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3 Ways You Can Save Your Friend's Marriage

3 Ways You Can Save Your Friend's Marriage

Really listen and don’t take sides.


It's only natural to want to help your friend or loved one who is experiencing marital woes. Unfortunately, sometimes we can do more damage than good. It takes a tremendous amount of sensitivity when it comes to helping couples. I have witnessed many bad marriages that have gotten worse due to third-party involvement.

Here are three ways you can be most helpful and save your friend's marriage:

1. Learn how to listen.

While you may think you are a good listener, you may not realize that your well-intentioned attempts to provide unsolicited advice, commiserating, or discounting feelings could leave your friend actually feeling unheard. True listening is focused on the "other" and not yourself. The best thing you can do is to listen to your friend without responding. Try "mirroring" back their feelings by repeating back what they say without interjecting your own opinion. Many times when they hear their words reflected back, they feel relieved, gain greater clarity, and often come up with solutions on their own.

While you can validate their feelings by letting them know they make sense and empathize with them by imagining what emotions they may be experiencing, being there for your friend in his/her moment of pain is the greatest gift that you can give.

2. Don't take sides.

An honest judge can't adjudicate a ruling without hearing and understanding both sides. While you can provide emotional support for your friend, realize that you have only heard one side of the story.

Relationships are a dynamic dance where multiple factors from past and present come to play and create the storm of drama that couples are weathering. As a therapist, I often have one spouse call me to set up the appointment. They sometimes tell me about their reasons for coming for counseling and often present very painful accounts about their relationship. I always know that there are two sides to the story and am never surprised to hear how both equally contribute to the nightmare they are currently experiencing. (Of course, we are not talking about situations of physical abuse. Regardless of provocation, it is unacceptable and unsafe and no excuses should be made for such behavior.)

Many times family members, friends, and other advice-givers get involved and demonize the other spouse. If the couple ever does to decide to work on repairing the relationship, sometimes the damage is too great to bring about repair. The emboldened spouse often can't possibly admit to taking responsibility for their role as their views about the other spouse being the source of all bad in the relationship have been confirmed time and time again. How irresponsible for others who are sought after for advice to judge the other spouse based on a biased account. Relationships are extremely complicated and it takes a mature and broad perspective to understand what is really going on. It is quite easy to get wrapped up in the details of the story and get stuck in a never-ending power struggle where both end up being losers.

3. Refer to a competent professional.

Just as you wouldn't go to your general practitioner, and certainly not a plumber, to perform open-heart surgery, make sure that when saving your friends' marriage you send them to someone that knows what they are doing. As much as you want to help, don't be your friend's therapist. Refer to competent professionals who have advanced training in couple’s therapy and specialize in working with couples. Make sure to get references from people you respect. It is amazing how discerning we are with other service professionals, but with our marriage we will just go to whoever is covered by our insurance plan.

Although you may think a marriage counselor's job is to save your marriage, you may be surprised if they take sides or even encourage divorce. While this is not the norm, it is a strong enough current that must be taken into account when trying to help your friend's relationship. There wouldn’t be marriage-friendly web directories for therapist if this were not an issue. Make sure the counselor will hold the hope for your friend's relationship and help move them forward to healing and reconciliation.

While it takes two willing partners to make a marriage work, a good therapist can help even the most troubled relationships if they are competent and believe in the institution of marriage. This doesn't mean that these therapists believe divorce is forbidden, but their job as a marriage counselor is to help the relationship thrive.

No one likes to see their friend or loved one in pain and it is usually out of a good place that we take action to help be supportive. By learning how to listen, not taking sides, and referring to a competent professional when necessary, you are taking three constructive steps that will help your friend’s marriage instead of perpetuating negativity and conflict.

If your marriage requires more immediate assistance, download your free sample chapters of Rabbi Slatkin’s new book, The Marriage Restoration Project- The Five-Step Action Plan for Saving Your Marriage.

August 24, 2013

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Me, April 24, 2014 8:23 PM

First you have to have a good friend. Then you have to trust your good friend. And you have to be ready to change.
3 components that some folks won't have for a while.
A good therapist can help. If you pray hard and have some luck, you might find one.

(3) Anonymous, August 29, 2013 7:18 AM

Not just physical abuse

The author added a disclaimer that what he says about not taking sides of course does not apply in cases of physical abuse. Emotional abuse is also not partially the fault of the abused spouse, nor is it a problem with the relationship "dynamic". It is a problem of the abuser. Staying neutral while trying to be "helpful" to an abused spouse is not helpful.

Emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse (excluding abuse which causes severe injury or death, which clearly can not be compared to anything else!). It is certainly present alongside physical abuse, and even if physical abuse is not present, emotional abuse can (and sometimes does) escalate eventually into physical abuse as well.

(2) the Oracle, August 27, 2013 3:53 PM

Who Choose The Side

It's difficult not taking sides, when the parties themselves force you to take sides by considering any contact with the other side as choosing sides. This is especially true in battering cases, or if one side is a sexual predator.

(1) scott, August 26, 2013 10:45 AM

Two more things.

This is good advice.

There are two other things I might add.

Firstly if physical abuse or sexual/severe emotional abuse is disclosed the only answer is physical separation (not always divorce-but most of the time this particular brand of toothpaste can't be put back into the tube.) Help this happen or try and find a referral to make this happen. In my experience when women say "My husband hit me or the kids" they are saying "Help me out of this. I can't do it myself" Step up as much as you can without putting a target on your own back physically, financially or legally. There are battered women's shelters in almost every city with counselors that will deal with your questions-anonymously.

Secondly, other than the case above...keep your friend's conversation confidential. Even from the spouse. Even if you consider the spouse a friend you can talk to. I can't tell you how many times I've had people come to me at their wits end about a marital problem putting them on the brink of divorce only to work it out in a couple days. Sometimes people just need to blow off steam to a trusted ear. (Personally I don't enjoy this-the fact that I know I need to hear and not judge is a bit much for me to handle...I tend to be a bit opinionated so it's a struggle for me) But when their marital strife becomes a topic of discussion and public humiliation is added to marital strife, sometimes that's the straw that breaks the camel's back. Sometimes a spouse is willing to forgive and work through all kinds of issues in privately, but when it's a public matter...pride gets involved. Take infidelity for example. A wife wronged may be willing to forgive, but a wife humiliated through gossip may not be able to. Don't add to their problems.

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