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:
• WOULD YOU SPEAK UP TO STOP A DIVORCE?
• YOUR FRIENDS INFLUENCE YOUR MARRIAGE
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
4 responses to “Helping Troubled Friends’ Marriages”
(ZIMBABWE) Initially I want to thank you very much for this whole website. It doesn’t give a pinpointed solution but it opens up one to reach a solution. I am one who is so passionate about seeing happy marriages and started being involved or getting myself involved in troubled marriages with passion and faith to pray for them to be made well and be restored. I will try as much as possible to shorten the three long instances I have.
One instance was with my fiancé (now husband)’s elder brother whose marriage was on rocks due to infidelity on the husband which he was blaming on the wife who he said was not washing for him and would refuse him sex at times. The wrangle went on and the last affair the husband had became known to some of the relatives who knew and supported the affair. Some refuted it.
I talked to the husband and the wife and each would give own reasons why the marriage wasn’t working. I prayed and fasted for their marriage then and went even to the extent of having a lengthy discussion with the girlfriend who was a Christian in a church trying to make her see that God doesn’t want adultery. Initially she said that they had gotten into the affair 3 years back and the lover had told her that his wife was dead and it was confirmed by some relatives. They had been intimate on several occassions. She said she was going to repent. We prayed together. 5 months later they were caught together by the customary wife who assaulted the girl. The husband retaliated by beating the customarily married wife. I continued to pray and fast for their relationship. The husband then fell very sick and was diagnosed with HIV. He died about six months later. The wife is still there with their three kids. The big question is, did I pray amiss on this relationship?
Instance 2 was with a male close friend almost during the same time with the above instance. We got to know each other at college with my male friend -Busi who still is my friend. During training he got intimate with his girfriend who became pregnant and he had to go and pay lobola for her thats customarily marrying her. When we were in our second year the wife phoned me and told me that Busi had written her a divorce letter and also that he was having an affair. I queried it with Busi and then he started telling me that he was having problems with the wife. On further probing he then divulged that she had at one point squandered the savings he had made for her lobola and on top all she had lied to him that she was a virgin. When he realised she was not he asked for an explanation and she had said she didn’t know. He also mentioned that she was always unkempt and was shy or didn’t want to express romance to him.
I visited their home and spoke to the wife who confirmed the above and vowed to change her habits. On the issue of virginity she also maintained she didn’t know what happened. She gave me the divorce letter and I prayed reversing every word written in it. I then talked to my friend to reconsider his decision and assured him his wife would change. I was also praying and fasting for the marriage. My friend admitted having an affair and said would stop it.
Things seemed to have settled but my friend continued with the affair, which was a very long distance one but kept it a secret to me. He told other friends. We finished college and my friend was deployed to the far region that the girlfriend was working in and the affair was relived. He was quite responsible with his wife and kids such that the wife did not suspect anything. The wife also relapsed into her dump ways. She however, got a message on Busi’s phone and she threatened the lover who terminated the relationship. Busi then came back to work in the region where his family was but is regretting why he ever married the wife. She is irresponsible in all circles. At one point we bumped into her among a group of rowdy political youths jogging in the city. She squanders fees for their child and at one point she diverted funds for utility bills for unknown use without the husband knowing. He was only shocked to bump into a final demand.
I had stopped talking to the wife encouraging her on ways to be a good wife of late. Busi at one point mentioned that I made a mistake in preventing a break up when he had gathered the guts to divorce her and now he can’t get the guts because she threatens suicide. He says he will never know happiness as long as he is married to her. What are your suggestions? I also once felt bad for having counselled them to stay together.
The last instance is of my husband’s younger brother. He customarily married a lady after impregnating her 4 years ago. He would have affairs here and there and would be terminated when the wife would be so aggressive to him when she caught him. He however, had another affair, which he stuck to even when the wife got to know about it. The first day she got sexy messages in his phone she slapped him as he slept at midnight. He denied having an affair. The following day as they were discussing it she locked the door and threatened to pour boiling porridge on him if he dared lie to her. He confessed.
However, from there on it was wrangle after wrangle. At one point the husband held a knife to the wife’s throat and threatened to kill her in full view of their kid. The wife was then pregnant. Family meetings to try and resolved the dispute proved futile. The wife would say, I can’t stand the affair and the husband didn’t want to break the affair. He started neglecting the family and asked her to pack her bags and go. She went but he followed her after two months and they were back together. The neglect and abuse however, continued that at one point the wife was about to go into labour and had complications. He was phoned by the hospital and said he was too busy to come. The nurse staff then checked another number on her card and called me. I rushed her to a referal hospital in a cab. She delivered and the extra marital affair continued. The girlfriend would phone her or sms her insults and she would also insult back. Most of the relatives were blaming her for having caused the affair by her being a bad women insulting the husband.
