Did giving my SO the benefit of the doubt made me blind to the red flags
November 15, 2012 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Do you give your SO the benefit of the doubt or do you trust your gut feelings?

My ex, who has more dating experience, taught me a lot qualities while we were together, among them kindness, patience, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. It's never good to assume and I really took that last lesson to heart. It's made me a much calmer person and I didn't "pick fights" as often as I did to exes in my previous relationships.

Some things have come to light since she dumped me a month ago. I believe she has been deceiving me while we were together. I've always had a pretty good gut feeling that is usually right. But because I was always giving her benefit of the doubt, I tend to hold my tongue when she does something that I didn't quite agree with (and then the issues usually do go away so there's no need to bring them up again). I'm beginning to think that always giving someone the benefit of the doubt has dulled my intuition.

What is the balance between giving someone the benefit of the doubt and trusting my gut feelings?

How do I make sure I don't make the same mistake again in future relationships?
posted by feastorfamine to Human Relations (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Can you give us some more details about what came to light, and what the magnitude of the deception was? And how important the issue? It matters to the answer.
posted by 3491again at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2012

I think it's better, on the whole, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and make trust your default position. Going down the road of mistrust can lead to a lot of really heavy, thorny problems in relationships that don't deserve it, and ultimately it won't protect you from being hurt, so what's the point. I've spent a lot of time and energy (ongoing) to walk myself back from being the person I became because of being hurt and wanting to protect myself.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 6:55 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are in a capital-r Relationship that is a functional relationship, your gut feeling should be to give your SO the benefit of the doubt. I at no point even consider that my girlfriend is deceiving me. I am confident that she does not think I lie to her either. I mean, of course, about the important things. Not, like, "yes of course I found that movie trailer you made me watch/song you made me listen to interesting." If you are at the point where you and a person have actually committed to one another enough to say "we are in an official relationship," this should be past the point where you are genuinely suspicious of the person's actions or motives.
posted by griphus at 6:58 PM on November 15, 2012 [24 favorites]

I don't find that there's a conflict between giving my SO the benefit of the doubt and trusting my gut feeling. Of course sometimes we argue; sometimes we have misunderstandings. Then, she will explain where she was coming from, and I will explain where I was coming from, and we will resolve it (usually), or agree to disagree (occasionally, and always about trivial things).

I do give her the benefit of the doubt that she is coming from a good, well-intentioned place, absolute. But my gut feeling, my instinct, is that she is coming from a good, well-intentioned place.

If I thought my partner was not coming from a well intentioned place, I would probably break up with her.

On preview, what griphus said.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:01 PM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

It can be hard to trust -- especially if someone has broken that. But just because she has broken your trust (if I'm reading your question correctly), doesn't mean another girl will. Trust has to be earned -- but once someone earns it, you should trust them. That doesn't mean ignore your gut feeling, but it should mean to weigh what you know about that person and not comparing that person to someone else who has hurt you.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:04 PM on November 15, 2012

Living without trust is worse for me than just being alone. Even if it means I'm open to being hurt.
posted by ead at 7:08 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

It depends on the person, and my approach to this can change based on her behavior. I think that's the only sensible course.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:09 PM on November 15, 2012

But because I was always giving her benefit of the doubt, I tend to hold my tongue when she does something that I didn't quite agree with (and then the issues usually do go away so there's no need to bring them up again).

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt doesn't mean you ignore your gut and never query or examine things. It does mean you don't jump to conclusions. So if my SO isn't home at 4 am, it could mean:

1/ He has been out getting laid by college students
2/ He went to his uncle's for more beer after the pub closed and fell asleep
3/ He's been in an accident and is in A&E

I don't get pissed off and I don't get angry until he rings or gets home and I can say "Hi! I was worried. It's 4 am, what happened?"

I'm beginning to think that always giving someone the benefit of the doubt has dulled my intuition.

Because you were doing it wrong.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:11 PM on November 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Benefit of the doubt sometimes translates to "assume positive intent unless proven wrong". You assumed your ex was doing right by you. Now you have evidence that you were possibly wrong. Yeah, that sucks, but that doesn't mean you were wrong to be giving your ex the benefit of the doubt. You also don't have to give people the benefit of the doubt all the time. I wouldn't give a specific dumbass relative of mine the benefit of the doubt any day of the week because he's a grade A loser who screws with my trust as often as he breathes. But do I spend all my time assuming that every one else around me is out to hurt me any time they do something wrong without proof? Do I seek out proof just to make myself feel more confident in trusting them? Hell no. What a waste of time and energy. Better and happier to assume that things are fine and that if something really were wrong, my gut would know.

