We’ve all been in that situation. A friend or relative confides in us that they are having some marriage trouble. We want to help but knowing what to do that is genuinely helpful is tricky. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Use your best listening skills: give your full attention, validate the thoughts, emotions and needs expressed: “What I hear you saying is…”
  2. While it’s important for your friend to have a safe place to air their grievances, it’s generally not helpful for them to have a rant session with the both of you getting stuck into the absent spouse. Try to keep some balance — let them voice their grievances but also encourage them to think about it from their spouse’s side also. Tell your friend that you are going to be the ‘voice’ of their spouse, so that you articulate for them what might be going on in their spouse’s head.
  3. Professional Help. Unfortunately, not all counselling is good for a couple’s marriage. Many counsellors, while well-intentioned, are not specifically trained in marriage counselling, and though they may be capable therapists for individual work, they may lack the specialised skills necessary to deal with a conflicted couple. Moreover, many counsellors are trained to optimise the individual’s wellbeing, and will thus view the marriage as a negative influence on their client’s recovery. If you refer a couple to counselling, find someone you can trust to represent the interests of the marriage and who will work to save the marriage.
  4. Marriage Education. Surprisingly, marriage education is often as effective as counselling in helping couples to restore or reset the relationship. In fact, the intensive nature of many of these courses (e.g. over a weekend) can help couples break through an impasse and re-establish connection. It’s not uncommon in the SmartLoving Marriage seminars to have couples with entrenched difficulties successfully resolve their significant issues through the structured process. In addition, sometimes one spouse won’t go to counselling, but they will consider a marriage education class. Some encouragement from a friend to try this may be all it takes to get them along.
  5. Pray. So often we overlook the power of prayer to bring real change into a situation. Holding this couple in your prayer intentions is a gift you can always give. Praying with one or both of the spouses is especially powerful and is often the most effective intervention.

Most marriages that end in divorce are not abusive, violent or seriously dysfunctional; usually, couples just drift apart and, in their hurt and disillusionment, eventually give up. What they need from friends who really care is to give them hope, not to reinforce their hopelessness with unhelpful statements like “you don’t deserve that” or “you can do better elsewhere”.

Often when couples are hurt, they lose their perspective and need others to help them to see clearly. Friends and family can often make the difference; not through heroic interventions, but through patient attentiveness, a balanced perspective and sincere prayer.

Don’t Say

Do Say

You deserve better You both deserve better and I know you have it in you to find a way to restore your marriage.
That’s not fair You know, it’s not fair, but marriage isn’t about fairness, it’s about self-donation and sacrificial love.
I know just how you feel I know you’re feeling really hurt, but I also know that your spouse is feeling hurt too.
If you don’t love each other, it’s over I know you don’t feel love for each other, but love is more than just an emotion; it’s a choice. It’s really important that you make your next step one of love.
It’s hopeless. I don’t know what to suggest. I know it seems hopeless right now, but I also know that God cares about you and your marriage. Let’s pray His wisdom into this situation.



Originally published at SmartLoving. Photo by Timur Weber from Pexels.

About the Author: Byron and Francine Pirola

Married for 25 years, with 5 children, Byron & Francine Pirola are the founders and co-authors of the SmartLoving Series – marriage enrichment and marriage preparation courses designed to help build successful and resilient marriages. International speakers and authors of numerous articles on marriage, more than 3000 couples have attended their programs, workshops and conferences in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain Byron & Francine are Executive Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre from which they run SmartLoving programs and produce digital resources. Francine graduated from Fordham University with a Masters in Religion and Religious Education. Byron is a founding partner of the strategic consulting firm, Port Jackson Partners Limited, and a Director of both listed and unlisted companies. He holds a PhD from the Commonwealth Centre for Gene Technology, Adelaide University.

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