Do you have a friend whose marriage is in trouble? You want to “be there” for them, but what does that look like? How can you help them and show them you care?
Just as individuals are unique, so are marriage difficulties. A lot of factors can contribute to a troubled marriage – environmental stress, the emotional health of each spouse, length of the marriage, whether or not children are involved, and the level of commitment from each spouse. You may have seen trouble brewing in your friend’s marriage for a while. Or perhaps you were blindsided. Whatever the circumstances, your friend is hurting and you want to help. Here are some ways you can do that:
1. Listen More Than Talk
People like to feel understood. One of the best ways we learn about others and their pain is to listen. Most people are more willing to take advice if they feel they are understood and cared about. When a friend has marital problems, don’t be quick to offer your opinions. Listen to understand the situation and get the facts. Later, if your friend asks for your advice then give it. Or if you believe your friend isn’t making wise choices (or their spouse isn’t) tell the truth, but do it with grace and kindness.
Often asking your friend questions can bring clarity to the situation and open up the door for further discussion. For example, you can say, “So ____________ is planning to do __________? How do you respond when he/she says that?” And then let your friend talk.
Some marital issues are extremely serious and complicated. Your friend needs the help and resources that only a professional counselor can provide. Encourage your friend to reach out to a licensed, Christian counselor. Take the opportunity to pray with your friend for wisdom and direction. Tell them you’ll keep praying for them in the days to come. We may not know all the details of a marriage, but God does.
2. Keep boundaries
Anyone who likes to help people can struggle with setting boundaries. Your friend is hurt and they need you. The temptation is to cast everything aside for the sake of your friend and their marriage. Don’t do that. Most marriage problems don’t arise overnight; they have been simmering for quite a while. Guard your marriage and remember you have a spouse, children, friends and other responsibilities. Guard the time you commit to them. Tell your friend, “I have X minutes. What’s up?” Then stick to your boundary. Give time and attention to your friend, but don’t let it consume your life. (During a time of extreme trauma like a death in the family or the revelation of an affair you may spend a lot of time with your friend. We’re not referring in this article to these types of crisis situations.)
Also, does your friend take your advice or do they only want to dump on you? Do they deflect your advice? Some people don’t want help; they want sympathy. Some want both. See if your friend takes steps to improve their marriage or if they have excuses. You can say to your friend, “I think it would be super helpful for you to talk to a counselor about your marriage issues. After you talk to the counselor, then let’s talk more about next steps.” This protects you and requires them to initiate some necessary steps toward resolution.
3. Share the Burden
Have you ever helped someone in a crisis and soon you were their primary source of counsel and support? It may be tough to read, but when you are the primary contact it may not be in your friend’s best interest…or yours.
Exercise self-awareness and ask yourself why you are so available to them. Hopefully it’s simply to be a good friend and support. At times, however, we may have our own brokenness with a need to be needed. Some may call it a “Messiah complex” where we believe we have the sole responsibility to rescue or assist a person in need. Getting your needs fulfilled by trying to help another really doesn’t help them.
What you CAN do is direct them to godly Christian counsel. We often refer people to licensed Christian counselors who are trained and gifted to help people navigate tough situations. Or perhaps you know a Christ follower who has walked the same journey as your friend. As a result, they can empathize and share wisdom from personal experience. Be sure to ask the other person if it’s all right to give your friend their contact information.
Do some research and steer your friends to helpful resources. If they are having trouble connecting, Build Your Marriage One Day at a Time is a helpful resource. For affair recovery we wrote Ruined to Recovery. Timeless classics like The 5 Love Languages, Cherish, and Love Dare could be helpful as well.
4. Offer Practical Help
We all go through difficulties in life, and having a close friend who shares the burden is a blessing. Several years ago when our marriage was struggling, we were encouraged by friends. They prayed with us, cheered us on, welcomed our children into their homes, took us to dinner, and talked to us honestly about ways we could get our marriage back on track.
Offer to watch your friend’s children so they and their spouse can go out on a date. Maybe they need a night away together. Perhaps you and your spouse can underwrite the cost of a marriage conference for your friends. Give them a book that you know would be helpful to them. Often a card or text lets your friend know you care about them. Send an encouraging Bible verse or some flowers. Bottom line – show them you care.
5. Rely on God
It’s important that you rely heavily on your relationship with God as you support your friend. Regularly ask God for wisdom. He promises to give it generously when you ask (James 1:5). The Holy Spirit will guide you in what to say as you depend on Him.
Pray for your friend and with your friend. Know that when you don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit fills the gaps of your prayer before the Father (Romans 8:26). Remember, God is working behind the scenes in hearts and lives as well. He loves your friend and their family more than you can imagine.
We grow closest to God when we go through trials and times of pain. Marital trials are no different. Encourage your friend to stay connected to God through reading the Bible, prayer, and community. Remind them that God loves them so much and sees their tears (Psalm 56:8) and sadness. Psalms 23, 91 and 121 are great reminders of God’s presence in times of trial.
As you help your friend, you’ll discover a greater attentiveness to your own marriage. And as you help them navigate their marriage challenges, you’ll be reminded of the treasure you have in your spouse as you build your marriage.