Trust your gut, but train it to be reasonable and fair.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:38 PM on November 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

There's no one answer to this because people are different. If you're a person who tends to err on the side of being overly suspicious, you should start giving people the benefit of the doubt. If you err on the side of getting walked all over when you should know better, then you should start trusting your gut.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:47 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that there is no one answer to this question, because what you should do depends on the circumstances. So, like DarlingBri, I will give examples of when you might go with one of these tactics versus another.

Give your partner the benefit of the doubt:
- when she's out or working later than she said she would be occasionally, but keeps you informed about the circumstances when she can, and gives you a reasonable explanation where one is needed.
- when she's got opposite gender friends who she enjoys having a platonically good time with at shared hobbies and other typical friend activities, and she often invites you to participate in her get togethers with them.
- when she communicates with other people via e-mail, phone, and text, and although you try not to be nosy, if you happen to be in the vicinity or looking at the screen/needing to use the phone/computer for some reason, she freely lets you borrow it or if relevant, shows you what she is up to on the phone/computer.

Consider whether to be more concerned:
- when your partner comes home later than expected more frequently than could be explained by normal occurrences, often does not keep you informed about the circumstances of her lateness.
- when she's got opposite gender friends who, to your knowledge, are platonic, but for one reason or another, you're never able to join them or invited to join them when they get together, and/or get togethers are more extended than with other friends and at unusual hours.
- when she texts people late at night and you ask who it is, and she vaguely says "it's a friend from work", or if when you pass by the computer or go to take a look at something on the screen and she appears uncomfortable and is closing tabs/minimizing windows or otherwise making it so you cannot see what she was doing.

Any of these latter things would put my antennae up or make me uneasy.

Trust your gut feelings:
- when your partner comes home later than expected and you find out or know that she was not where she says she was, or that the story she gives about what happened is impossible/false.
- when you see evidence that she is being more physically affectionate or emotionally intimate with an opposite sex friend than could be realistically within the bounds of a platonic relationship.
- when you find something clearly amiss: nude photographs of someone else, suggestive/sexual text messages, e-mails that indicate covert get togethers/expressions of love/sexual content.

Sure, there might be innocent explanations for anything in the "possible concern" or "trust your gut" categories here, but they better be darn good ones
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:33 PM on November 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Benefit of the doubt. Every single time.

Consider the following rather game-theoretic analysis:

1. You want a relationship where you don't need to distrust your partner because your partner is absolutely trustworthy.

2. Many people are not absolutely trustworthy.

3. Therefore, your path toward the relationship you want may well involve some unknown number of relationships that fail because your partner betrays you, until you finally end up with one who never would.

4. If you allow that history of betrayals to damage your ability to extend unconditional trust to your current partner, then when you do eventually end up with a completely trustworthy partner you run a very high risk of destroying the very thing you were looking for all along. This is a tragic error that causes much more suffering than being betrayed by somebody you deliberately, proactively chose to trust.

By the way, extending unconditional trust to your partner becomes much easier if you work hard on making yourself worthy of having such trust extended to you.
posted by flabdablet at 1:51 AM on November 16, 2012 [10 favorites]

Well if you weren't listening to your gut, there'd be nothing to doubt.

I would say until someone gives you a reason not to trust them, trust them. I would also say that at a certain point, you have to look at the effect somebody's behaviour is having, and not at how well they can explain it.

If you're talking about overt screwups rather than what is simply hidden, everybody gets a second chance in my book, but not a third.

This of course doesn't apply to stuff like "clear evidence of definite, outright infidelity" or "clear evidence of cruelty to animals". First, a person can't benefit from your doubt if there is no doubt that they did these things. Second, you can't afford to give them the benefit of the doubt that they could be of good character despite having definitely done these things, because the stakes are too high and the odds that it's an aberration are too low. It's hard to just accidentally shag someone, for example, and if somehow that's a hazard for you, what does that say about you?
posted by tel3path at 2:24 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You are really angry from your previous questions. You're not being rational.

Forget this. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Be honest and assertive too. They're not mutually exclusive.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:25 AM on November 16, 2012

Looking over your previous questions, it seems like you are calling it "benefit of the doubt" when it was actually "confusion in response to abusive behaviour".

