Our Friends Want To Divorce: How Can We Help?
Some good friends of ours have been having a tough time in their marriage. They are Christians and are considering giving up on the relationship. What can we do to help them keep going?
Their Married Friends
Dear Married Friends,
That's a tough situation. Our culture constantly reminds us about the destructive effects of divorce, that marriages are in trouble, and that relationships are suffering. One thing I would encourage you to consider is a different perspective. We hardly ever hear about the incredible impact that a healthy marriage can have on people around us, especially other married people. When a couple struggling in their marriage is able to partner with another, relationally-healthy couple, God can show up in a lot of ways.
First, think back over the course of your relationship. Has there been a couple who encouraged you, provided a listening ear, or shared their advice with you when you needed it? That kind of support can be such a huge help in both good times and hard times. How can you provide help for couples in your life who are struggling and considering leaving their marriage?
It is important to empathize with the issues going on in their life, but also to encourage them not to abandon hope. We want to ask them, "Is giving up what you really want for your marriage? We've found hope in our relationship with Jesus and with other believers that gives our marriage life. We want to share that with you and be here to support you." Assuming that this couple is made up of two believers in Christ, here are some things to keep in mind as you walk through this season with this couple:
1. Be Winsome
I love Costco samples. I try a sample and then if I like what I taste I am inclined to buy the product. Every so often I'll try a sample and then say to the person behind the table, “I think you would sell more of this if you didn’t have people sample it. It’s really not that good.” Let’s face it: some Christian marriages are poor advertisements for following Christ in marriage. Your relationship is being watched by the people around you. Your marriage is an example, an advertisement for how following Christ impacts your day-to-day life. There is a thief actively trying to steal, kill, and destroy marriages. Are we living life to the full in our marriages so others will want that as well?
2. Be Empathetic
Some situations are really tough. It is easy to give pat pieces of advice such as, “have more faith,” “be more submissive,” or “others have it worse than you.” Instead, we need to come alongside those hurting in their marriages and let them know how sorry we are for the difficulty they are having—and then genuinely express empathy and concern. We should seek to be a source of comfort to them.
3. Be Transparent
Sometimes we think that the way to motivate others is to share only our “good times” to cheer them up. A pastor friend of ours showed a picture of his family as he started to speak at a conference. The picture was taken on a beautiful southern California beach and was stunning. The two gorgeous parents looked like a sun-soaked Barbie and Ken, and their four teenage children could have all been models. They each had blond hair and beautiful bodies and gorgeous smiles. Our friend said, “So this is a picture of our family. What is not shown is that my wife and I were hardly speaking to each other because of an argument we’d had that morning. Our kids were annoyed that we had to have our picture taken and were giving us ‘the attitude.’” His transparency made him “one of us” and made us feel safe to share with him. Don’t be afraid to be real with others about your struggles.
4. Be Prophetic
A few of us have the empathetic thing down and say things like, “You shouldn’t have to put up with a man like that.” But we may have a hard time calling people to the truth of their beliefs. We may fail to ask if there is a biblical reason to end the marriage. Sometimes we need to say, “That must be so hard to deal with! Since there are no biblical grounds for ending the marriage, let’s talk about what might breathe life into your marriage.”
5. Be Hope-Giving
Scripture tells us to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in us. This is true in marriage as well. One question almost every couple asks us when they first come for counseling is: “Is there any hope for us?” We can say with confidence, “Absolutely. If both of you are willing to work for the marriage, there is a lot of hope.” Sharing about a similar struggle and the way God met you is a great source of hope for those who are feeling hopeless. There is hope for a struggling marriage because God redeems hopeless situations and can breathe life back into a marriage where it has been lost.
6. Be Intentional and Caring
Listen carefully to what others say. If you hear them make mention of a sick parent or child, follow up on it. Take a meal to them. Invite a couple over for dinner and let them see a loving Christian family (I didn’t say perfect!). Grab lunch with the spouse (of your own gender) that you work with and get better acquainted. Be intentional in creating a safe place for them to be real. Even the simplest things can show that you care and are interested in how they are doing.
7. Be Missional
We often hold up happiness as our highest goal for our marriage. God wants so much more. In John Piper’s words: “We are most satisfied when He is most glorified.” May we each seek to live to the praise of His glory and experience all God has for us in marriage—not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of those who are watching.
Dr. Paul Friesen and his wife, Virginia, are the co-founders of Home Improvement Ministries (www.HIMweb.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping individuals and churches to better encourage marriages and families in living out God’s design for healthy relationships. Together they regularly speak at marriage, men’s, and women’s conferences across the country, as well as family and parenting seminars.
Paul has a doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy and a master’s degree in Family Ministry, both from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has also authored and co-authored over ten books and curriculums on parenting and marriage, including "Letters to My Daughters," "In Our Image," "So You Want to Marry My Daughter," "Before You Save the Date," "The Marriage App," and most recently, "Lovin Your Wife Like Christ When You Ain't No Jesus".
Paul and Virginia have been married since 1976 and live in the greater Boston area. They are the proud parents of three young adult women, two of whom are now married to wonderful, Godly men.