A Lesson in Forgiveness: Why You Should Give Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt

Have you ever given your partner the benefit of the doubt? If you’re in a committed relationship, you probably have without even realizing it. Giving someone you love the benefit of the doubt runs on a continuum. On one end, it might mean that you completely ignore something they did that annoyed you. On the other, with bigger “offenses,” it means that you’ll approach their behavior with calmness and a healthy dash of understanding.

Picture this: After one too many spiked egg-nogs at the office holiday party, your partner serenades your boss with a wobbly “I Just Called to Say I Love You” while you hide behind a coat rack.

Even though your boss seems amused, you’ve got grounds for a World War III kind of fight, the kind of earth-quaking fight that before now you could barely imagine, let alone instigate. But wait. You take a few steps back, think about how your partner has never been drunk before (maybe he’s got a low alcohol tolerance? And it is the holiday season, after all…), and reason, “He’s been under so much stress lately. I’ll cut him some slack this time.” So the next morning, instead of replacing his hair gel with Nair and blasting him out of bed with a bullhorn at 5:00 AM, you calmly mention that he really tied one on the night before and his behavior embarrassed you something fierce.

Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt is a simple and effective way to nurture your relationship.

Happiness and love are good reasons to be in a relationship. But what happens when your relationship—for a little while—stops bringing you happiness? Are you ready for the times when finding your car keys will be easier than feeling happy in your relationship? Will a need for instant gratification or a “what’s in it for me?” attitude influence hasty decisions about the relationship? Or will you hang in there and work toward the happiness you know your relationship is capable of bringing? In order to do this, you will need to adopt a “benefit of the doubt” mindset.

You should give your partner the benefit of the doubt because:

~You and your partner will fight a lot less.

~All relationships go through ups and downs. And all people have “off” days and “on” days.

~All partners (yes, even you) act like selfish eight-year-olds from time to time.

~Unbroken stretches of nothing but pure happiness is unrealistic.

~Being part of a committed relationship means putting your needs aside, at least temporarily.

~Your partner (and the relationship itself) may have earned some “benefit of the doubt” credits. Think back to how often things have gone well in your relationship.

You shouldn’t give your partner the benefit of the doubt when:

~Your partner is abusive.

~Your relationship has only brought suffering.

~You feel manipulated into giving your partner the benefit of the doubt.

~Your partner is no longer committed to the relationship, no matter what you do or how hard you try.

Odds are, you know someone who overlooks egregious, relationship-destructive behavior in his/her partner and chalks it up to giving him/her the benefit of the doubt. But that’s not what that person is doing: indeed, he or she is only overlooking egregious, relationship-destructive behavior that won’t get any better during that unhealthy silence of denial. Each partner must be committed to the relationship and must feel responsible for his/her behavior in order for the benefit of the doubt mindset to work. After all, giving the benefit of the doubt means temporarily suspending judgment while looking at the big picture of a healthy, mutually satisfying union.

So how about giving this mindset a try? Giving your partner the benefit of the doubt is an act of forgiveness. It’s one of the times when you can place your partner and the relationship above your own needs. Think of it as an act of hope and an act of trust—you anticipate something positive on the horizon, so in this moment you choose to give your partner the benefit of the doubt.