Do you reach out to help friends whose marriages are troubled? How much help should you give a friend whose marriage appears to need help? You don’t want to give more time and energy than you can afford to give. After all, you want to keep your own marriage healthy and strong. There is also the, “I don’t want to intrude” mind-set, which brings up the question, “should I?” or “Shouldn’t I?”
You also don’t want to give less, because you truly want to help. God wants us to help each other. Right? So how do you help your friend?
Before addressing these questions, I encourage you to read two short articles, dealing with the same questions. I believe they will help you to better consider the advice given below. The first is written by Paul Byerly in his The-generous-husband.com blog. The second is a Marriage Message written by my husband Steve and me:
I’m going to give you advice that you can glean through in a prayerful way. I give you one caution: be careful that a man ministers to male friends and a woman to female friends. Otherwise, boundary lines can get improperly blurred. It can lead to emotional ties forming that could lead to other serious problems. Refer your friend to a same-sex person instead to help them so you don’t jeopardize your own marriage.
The exception is a counselor/pastor situation. But even then, great caution needs to be used at all times because even improper emotional ties can form.
It’s heart-breaking when we see a situation in a friend’s life that is painful and yet we can do little to help except be there to comfort and listen. We want to DO something to help them, but that unfortunately, can’t always happen. But one thing I know, as human beings we can only do so much. We have to be wise in knowing what we can and can’t do and when we’re to say something and when we’re not.
God can help us with that. The Bible calls the Holy Spirit our Wonderful Counselor, so we can depend upon Him to help us with our friends.
We need great wisdom and discernment in these types of situations. Your friend may need for you to be someone to talk to —one who sympathizes and prays with and for him or her, even though you can do little more. But just your being there is helpful. Job, from the Bible, needed his friends to be that for him. Instead, they couldn’t keep their mouths closed when they should have. As a result, they ended up further complicating the situation.
We also have to make sure our friend’s problems don’t swallow us up emotionally. We need to have enough in reserve to be healthy in our own marriages. There are some people who are totally needy. We can give and give to them and have no energy left. Yet they’ll go on to the next person with their all-consuming neediness. With these types of people, you have to discern how much you can give, and only give that much. Do this, even though you want to give more. Jesus didn’t let any one person dominate his time and energy. He portioned out what He knew was healthy to give.
We all have the ability to reach out to God for that which human beings can’t give to us. That includes our friends. They need the help of humans with God leading the way. God acknowledged that in the Beginning when he was with Adam. He said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” What God saw was that man needed Him AND other human beings. We can be that for our friends, but we need to know what our job is, and what is God’s (and how other people can help as well).
Doing Our Own Part
Something you can do for your friends is to tell them of the Marriage Missions web site so they can read articles that could help them. Their spouse may not be pro-active in making their marriage the best it can be, but each of us needs to do our own part in doing what we can. It may eventually inspire the spouse to reach out for help also. Recommend this to your friend.
There could be a lot behind the spouse’s actions that our friends don’t realize. That’s why it would be good for your friend to become a student of marriage and of their own marital partner. Their spouse may need a human help-mate to inspire and encourage them to get the help they need.
But on the other hand, the spouse may be completely narcissistic and abusive. There are some people who are that way. But tell your friend not to assume that’s the case with their partner unless they’ve put the work in to discover if they’re acting that way because they never learned any other way to act out emotionally.
They could become different with help. If your friend has pursued becoming a student of marriage and their marital partner and there’s no change in the spouse’s ways then your friend needs to find ways to protect her or himself from the abusiveness.
Be a Sympathetic Friend
You also need to know that your friend may not reach out for the help that would truly change things. It’s extremely complicated to explain, but there simply are some people who SAY they want help, yet they don’t do what it takes to get that help. You need to be aware of this so you don’t spend too much energy trying to “fix” things, when it’s not fixable. In that case you can just be their sympathetic friend one who prays for them to embrace truth and help.
Here are a few other things to consider when helping your friend from the book, Torn Asunder: Recovering From an Extramarital Affair, which is a GREAT book on infidelity, (published by Moody Press), written by Dave Carder. Even if your friend’s problem doesn’t deal with infidelity, these edited principles can still apply:
TO THOSE WHO OFFER SUPPORT TO FRIENDS:
Whether you are a licensed professional, a pastor, or simply a friend attempting to support a couple working through their reconciliation, the following suggestions are offered:
Watch out for your own stuff.
Most of us have beliefs, feelings, and experiences that prejudice us when we deal with other peoples’ relationships. That’s what I mean by “stuff.” Warning: Never will your own marriage be more vulnerable than when you’re trying to help a couple in their recovery. You’ll find yourself working through the same issues with your own spouse.
The survival of your friend’s marital relationship is not dependent upon you.
In most cases, the couple you are working with chose to marry each other before you were in the picture. You didn’t bring them together, and you can’t keep them together. You must set the couple free to pursue their own course.
• They must never be able to draw you into their relationship.
This is a process called triangulation. If that happens, each will individually attempt to align you with his or her side. Remember, the infidelity was an inappropriate triangulation. So is an attempt to overly involve yourself.
• Keep the two of them talking to each other.
Don’t maintain secrets that one party shares with you hoping to align you with his or her side. Remember, infidelity was the worst secret that could afflict a marriage. Adding on more secrecy doesn’t help. At times your neutrality may appear brutal, especially since you’re probably closer to one party than the other. You will feel the urge to intervene and provide protection, but you need to resist it.
• If you’re feeling more exhausted in the struggle than they are, you are inappropriately involved.
That is not to say that some of your time with them won’t be exhausting, but you need to gauge your degree of involvement. You shouldn’t work at it harder than they do.
We need to help one another. But “it should never serve to replace that which God can do.” Get involved, as God shows you, never more, never less. Make sure you are pro-active, as God leads so you can participate with Him in helping your friend, but make sure you give God the elbow room to do that, which is best for all.
This article was written by Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International.
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Filed under: Marriage Counseling & Mentoring