The abusive behaviour in question is called "withholding" of the type "silent treatment". Most people respond to abuse with confusion about who is causing the problem, because that's how abuse is intended to make you feel. On top of this, you are predisposed to doubt yourself because your OCD makes you do it, and the fact of having OCD itself makes you doubt your own credibility. Therefore, when one person out of 759 on that thread told you that you were the one being annoying because you contacted your GF three times in four days, that told you there was room for doubt. It only took one person to get you to perseverate on the idea that maybe this was not really the silent treatment and maybe you were the one driving your GF to this because you were being needy and annoying or because it was a "casual" relationship (perhaps for her and not for you, which implicitly blames you for not being "casual" enough). It was also pointed out on that thread that even if she did need space, there were ways she could have easily - even casually! handled it without emotionally torturing you, and she chose not to.

The second time this woman used the silent treatment on you, that was reason enough to dump her. That's when you should have stopped giving the benefit of the doubt. You don't need anything else.

I recommend that you read "The Verbally Abusive Relationship" by Patricia Evans to get some clarity about what abusive behaviour is and is not, and when to try to deal with it and when to fold. Then you won't have to give the "benefit of the doubt" that this kind of behaviour might be acceptable or not the silent treatment or maybe really your fault. You won't hang around trying to deal with abuse long enough to be surprised that Abusey McAbusersdottir is cheating on you too, as well as abusing you.

IME when someone is giving you the silent treatment for long periods of time it's often because they've got other relationships going on. It's efficient to give you the silent treatment because it keeps you hanging on and longing for them so that you welcome them back with open arms when they get around to it, and they don't even have to do anything further to keep you hooked. They can give their other GF all their attention and make the other person feel like the centre of the universe, and then they can start ignoring them turn back to someone or someones else who will be only too glad to hear from them after all this time. Another reason to stop giving dodgy behaviour the benefit of the doubt because it's so often the tip of the iceberg.

Another thing you need to remember is that your behaviour is more controllable than your thoughts and feelings. You might still be thinking about this a long time from now, but you will still have been right to disengage. Addicts stop drinking and expect to face all the temptations of Hades in trying to stick to that decision, and it's still something of a dirty secret in society that interpersonal stuff can put you through the same experience. But love is primal and can tempt you to run towards people you should be running away from even when cooler, more sophisticated people point out how gauche it is to care. Care all you want, but still run away!
posted by tel3path at 4:18 AM on November 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

Be very wary of when your partner starts acting like your life coach.

They are typically teaching you that whatever is about to happen is your fault.
posted by French Fry at 5:48 AM on November 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh wait... This Girl?

Yeah that is just a straight up toxic person. That's why you asked those questions and everyone said it was emotional abuse. Because it was emotional Abuse.

Lesson to learn: When someone treats you terribly, there is something wrong with them. Not you. Do not seek validation from those that hurt you.
posted by French Fry at 5:54 AM on November 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

Flabdablet is one hundred percent, completely right.

My last relationship, I learned to give the benefit of the doubt and unconditionally trust. Some time after the breakup of the relationship, I learned I had been cheated on in the later stages of the relationship - my benefit of the doubt had covered this. But ultimately, it wound up not mattering - because the lessons I learned about trust and relationships really, really helped me when I got into my current relationship, with someone much more trustworthy, who I am genuinely happy with.

The second would not have happened without the first.

Looking over some other answers, it seems this person may not have been good for you - but the next person can be.
posted by corb at 6:05 AM on November 16, 2012

The benefit of the doubt is a much more healthy standpoint for both parties. There is little reason to believe that carrying suspicions and doubt about another person's motives or commitment keeps them "in line" or brings out their better qualities. Quite the contrary, it can be very demotivating if the slightest indiscretion (or misunderstanding) one needs to defend their actions. I've found that most people are uplifted by my confidence in them and this far outweighs the few times that people abuse my trust.
posted by dgran at 6:25 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

your intuition is always trying to protect you: listen to it. if there is a problem, talk about it openly and directly and respectfully. if that sort of conversation doesn't help and your intuition is still ringing the alarm bell, it's time to go! this is just my opinion on these kinds of things.

i agree with Flabdablet as well. you need to be the kind of trustworthy person you are looking for.
posted by zdravo at 7:27 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I support what many people have already said, but I would add there's absolutely always a balance between placing faith in someone and trusting your gut. But that balance is different for everyone.

Remember though that your intuition is interpreting new relationships (friends as well as lovers) in light of what's happened to you in past relationships. So if you've been betrayed in the past, your instinct may understandably tend toward protecting you. That's a reasonable response. However, the key thing to remember is that the new people that come into your life had nothing to do with past interactions that shaped your responses. So make sure your intuition isn't transferring mistrust of people from your past on to new people in your life who have done nothing negative to earn that suspicion. Doing so is unfair to them and to you, and could cost you some very rewarding relationships.

