As we go through life, we all deal with different challenges in our own ways. Occasionally, when we struggle, we’ll turn to trusted friends for help. Sometimes, our friends can approach us with their own difficulties. And when the problem involves marriage, it can be tough figuring out where to begin giving help, or how to go about it.
Being married can be complicated enough; getting involved in someone else’s marital problems as an outsider is tricky at best. As Anna Karenina put it, “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There are no universal solutions or steps for you to help a friend going through a troubled marriage; instead, here are some guidelines on how you can best behave and respond to their needs.
Proceed with caution
The fact that your friend has confided in you means something. It implies trust, a certain level of security, and intimacy in your relationship. They are sharing with you something that would normally be difficult to talk about with someone else.
However, being in this position also entails the risk of having familiarity cloud our judgment. Just because you know your friend better than most people doesn’t mean you know everything. From the outset, it’s important to focus on listening rather than offering opinions or jumping to conclusions.
Probe and explore
Most people truly have good intentions when they offer relationship advice to their friends, but even if you mean well, consequences don’t always match intent. Being your friend’s chosen confidant in such a difficult situation is a challenge, and it always helps to know more when faced with such.
Probing can be an art, but asking the right questions is necessary to form a better understanding of what’s going on. Having listened carefully first can be of great help in making your friend more receptive to a few thoughtfully posed questions.
Always remember that conversation is a two-way interaction. By active listening, you can clue in on things your friend really wants to say. When you ask questions, you can nudge them to open up more about specific aspects of their marriage. But if you encounter resistance or evasion, don’t push. Instead, note it as a possible sign for intervention. From Perth to Townsville, Australia’s Family Relationship Advice Line is available for you or your friend to call if you need expert assistance in these matters. Family lawyers can also help couples reach agreements without ever going to court.
Empathize and support
After listening to a friend’s problems, asking questions, and getting a better grasp of the situation, many people can feel the need to offer advice or to take sides. It’s natural to want to offer a solution – but that may not be what is expected.
In the most trying times, friends turn to each other for support because they need reassurance that someone will be there for them. Sometimes, giving a quick fix answer or immediately taking sides can signal dismissal, indicating to them that you are only willing to spend so much time or effort considering their problems. It might not be what you meant, but remember that this is a vulnerable moment for your friend, and miscommunications can easily arise.
Be helpful, with boundaries. Offer empathy, and assure your friend of your support. If they are religious, you can let them know you’ll be praying for them and suggest they also confide in their church leader. If you noted any danger signs in the conversation, ask if they would consider counseling or therapy.
In the end, your friend and their spouse can work things out with more expert assistance. Just keep in mind your role as a friend, be present and attentive.