Do’s & Don’ts: When a friend or family member is going through a marriage crisis

How can I help my friend save his/her marriage? What is the best way to be there for my friend during their marriage crisis?

My office regularly hears from concerned friends and family wanting to help their loved one who is struggling amidst a marriage crisis. Sometimes it’s a parent who’s watching their child suffer and is desperately wanting to help. Other times it is a close friend making the call. In every case, the caller knows they want to help but aren’t sure just how do it. Since I’ve spent the last few weeks covering various types of marriage crises (catch up here), I thought now would be a good time to share some “Dos and Don’ts” for friends and family members who are close to someone experiencing a marriage crisis.

It can be absolutely gut-wrenching to watch someone you love go through such a hard season and to not know how… or if…you can help. If you are the friend or family member, first I want to commend you for caring enough to want to help. Having a trusted support network during a relationship crisis can be the lifeline your friend or family member desperately needs. But notice I said “can be” rather than “always is”. Unfortunately, the support network can also unintentionally cause more stress and pain, and even sabotage any chances of reconciliation.  I’ve seen family members put enormous pressure on their loved one to end the marriage instead of supporting the couple as they try to work through the crisis; and I’ve also seen the opposite happen as well, where family has tried to force a couple to stay together even in situations of abuse.

I caution you to be mindful. Remember your friend is hurting and thus is extremely vulnerable. Your words and actions can impact the big decisions your friend is facing so navigate these waters carefully. To guide you, I’ve listed some Do’s and Don’ts below.

My DO NOT list

  • Do not be judgmental. If you are, you won’t be a safe place for them to process all the big emotions and feelings they are carrying. We all make mistakes and the last thing your friend needs right now is more judgement.
  • Refrain from giving specific marriage advice. This one is challenging, especially when you may be emotionally invested in the relationship in some way. But trust me, leave the marriage advice to the professionals. If anything, let your advice be to encourage your friend to find a qualified coach or counselor with lots of experience with couples. Anything more and you run the risk of not only offering bad advice, but being blamed if your advice doesn’t work out so well.
  • Do not weigh in with your opinions. Remember that the only two people who have a right to decide the outcome of a relationship are the two people in the relationship. The decision is theirs, not yours. As much as you may have an opinion, I encourage you to squelch the desire to share it. It’s best to keep it to yourself.
  • Do not gossip or open the vault. As they say, “Inquiring minds want to know.” Being “in the know” strokes our egos and it’s often tempting to share bits and pieces of the sordid details when third parties pump you for information. Please don’t. Maintain your integrity and trustworthiness. Honor your friend by remaining silent and allowing them to choose with whom they share those details.

My DO list:

  • Maintain a neutral position. Be a friends of the marriage, not the person in crisis. Do your best to not take sides and make this your journey. It’s not. It’s theirs. Staying neutral allows you to continue to be a safe harbor for your friend when the waters get rough.
  • Prioritize listening above weighing in. In short, remember to use your ears more than your mouth. Be the friend with a listening ear. Validate and empathize rather than offering opinions and advice.
  • Give your friend or family member permission to go through the entire range of emotions. Feelings are not forever and in a time of crisis, feelings can ebb and flow quickly. Think of it like swinging from a pendulum. They might hate their spouse one day, love them the next, want to reconcile, and then want to leave the marriage all in the span of a few days. Allow them – and even encourage them – to explore all of their emotions.
  • Be a vault. If his/her marriage is at risk, your friend is probably questioning who and what to believe. Make sure they know what they share with you, stays with you.
  • Speak TRUTH IN LOVE. Remaining neutral and refraining from sharing your opinions does not always mean staying silent. If you know of, or suspect, abuse – physical, sexual, emotional, drugs, or alcohol – you owe it to your friend to ask good questions and to make sure they and their family members are safe.
  • Invest in them, not the outcome. Through your words and actions, let your friend know you are with them regardless of the outcome of the relationship.

Though no two situations are alike, these are some good healthy guidelines to help you navigate what can otherwise be a very tricky path for the friend or loved one of someone in a marriage crisis. A marriage crisis is not not an easy road to walk alone and a healthy support system can prove to be invaluable.

I always love to hearing from my readers and enjoy getting requests for topics you’d like to see me cover in future posts. Let me hear from you!  Feel free to post a comment or contact us here.

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