Or to put it another way: your intuition is giving you information. Consider that information, but don't confuse it for instruction.
posted by dry white toast at 7:36 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hey, here's a quick "well done" for leaving that abusive relationship you were in. Don't let it spoil you for the next one; she was a bad person, and you did the right thing, so now you're going to need to open yourself up for the better relationship that is waiting for you.

The easiest response is "trust, but verify." Your SO does something you're concerned about? Ask. Your SO reveals something to you that you think is inappropriate? Follow up. Communicate. People make mistakes, and if they're chronic then it is likely time to move on, but if a mistake is made and you insist on discussing it, then you find out a lot about the root cause of the behavior, and whether you can expect to see it repeated.

External validation (from a friend, but not a friend who is the jealous type or is secretly in love with you) is also helpful, to say "this is how I feel, am I being crazy?" and ensure that you're not way out of normal for your peer group in how you're interpreting the relationship and your SO's actions (and, of course, your own -- "was I being a jerk" is a great question to ask your friends regarding your behavior, when your SO says you were being a jerk.)

So. Trust. But verify, which is to say give them a chance to explain. And if they won't, or the explanation leaves you feeling unsatisfied, listen to that voice...but don't go in listening to that voice by default. The goal isn't never to be hurt -- we all get hurt, even by those who love us and mean the best -- but to act accordingly when you are hurt. You leaving your abusive relationship speaks volumes that you can do the right thing in a bad situation, so trust yourself, and trust that no amount of hurt from someone else's actions is permanent...unless you make it permanent by maintaining a bad relationship with chronic bad behavior and spend lots of time wallowing in the past you can't change.
posted by davejay at 8:20 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

It is possible to do both. You can talk about something with your partner without it being accusatory. It's perfectly fine to casually blurt out, "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this", or "I know this may sound silly, but I got a little weirded out by your participating in _____ activity."

It's okay to say: my past made me a little paranoid and I often get gut feelings that could be completely unfounded in anything you've done but they're still there anyway, so I'd rather just air them out and discuss them with you.
posted by Neekee at 9:40 AM on November 16, 2012

Your giving her the benefit of the doubt did not enable her to deceive you. She deceived you because she is deceitful.

You giving the benefit of the doubt does not leave you open to being taken for a ride. On the contrary, far more relationships crash and burn because the one or other person makes gut assumptions frequently, instead of opening communication.

Your ex was the exception to the rule.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:46 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, going by your last post, it would seem that your relationship had issues because she wasn't giving you the benefit of the doubt.
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:52 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Give people the benefit of the doubt until they've given you a reason not to. Gut feeling is usually a good source of figuring out when that is.

If someone comes into your life, let them start with a baseline of trust, but don't be a sucker.

Having said that:

Irrespective of how shitty your ex was to you, are you currently seeing any sort of therapist or something similar to address the OCD? It's been a month and you're still having obsessive thoughts about your ex and, in this question, overanalyzing individual aspects of the relationship. A month isn't all that long, but the stuff you're going through now - it can get better. If you're not currently in therapy, I think that it would go a long way towards ensuring these sort of relationship problems don't happen in the future.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:37 AM on November 16, 2012

The world is not black and white and we should neither "trust our gut" every single time or "give the benefit of the doubt" every single time. We don't get easy rules to follow. We get the mess that is human beings.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:10 AM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't always give the benefit of the doubt. Learn to take calm, non-blaming responsibility for not being a doormat. If the next SO does something that sets off your fishy-behavior alarm, tell them in no uncertain terms what it looks like to you, and what behaviors you will absolutely not put up with in your relationship. Be ready with some ways she can reassure you next time it happens, if she is in fact not behaving fishily.
posted by katya.lysander at 11:27 AM on November 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

False dichotomy. The way adults participating in good-faith relationships handle these things is by accepting their feelings and talking about stuff. Here is a handy script for you.

"When you [did/said] [thing], I felt [feels]/I concluded that what was going on for you was [your conclusion]. What is your take on that?"

And then you talk it out, and figure out where the misunderstandings were and/or how to move forward.
posted by trunk muffins at 12:11 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like this is chatfilter, as the question is too vague to really be answerable. I want to second FAMOUS MONSTER in hoping that you're seeing a therapist or have someone else to talk to -- I notice that all you ask about here is your ex, and all you comment on is your ex, and I can't help but think you might need help getting a more well-rounded life going after the horrible time you went through.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:40 PM on November 16, 2012

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