When Giving the Benefit of the Doubt Goes Too Far

I thought I was doing the right thing by giving my ex-husband the benefit of the doubt.

When he blamed a bank error for the lack of money in the checking account, I believed his explanation. As his demeanor shifted over our last months together and he seemed preoccupied, I was more than ready to blame it on the alarming and unusual hypertension issues he was having. And when he told me that he would never leave, I listened without reservation.

I had always believed that choosing to see your spouse in the best light possible was part of a happy marriage. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had allowed giving the benefit of the doubt to go too far.

Instead of seeing the best parts of him, I was seeing the man I wanted him to be.

Lisa Arends

The following seven questions will help you determine if you are giving someone the benefit of the doubt or if you’re letting it slide into excusing poor behavior.

1 – Are you ignoring signs in your gut that something is wrong?

Our subconscious minds are smart. Very smart. And yet we often dismiss what they’re telling us because it doesn’t align with what our rational brains have concluded (AKA confirmation bias).

Are you experiencing headaches or stomach troubles? Getting sick more often? Having trouble sleeping? Feeling usually anxious or irritable? All of those can be signs that you’re ignoring something beneath the surface.


2 – Do you give this person the benefit of the doubt consistently and across many areas?

Everybody makes mistakes. And everybody has areas of weakness where they may struggle to meet your expectations. It’s kind and completely appropriate to give somebody the benefit of the doubt when they are coming from a place of good intentions and show regret and/or effort to improve.

Problems arise when you find yourself continually making excuses for the same person and when those pardons cover a wide range of behaviors and situations. It’s one thing for them to mess up periodically or to struggle within a defined area, but if there are more wrongs than rights, they may be taking advantage of your kind nature.

3 – Do you have anxiety when you consider looking closer or confronting the person?

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt should not a substitute for the difficult conversations. When you notice someone of concern, are you jumping to excuses in lieu of looking closer or asking questions? If so, you may be providing a shield for their covert operations.

Trust, but verify. Ask, but listen with an open mind. Be willing to give the benefit of the doubt because you believe in them not because you’re afraid to face the truth.

4 – Who is initiating giving the benefit of the doubt – you or your partner?

If your partner is frequently offering up excuses or providing you with guiding lines such as, “Come on, you know I would never mean to do that,” they may not be deserving of your confidence. Instead, if you reach the conclusion independently and without pressure, it is a sign that it may be deserved.

5 – Is there a discrepancy in your acceptance or certain behaviors with them versus other people?

Do you find that you make excuses for your partner’s behaviors but that you are less tolerant of similar in others? This is a sign that your feelings for your partner or commitment to the relationships may be blinding you to the truth.

It’s natural to interpret the actions of those we care about in a favorable light and to paint strangers more harshly. But when the discrepancy is great, it may be time to reconsider your stance.

6 – How do the facts align with your conclusion?

First, make sure that you have some facts to support your conclusion. Even if they’re circumstantial (after all, we’re trying to be intentional in a relationship, not win a court case). For example, if you’re tempted to pass off your partner’s withdrawal to a period of intensity at work, ask yourself if this is a typical pattern of behavior for them under similar circumstances.

If the facts are spare or you’re unsure about them, go ahead and give the benefit of the doubt while at the same time making a mental note. Or, if this is a one off, let it be. If you start to see a pattern, pay attention.

7 – Do you re-evaluate your stance periodically and are you willing to change your mind?

This is one of those uncomfortable truths that I don’t like to face – it probably took a tsunami-level betrayal for me to accept the reality about my ex-husband. Anything less, and I would have tried to have talk myself out of what I seeing.

He had proven himself trustworthy in the early years of our relationship and I let that conclusion stand for the next dozen or so years. I made the mistake of believing that he still was what he used to be. And I ignored any signs to the contrary.

Getting to know somebody never ends. Never allow yourself to become so comfortable in a relationship that you neglect to see the truth. Keep your eyes open and trust in yourself that you can handle whatever you see. Being generous with giving the benefit of the doubt is part of a happy marriage, but only if you give it mindfully and appropriately.

It’s good to give someone the benefit of the doubt but be careful that you’re not giving up yourself in the process.

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5 Responses

  1. janieleeds says:

    Great post! It happens to the best of us and then we see the truth. And we stop giving the benefit of the doubt.

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