are they in the process of remorse?
Someone who’s truly remorseful actually asks you to forgive them for their jerk-hood period. But that’s only the beginning.
Remorse shows in the actions of the individual. If their fault was lack of contributing financially to the relationship (ie. didn’t have a job, didn’t help with the rent or utilities, etc.), then remorse might mean that they show respect and consideration for your financial obligations by making sure they carry their own weight without needing you to remind them.
3. Have they changed their environment?
If someone really wants to alter their life, certain things have to change. People in 12-step programs know this all too well. Even if you’re going to AA or NA daily, your social circle, both in person and online, can sabotage your efforts.
Transitioning into a new lifestyle means you need people who support your efforts (sponsors), or friends if you’re not in recovery. But you also need to move as far away from toxic people, or temptations as possible. This might mean just renting a room in a home where people support one’s change, or maybe it’s restricting or “unfriending” certain people from their social networks.
It could even mean getting a new job. I know of professional men who left circles of golf and 18-year-old scotch to start anew working at a department store with a life of picnics, tag football and soda. When you want to change, your environment needs to change. Have they put distance between themselves and temptation?
4. Is their approach to the relationship different this time?
I’ve heard it said that our whole bodies completely reproduce all cells in seven years. That means that in seven years, you’re a completely new person.
Has your ex acknowledged the growth and changes you’ve both made in your lives, particularly since the game-changing betrayal occurred? Do they understand that they need to change their approach because the playing field has changed? We want different things after going through and recovering from infidelity. Are they willing to walk this walk with you?
5. Do they have defined goals for the relationship?
When did it become taboo to ask what someone’s intentions are? A real man, a gentleman, knows what he wants. A lady always knows. So go ahead and ask. What do they want? What do they expect from the relationship?
See if they’re honest, and if their goals match yours. It’s not a bad thing to answer with honesty. If they say, “I want another chance to get to know you and improve our relationship,” that’s a fair response. And if you want commitment, fidelity, a future engagement, or marriage, don’t shy away from asking! You’re giving this person a second chance. Make your expectations clear.
They say “forgiveness is divine,” but I’ve also heard it said that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”