Rare is the marriage that does not go through at least a few crises—present party included. While none of us are responsible for the poor choices that someone else makes, we do have a corporate responsibility to support each other. This is especially true if we stood up for our friends or if we answered the following wedding-day question affirmatively: “Will all of you present do everything in your power to support this couple?” The problem is, it’s not always obvious what “everything in our power” actually means.
I offer the following suggestions not out of my expertise but because I know what my husband and I have needed when we were going through rough patches—and because I’ve made one too many mistakes in this area.
- Don’t disregard red flags, especially if they wave regularly. Notice how your friends are treating each other. Is there ongoing tension, sarcasm, or obvious discord? Is their body language congruent with the promises they made to love, honor, and cherish each other?
- If what you are hearing and seeing is troublesome, spend some time praying for them. This is not just for their sake but so that God can soften your heart toward them and simultaneously speak to you about how He might want to use you. (Also, pray 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 ask them to weigh in. Do they see what you see or do they have a different read on the situation?
- Be faithful to confess your sins, including bad attitudes, sharp comments, bitterness, or disrespect. Sometimes we focus on others’ problems as a way to avoid our own.
- If you feel unction 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 do, they won’t be able to respond honestly.
- Assure them that you are checking in because you care about them, not because your marriage is perfect. If you’ve struggled with similar issues, admitting this 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. It often takes a while for folks to admit that they need help.
- Be gently persistent if you sense that there’s really something wrong. If they are unresponsive as a couple, try asking the same-gendered spouse when you are alone with him/her. This might allow them to talk more freely, especially if there’s any fear (especially due to abuse) or shame in the mix.
- If they admit that problems do exist, resist the urge to become their therapist. Instead, help them find a skilled therapist and remain their friends. (Please note: it’s often incredibly difficult to figure this out. You will most likely make some mistakes and have to reset boundaries.)
After twenty years of walking alongside other couples, I want to 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 have to wrestle with the sobering question: Could I have done something to prevent this failure?
Let us boldly, and lovingly, fulfill God’s call to bear one another’s burdens.Tweet this!
Dorothy Littell Greco is the author of the forthcoming book, Making Marriage Beautiful. She and her husband recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. Dorothy is a regular contributor for Today’s Christian Woman and Gifted for Leadership. You can find more of her work on her site or by following her on Facebook or Twitter (@dorothygreco).