I, at one point, encouraged her to stay and try to continue with her wifely duties as normal washing cooking for him and not shouting at him. She did it for a couple of months. They were also not having sex for about three months as she never asked for it fearing to be infected with HIV. The husband would also spend days to weeks sleeping at the girfriend’s place. Coincidentally, a day after she went for a post window period HIV test and was negative her husband came home and demanded sex. She asked him to wear a condom but he said as long as you are under my roof as my wife I will never wear a condom. She tried to refuse but he violently forced himself upon her.
She confided in me and I was so emotional about it that when we met a few days later at a family function, we were discussing her issue as family females. One other lady and myself plainly and emotionally verbalised that it was better for her to leave such an abusive husband for a time till things stabilized. Others were saying she is not supposed to be told what to do because she was the one sitting on fire and should know what to do. She however voiced during the discusion that she had already made her own decision about the issue. A day later she phoned me to say she had packed all the few furniture they had bought when she got married and had left their lodgings for her biological mother’s home. She later smsed her husband’s relatives saying she had decided to move out for a while.
Word then went round within the family folks that the other lady and myself were the ones who had made her leave. Our in law parents were not happy and are still not happy about it and they are laying the total blame for the destruction of the home on the two us. I got so troubled with it because I love my in laws. I do not want to hurt them in any way. At the same time I am feeling it wasn’t wrong but fair since the wife was being abused, left without food with three kids. I also feel so much for this woman who left the husband. She doesn’t work. I am trying to get a job a for her but have not yet found one.
Whenever I have a discussion with my husband about it, we end up in heated and emotional argument, with myself accusing him and the other brothers of being selfish thinking only of the welfare of their brother. He at one point, said I should not become too involved with a sister in law because she is a foreigner and not our relative but the husband only. At one point I had to go back and apologise to my husband after one such argument. I am thinking of going to apologise orand try to coerse the wife to go back to the husband. I need advice on this one mainly, based on both social straits and biblical issues. The knowledge that my parents are cross with me is also affecting me spiritually. Eagerly and highly looking forward to a response. Regards, Lisa
Hi Lisa, What a tangled mess, we as human beings, weave for ourselves! I have to say that I love your heart. And I love your motives. I even love that you sometimes question yourself. That shows humility –which can be helpful while helping others. As for the different scenarios you pointed out in your comment, each one is different.
Please know that I don’t have the corner on the market, as far as wisdom, but I will share with you what comes to mind as I prayerfully answer your concerns. I encourage you to pray about what I am telling you and see if the Lord affirms for you that this is His wisdom, rather than mine. In the first instance you explain, it truly sounds like you followed the way the Lord would have you. You fasted and prayed; you worked with a very sinful situation –even leading the affair partner to pray for repentance. But then she and this husband came back together and sinned. That isn’t your fault, it is theirs. You never pray amiss when you pray for reconciliation for a marriage unless you pray that YOUR will be done. As sad as it is, it sounds like the Lord released this wife and her children from further harm when the man came down with HIV and died, as a result of his sinful lifestyle. I’m sad that he died in his sin, but relieved for the wife and children that they are not subjected to more sin being brought back into their home.
In instance two, Busi started out the relationship in sin, by having relations with this woman before they were married. It was selfishness on his part to do that –even if she gave permission. He did the right thing in marrying her, but then was unfaithful to her. NO MATTER WHAT, cheating is never a solution to anything. It’s a huge mistake to believe the lie that because a marriage has problems, or because the spouse hurts so badly because of problems, sinful solutions are acceptable. You don’t pile another wrong on top of the first one and think that’s an okay solution.
As someone once said, “Whenever sin is knocked out, sin is minimized.” It sounds like Busi is giving all kinds of minimizing excuses (whether they’re true things that were happening in the marriage, or not), to excuse his reasoning for committing adultery. Wrong is wrong. Whether she washed his clothes, was unkempt, shy, romantically unexpressive, was a virgin when she met him or not, it does’t excuse his infidelity. And then you see the principle in motion when it says, “When we do wrong, we set in motion a cycle of complications.” Perhaps if he did not have sex with her before marriage, they would never have gotten married in the first place. And perhaps if he had worked on his marriage, instead of investing his energies elsewhere, perhaps she would have lavished love on him and would have worked with him on other marriage problems. Perhaps he was such an aggressive lover and one who was not sensitive, that she never got out of that “shy” stage. Who knows? His excuses through all of this though, are just that –excuses. It is not YOUR fault for “preventing a break up.” It’s his fault for being so weak in character and being a blame shifter. YOU did not break the marriage, he/they did. Please don’t feel bad for trying to get a couple to work on their marriage by reconciling in ways that are healthy. If he is miserable, it is his own making –not yours.
