THE BLOG
10/09/2013 06:23 pm ET | Updated Dec 09, 2013

When Should You Give Someone 'The Benefit of the Doubt'?

I was thinking about that interesting saying, "The benefit of the doubt," and I decided to look it up on the Internet. The Urban Dictionary defines it this way: "When giving someone the benefit of the doubt, you are believing what they say and taking their word because you, yourself, have some doubt about what happened."

The Free Dictionary says this about it: "to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either."

The concept of giving or not giving the benefit of the doubt is very important when it comes to relationships.

For example, Samantha, 28, wanted to meet Mr. Right. She was ready to get married and have a family. When she met handsome, charming and highly intelligent Gary, she thought she had found the right person. But within a few weeks, Gary started coming late to their dates. He always had an excuse, so Samantha gave him the benefit of the doubt. In addition, he started to be very critical of her -- of her looks and of things she said. When she spoke up about it, he told her he was just joking, that she shouldn't be so serious and sensitive, and that he loved her. Gary was very affectionate and she loved cuddling with him, so again she gave him the benefit of the doubt.

A year into the relationship, Samantha was miserable. Gary clearly had a deep fear of intimacy and found many ways of pushing her away. The signs were there from the beginning, but Samantha had ignored them, preferring to give him the benefit of the doubt. This was one of those situations where she should have listened closely to her inner knowing instead.

Conversely, Richard was dismayed when Christina kept canceling their second date, stating that her mother was ill and she needed to attend to her. He didn't know her very well yet and wasn't sure he could believe that this was the reason she kept canceling. However, he gave her the benefit of the doubt and discovered that she was telling the truth. Once her mother was well again, Christina turned out to be a wonderful person and ready for a relationship. Richard and Christina eventually got married.

So when is it wise to give the benefit of the doubt and when is it not?

The rule of thumb that I encourage my clients to follow is to initially give a person the benefit of the doubt. But if the same thing keeps happening a number of times -- like consistently being late or being overly critical, then trust your inner knowing about the person and disengage from him or her before becoming more involved. Trust the early signs of someone being resistant and fearful of intimacy -- of using lateness, a judgmental attitude and emotional distance to push you away.

Trusting Yourself

The real issue is whether you are going to trust your gut feelings rather than what someone else says. It can be very easy for bright and charming people to say the things you want to hear, but is their behavior consistent with their words? If you feel confused, pay attention. Often, confusion indicates that the other person is not being honest.

If you start to feel anxious in the relationship, pay attention to the anxiety. It could be that your anxiety is something you need to address within yourself, through your Inner Bonding practice. Or it may be telling you that this is a person who is not ready to be honest, trustworthy, caring and reliable. If you are sincerely looking for a loving relationship, then don't go overboard on giving the benefit of the doubt. If you keep on giving the benefit of the doubt, even though you get hurt again and again, then you need to be honest with yourself about what you really want in a relationship. Are you convincing yourself that you can change this person? This false belief can cause a lot of hurt. Of course, people can change, but we can't change them!

When a person is fearful of intimacy, has a fear of engulfment, and shies away from commitment, or when they commit but then push you away in various ways, the chances of them changing are slim. Generally, people who are avoidant in relationships believe that they have picked the wrong person, rather than looking inside to address their own fear and avoidance.

If you are ready for an intimate and committed relationship, then trust yourself and don't keep giving the benefit of the doubt.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, and join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships." Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

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