What You Should Know About Giving Second Chances After Divorce

Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | Dec 16th, 2018

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we give some men a second chance and not others? As a divorced woman you’ve probably encountered the stereotype that you didn’t try “hard enough,” or that you “gave up.” Even if you shrug them off as being ridiculous – and they are – the words still sting.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio but when I’m done with a man I’m done. I’ve never been tempted to go back to an ex if I initiated the split. But with some men, I’ve tried over and over and over…

My boyfriend from Massachusetts was supposed to move out to Minnesota with me. He made it to Rochester, and the Mayo Clinic, where he spent three months dealing with some major health issues. It was his decision to end it, claiming that I was better off without him. I understood the motivation behind his actions even if I wasn’t happy about them.

Which is why, when he sheepishly texted me a month ago and asked to talk, I agreed. Why give him a second chance when I’ve slammed the door in other men’s faces? I came up with a few reasons that I hope will help other women trying to decide themselves whether or not to get back with an ex.

Does he acknowledge his baggage?

We all have baggage. For me, it’s key if a boyfriend wants to work on his. We had plans one weekend to go breakfast but he didn’t show up, he wasn’t answering his phone, and I freaked out. I think I sent over fifty texts, growing increasingly worried. When he finally showed up he was understandably pissed. But it had really been the intersection of both of our baggage.

Because I’ve looked at my own baggage I know that I have insecure attachment issues. I lost the entire side of my mother’s family before the age of 30, and as a result, if I grow anxious or worried I need to know where my loved ones are at all times.

“Would you still want to give him a second chance? The answer only matters to you, and you don’t have to justify it to anyone. “

He’d been married to a woman who didn’t give a damn if he vanished for hours, and since this was his first serious relationship post-divorce it didn’t occur to him to try to find a way to let me know his car had gone into a ditch and his cell’s battery had died.

After talking about it, we owned our baggage and made a plan as to how we’d respond differently in the future.

Does he want to change?

Similar to any addiction recovery program, you can’t fix a problem unless you’re willing to own it. I went to marriage counseling twice. And when a man walks into a session and tells the counselor he’s feeling “picked on” and won’t do any of the assigned exercises, and this is how this week’s session is going to go instead…you might as well give up then and there.

A lot of people want to go through the motions and check the box – yup, we went to counseling! – without actually putting in the work. That way, they can claim that they tried, shrug, and take no responsibility. Therapy is tough. Self-awareness means acknowledging the good and the broken in yourself, and how they’ve played out in your relationships.

Not only must he want to change, but he must also take actual steps to change. Actions matter more than words. Massachusetts ex didn’t just promise to not fall off the grid again, he gave me other ways to reach him.

Do you want to give them another chance?

Forget society, forget your next door neighbor or your pastor. Do you want to continue to have this man in your life? It can be a surprisingly hard question to answer. Well, but we have kids together! I don’t know if I can be alone again at age 50! The Bible says…Those are responses that come from fear and social conditioning.

If you could walk away and fast forward through a painful divorce. If you could tell every judgmental person to “shut it.” If you knew your kids would be okay. Would you still want to give him a second chance? The answer only matters to you, and you don’t have to justify it to anyone.

There’s an exception to all of the above, however. And that exception is abuse. Emotional abuse, such as withholding affection until you lose the weight or going cold unless you do what he wants. Verbal abuse, like pulling out old photos and asking why you don’t look like that anymore, and going on and on about how if you’d lose the weight he’d want more sex. Financial abuse; controlling access to credit cards and money.

Abusive men can be extremely charming when they want something. They’ll lovebomb you, showering you with flowers and gifts and promises to change until you get back together with them and eveything goes back to normal.

Beware a man who begs for a second chance but shows no signs of change.

If in doubt, check in with close friends. And if you feel like you’re being pushed or rushed into a decision, ask for some time to think it over. Often, his response to this request will tell you everything you need to know.

Ultimately, taking back an ex or lighting a match and burning that bridge is a judgment call. I’ve found that it gets easier to make that call as I gain experience in the post-divorce dating world, and you probably will, too.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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