Second Chances

If I had a nickel for all of the second chances I gave my abuser, I’d be filthy rich.

We second chancers are familiar with how easily the second chance becomes the third, and the fourth, and the fifth.   The abuser promises that everything’s going to be different if we just invest in one more chance. If we point out that we already gave a second chance, we hear how the present circumstances are different, which technically still qualifies as a second chance.

The abuser might say, “I am agreeing to attend counseling this time, so it’s a second chance, not a third chance.” We mull over the logic and decide to buy into the second chance, although it feels awfully similar to the last time around.

Why are we so quick to offer chances? Could it be that we want chances offered to us? As targets of abuse we are hyperaware of our own flaws. Are we secretly afraid that we are too flawed to deserve second chances? I know I was. I bestowed chances freely in hopes of reaping what was sown.

But, as I recover from abuse, I’ve found that genuine change is really hard. Promises for future change are just words. That’s why divorcing an abuser is a strong strategy. You can always rekindle the relationship if their promises for change prove genuine, and you give yourself room for recovery in the mean time.

Why does an abuser want another chance? To perfect the control mechanism. An abuser seeks control, not peace. Like the website designer, an abuser needs to subject their target of abuse to various A/B testing scenarios. Second chances are sold as the B scenario, but strangely, scenario B always seems to morph back into scenario A. Promises to attend counseling, to curb spending, to stop communicating with the affair partner all dissolve back into scenario A. We never had an honest choice between A or B. It was either scenario A or scenario A with lipstick.

Second chances are the mechanisms that drive the cycle of abuse – tension building, incident of abuse, reconciliation, followed by calm. After the abuse incident, the plea for a second chance lures the target back to reconciliation. The cheating wife promises to break it off with her affair partner if the jilted husband promises to give her and the family another chance. The brutal husband promises to stop hitting if the battered wife promises to give him another chance.

When I considered giving the abuser another chance, I felt a sense of exhilaration like betting my last dollar at the roulette table. This time, I just might win and the abuse will stop. Only when I decided to walk away from the game did I eventually win.

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