Benefit of the doubt.
– Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Bad idea. Unless someone has EARNED it. And you only earn it after a prolonged period of loving behavior.
Otherwise, bad idea.
If he or she is doing something that you don’t understand and isn’t what you want the two of you to be doing, and you are just dating them or early in the relationship, stop making excuses and reasons for them.
This is how you spend YEARS in unsatisfying relationships. It starts in the beginning with “Oh he’s not seeing me on a regular basis because…” or “She doesn’t return my calls because….” and insert excuse/reason/flavor of the week here. These are red flags. Not just red flags but flashing neon red flags. And the benefit of the doubt kills your ability to assess the red flags. FORGET benefit of the doubt.
In the beginning you should not care WHY this person is acting like a bananahead. If this person is already a bananahead, then get OUT. Early and often.
I’m always amazed at how far people will stretch to give the benefit of the doubt to people they barely know or, if they do know, are seeing new behavior. Although sometimes you give the benefit of the doubt when it’s somewhat earned, but the behavior is so unacceptable that you shouldn’t. I know. I’ve done it.
I was once dating a guy I had known as a friend. He was a musician and took me to a gig in another state. Normally when I went to see him play I sat by myself and he would come over to the table when they were on breaks. This time he spent every break outside talking to someone who was out there smoking. I let the first break go by, I let the second break go by but by the third break I was furious. How rude.
Because this was new behavior he explained it away as a “contact” for more gigs and he was trying to talk about some future work. Well why couldn’t he have told me that at some point instead of leaving me at that table in a club where I knew no one and everyone in his band was looking at me like I had some kind of communicable disease? If a person asks you to accompany them to something and then ignores you while you are there, there should not be any good excuse or explanation. It should be buh bye.
We had reserved a hotel and the club was on the water and we had a nice day planned for the next day. So I swallowed it all without taking notes that not only had he done this but he balked about my objection as if I was a crazy person. He acted rudely toward me and then acted as if I was some needy, selfish psychopath. Because I had had a history of being overly needy and clingy, those kinds of accusations really made me pull back on my stand. But I was right. To go somewhere with someone where you are there as a guest, you should not be ignored. That’s a reasonable expectation. But not only was I ignored, but somewhat berated for objecting to it. That day was a giant red flag and I ignored it.
Needless to say six months later this behavior was the norm. He disappeared, he got upset when I mentioned this and acted as if I was the most not understanding person on the face of the earth. Toward the end of the relationship he was not there. At all. No communication. Nothing. And I felt rejected, abandoned, un-cared for, and believed I deserved to hear the truth but nothing was forthcoming.
I had a glimpse that this was coming very early on, but accepted an excuse for inexcusable behavior. It was not an aberration, it was how he was. And some part of me knew that anyone who could be that rude could be way ruder than that. But I chose to ignore it, to excuse it, and to give him the benefit of the doubt based on the fact he had been a good friend, ignoring the fact that he was a pretty bad boyfriend. That was wrong on my part.
He did the friend role well and we had been close friends, but he was not a good boyfriend and it took me a long time to reconcile those two facts. He would say things like, “This relationship has problems.” without acknowledging that much of the problem was him. We couldn’t talk about it because he considered talking things out to be arguing. So it became relationship impossible. And it took me so long to cut it loose because I gave him way too much benefit of the doubt.
Way too much benefit of the doubt for way too long.
There was a guy who got upset when his ex called. It told me there were still ties there no matter how he protested there weren’t. There was another who spent nothing because he was a student yet, when he got a job he was still chronically cheap. There was one who kept acting like we had more than we did, even though I sensed that he was just pumping us up and he didn’t really feel it.
I had this intuition in all these cases and chose to give the benefit of the doubt. And in each case that early charity would come back to bite me in the ass.
I was with Michael for years before he ever needed the “benefit of the doubt” and even then it was not a big deal. It was a telephone call in which a liquor store was looking for Mike. His beer order had come in. Beer order? He didn’t drink. I had known him to have one or two beers over the course of our marriage. The man on the other end said, “Are you the lady who was with him when he placed the order?” ORDER? WHAT???? LADY!!!! WHAT???
For the first few minutes of the conversation I had no idea he wasn’t talking about my husband and was set to go ballistic. Then I realized he was not who he was talking about…and when he came home I told him about it and he laughed his head off. We actually had a running joke about it for years afterwards. We would talk about his dates with “the beer lady.” He would come in late and say, “I was out with the beer lady…” or he would be giving me a hard time about something I was doing, and I would say, “If you don’t like it, go live with the beer lady.” And we would crack up. Every time.
In the months leading up to his diagnosis I asked him “What is going on with you?” and I was freaking out that he was checking out or having an affair or something. Brain tumor was not on my list of reasons for his peculiar behavior. But after double-digit years of being able to trust him completely, I was trusting him on one hand, but questioning what he doing on the other hand. He had earned the benefit of the doubt but even then I wasn’t going to be completely swayed that nothing was wrong. Something was very wrong but I was guessing at all the wrong things.
Michael’s behavior, the summer before his diagnosis, was very peculiar. At some points I thought well it took many years, but finally I see he’s a jerk. But then I would think he was so bad at pretending anything or keeping any secrets that he wasn’t being a jerk; something was going on. I gave him the benefit of the doubt even though he was upsetting me in ways he had never done before. He had earned it.
But early on I never needed to make up reasons or excuses for bad behavior or peculiar behavior because there was none. And I had learned, by that time, that if you’re making excuses in your head for someone within the first year, you are freaking doomed. Especially if you have no basis for the excuse or reason you’re making up in your head.
In the beginning forget excusing them for things. Ask yourself what you want and what you need and is this doing it for you? Are those wants and needs reasonable? If so, buh bye. If not, why not? If you don’t know perhaps you’re not ready for dating and relating.
Know what you think, know what you feel and then act on what you think and feel.
Don’t waste your time. Don’t make excuses. And keep the benefit of the doubt for people who have earned it. If not, buh freaking bye.
Think about it…how many times in relationships did you break up over something that was fairly evident in the beginning and yet you chose to ignore? That has to change.
Be good to you and stop making excuses for others who neither deserve it nor have earned it. Put YOU first and what you want or need. You can do this.