How To Do Everything In Your Power To Support Their Marriage
No marriage is immune from struggle.
Because we are part of the body of Christ, we have a corporate responsibility to support each other, particularly when things get difficult. This is especially true if we stood up for our friends or answered the following wedding-day question affirmatively: “Will all of you present do everything in your power to support this couple?” However, it’s not always clear what “everything in our power” actually means.
No one wants to be intrusive or meddling. It’s all too easy to wait for someone to ask for help. The problem is, people don’t always know how to ask for help — or even recognize they need it. The following suggestions can help you discern whether or not you should weigh in.
- Don’t disregard red flags. Notice how your friends treat each other. Is there ongoing tension, sarcasm or discord? Is their body language congruent with the promises they made to love, honor and respect each other?
- If what you hear and see is troublesome, spend time praying for them before you speak up. This is not just for their sake. God will soften your heart toward them and simultaneously guide you. (Pray specifically for them to ask for help! It’s always easier to speak into a situation when invited.)
- Share your feelings/observations with your spouse and get their opinion. None of us are totally objective and sometimes we overlay our own struggles on other marriages. Does your husband/wife see what you see or do they have a different read on the situation? (Very important: do not gossip about your observations, even under the guise of asking others to pray for them.)
- Be faithful to confess your own sins, including bad attitudes, bitterness or disrespect. Sometimes we focus on others’ problems as a way to avoid our own.
- If you feel a nudge from the Lord, gently ask your friends if they would be open to hearing your concerns. They may not say yes and sometimes even if they agree, they won’t be able to respond honestly.
- Assure them you’re checking in because you care about them, not because your own marriage is perfect. If you’ve struggled with similar issues, admitting that might help them to feel understood rather than judged.
- Use tentative language and remain curious rather than assuming you know exactly what’s going on. For example, instead of, “You guys are always speaking so harshly to each other. You must be really mad.” Try, “We’ve noticed that sometimes there seems to be tension between the two of you. Is there anything we could help you process?”
- Don’t be surprised if they deflect or get defensive. This does not mean that you should not have ventured in or that you weren’t seeing something.
- Be gently persistent if you sense there’s really something wrong. If they are unresponsive as a couple, ask the same-gendered spouse when you are alone with him/her. This might allow them to speak more freely. If you suspect that there might be abuse going on, it’s best to speak privately with the spouse who’s on the receiving end of the abuse. (If it is an abusive marriage, fear and shame are often present. Make sure you ask questions like “Do you feel safe?” Be prepared to immediately help the abused spouse find the protection and care they need.)
- If they admit that problems exist, resist the urge to become their therapist. Instead, help them find a professional counselor and remain their friend. (Please note: it’s often incredibly difficult to figure this out. You may make some mistakes and have to reset boundaries.)
Over the years, I’ve seen one too many couples blow out. I’d rather err on the side of speaking up and offering support rather than assuming that if they need help, they’ll ask. I don’t want to passively witness the unraveling of another marriage and then wrestle with the sobering question: Could I have done something to prevent this?
(A version of this post originally appeared at Start Marriage Right.)