“How do I help when my friend’s marriage is hurting?”  Sadly it is very common to have a friend facing marriage issues.  It’s hard to know how to help.  Here are 5 things to do and 5 things to avoid.

Five ways to help:

1.    First priority is to listen. We all need someone to listen and not just hear us.  When a friend is facing struggles in their marriage, it is a very important time to hear what they are experiencing with compassion.  Fixing the situation is not your primary concern, hearing them out is.

2.   Be available as much as you can.  Through email, phone, or face to face, let them know you want to walk this journey with them as part of the support team they need.  Often times the hurting person feels like a nuisance and needs reassurance that they are not a bother.  Ideally, it is good for them to have 2-3 friends to go to.

Ask who else they are talking to and encourage healthy friendships.  But encourage them the keep the circle of confidence small.  You can expand the circle as needed, but you cannot take back a confidence.  This is especially important regarding the BIG issues like adultery, abuse, addiction, etc.

3.    Help in practical ways.  People in crisis need meals, childcare, groceries, etc. Being practical can be such a huge gift during the crisis phase of marital mayhem.  As the person transitions to the “new norm” these practical needs fades.  There may be repeated times, after things have settled for a while they may hit another bump that may require more practical help again.

4.    Direct them to Christian resources. Websites, articles, blogs, online mentorFamilyLife marriage conferences, books, a mentor couple, counselor, are all great resources to help hurting couples.  Remember to direct them to Christian resources.  Jesus is the true source of real help.
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5.    Pray for them by name. Prayer is such a powerful intervention that we have at our disposal, anytime anywhere.  Pray with your friends and let them know you are praying for them at other times. It may feel uncomfortable at first to pray out loud with them, but it means a lot.  Remember to be courteous, if they are not Christians, ask permission to pray, respect any time limits or privacy issues as you pray.
Five things to avoid:

1.    Do not give advice or tell them what to do.  This is their situation, not yours.  They must make their own decisions. Your role is to offer perspective, encouragement, and empathy.

2.    Do not bad mouth the spouse. It is important not to bad mouth the spouse as you listen, this adds fuel to fire of emotions they are feeling.  If they say something negative, respond in an appropriate way without being negative yourself.

3.    Be careful not to let their problems consume you. Make sure you prioritize your family and your own needs as you make yourself available to your friend in crisis.  It can be incredibly draining for you in your already busy schedule.  Keep balance.

4.    Do not gossip about them. This is so important, they have trusted you with their situation and you need to be worthy of that trust.  Do not share their story, even as a prayer request.  It is their story and it is up to them to decide the circle of trust not you.

5.    Don’t play God. God can and does intervene in what would seem to be hopeless situations every day.  However, as you know, He does not always do so.  People still have a will of their own.  More hurt can be caused by well meaning Christians who make spiritual statements about what the future holds, or what they think God is going to do.  The Bible provides guidance, but does not give us the future outcome of the situation. Your job is to offer hope in God, not the circumstances.  Remember Psalm 42:11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

If you know someone who is struggling in their marriage, a Family Life conference can be an excellent resource to help heal a marriage. Family Life conferences offer practical tools and strategies to help couples communicate well and begin to resolve issues between them – even the really big ones.  There are conferences in Canada and the US.

Written by Ella Weck

Ella holds an MA in Counselling Psychology. She married Darcy in 1989, they have three children. She is currently enjoying parenting young adults. Ella loves to read, learn, roller-blade, play board games and socialize.