In the third instance, the wife sounds like she had good cause for leaving him, both the first time and this last time. She couldn’t “stand the affair and the husband didn’t want to break the affair. He started neglecting the family and asked her to pack her bags and go.” Even though he followed her, he obviously wasn’t repentant because the “neglect and abuse” continued after she returned –he even refusing to take her to the hospital because he was “too busy.” She was being further abused, and left without food with three kids. How is that humane, on her husband’s part? I’m not saying you are to encourage divorce, but abuse, neglect, hunger and such are all fair reasons to leave, at least until the husband truly “gets it” that his behavior is sinful and wrong in every way. And what is this teaching the children as to how a husband is to treat his wife and children?
As far as the upset in your husband’s family over all of this. It’s truly sad that they don’t talk to this son and brother about treating his wife right. It’s sad that they only look at the break up of a bad relationship instead of trying to help this couple get back together and STOP the bad behavior. I wouldn’t stir up more problems, and I certainly wouldn’t try to “coerce” the wife to go back to the husband if he hasn’t changed for the better. Your husband told you “not to become involved” with this sister in law. I would leave it at that and NOT approach her (not for his reasonings, but because it’s best for her, as well). She shouldn’t go back unless this brother is repentant of his behavior and will change it.
Eventually, your parents will get over their crossness. Just remove yourself from talking about any of this with them unless they “get it” that this brother is wrong. Find subtle ways to step aside out of the family wrangling on this. Take a backseat, in this instance. Pray, pray, pray for this woman and her children. You can even pray for reconciliation to happen IF the husband recognizes his sinful part. Pray for him. Pray for the whole family –that truth will be revealed. Wrong is wrong, no matter who is doing it.
Please don’t let the enemy of our faith gain any victory on this in your life. It appears you did right –they just don’t see it that way. You can’t change that. But you can be quietly prayerful that God will protect this sister in law and her children and will talk to this brother-in-law’s heart to start to live his life in faithfulness and love, as God would have him. Sometimes we are to be outwardly vocal and sometimes we are to be prayerfully quiet, and sometimes both. This is a quietly praying instance. I hope you will be doing that for this family –even though they will not know that, this side of heaven. God bless you for all you try to do in God’s truth, to help marriages. Again, I love your heart, and I know God does too. “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ –to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11)
(SWAZILAND -SOUTHERN AFRICA) Your articles have helped me a lot. I would like to help other women in Swaziland who are going through a rough road. How can I help? Secondly, how can I get your books? I also write articles in a leading newspaper called the Swazi Observer. It comes every Tuesday. The website for the Swazi Observer is http://www.observer.org.sz.
I would be very happy if you would read one of my articles which is called “Rough Road,” and help me on those lines.
Almost all men in Swaziland have more than one wife. I want to get more knowledge to help married women on how to keep their husbands. May the Lord bless you. Thandi.
Thandi, We’re so glad the articles have helped you. How I hope you can help other women in Swaziland, who are going down a rough road in their marriages. As far as helping them, all I can say is to pray and ask God to lead the way. Become a student of marriage and ask God to show you how to talk to the women about marriage, that He leads you to. That’s how we started.
I wish I could say that we could send you books, but we aren’t a distribution house. We recommend resources –pointing them out to people, but we don’t personally house or send out any books. The education we provide is through the Marriage Messages we email out (which you can sign up for on any page of this web site) and also all we post on this web site, which is free for the reading. You can also make copies of that which you can use. Many people do that.
As for the men of Swaziland having more than one wife, it is a very sad thing for them to think that this is the way to live. It’s wrong –there’s no two ways about that. Whether all of the men of Swaziland do it, or not, it is still wrong. Everyone in Noah’s day (except Noah and his family) were doing wrong things, but everyone was wrong.
We have an article posted in the “Assorted Marriages” topic, which you should read through (along with the additional linked articles) to learn more about polygamy from a biblical standpoint. It’s titled, “POLYGAMY: What The Bible Says About It.” Perhaps it will help you in the ministry God may lead you to start.
Pertaining to that ministry, as you ask Him, He will teach you what you are to know to minister to those He brings along your path. But be diligent and study and learn all you can, so you are prepared. That’s what we continually do. This web site can help you as you read through it. I hope it will. I pray God helps you and leads you to continually walk in His ways and directs and helps you to reach out to others to do so, as well.