How to Help, and Not Help, a Struggling Marriage

The marriage of someone close to you is in serious trouble. You may be tempted to tell your friend, “Why don’t you just leave the @#$%?!” Or perhaps your response is, “God hates divorce. You’ll have to learn to live with this situation.” Human relationships are complicated. How can you help a struggling marriage?

If you’re not a marriage professional there are still things you can do, and a few things you should not do, in helping your friend or family member. First, what not to do.

  1. Don’t take sides.

A husband I know cheated on his wife. That would seem to make it relatively easy to know who was “right” and who was “wrong.” But this wife is exceedingly manipulative, demeaning, and self-absorbed. I’m not sure anyone would be able to live with her as she is now. There is never any excuse for adultery, but I remember imagining that if ever a spouse did have an excuse to cheat, this husband had such an excuse.

Please hear me again; there is never an excuse for adultery. But the point I’m making is that it’s exceedingly rare for there to be one person who’s “right” and the other person “wrong.” You will feel pressured into taking sides; just don’t. You only know part of the story. If evil is involved, get the person help (see below). But don’t take sides. 

  1. Don’t play Junior Holy Spirit.

If you have a helping personality, if you care, it can be easy to slip into the “fix-it” mode. Offering advice seems so easy. And then you may feel minimized when your friend doesn’t take your advice. Again, just don’t do it.

The Holy Spirit is the only One who has a right to feel grieved when one of God’s children doesn’t listen to Him. As a human being, you cannot tell another human being to leave his/her marriage, or even to stay. You cannot tell another person exactly what to do. You can suggest and support (see below). But make sure you’re not trying to play Holy Spirit.

So, does that leave you feeling helpless in watching your friends struggle? Here are some things you can do to help a struggling marriage. (These suggestions assume you are married and seeking to support your friends together with your spouse.)

  1. Pray – for them, with them.

It’s only by the grace of God that any two sinners can build and maintain a successful marriage. Your prayers of intercession can make a difference. Invite the most powerful force in the universe – God’s Holy Spirit – to intervene. It’s He who can soften hearts, reveal truth, and bring healing.

And when possible pray with your struggling friends. If you can’t pray with them both, pray with one of them. Invite Jesus to bring His wisdom to the situation. Ask Him to empower your friend(s) to take the steps necessary to move forward.

  1. Fight against evil, not against people.

Evil exists, even within some Christian marriages. Offering support or help to those in a troubled marriage may bring you up against that evil. It may be influences from the outside – distorted messages about relationships or sex, destructive ways of doing life, or faulty expectations about life and marriage they learned.

Or it may sometimes be evil displayed through one or both of the marriage partners. Abuse, manipulation and control, or delight in causing pain to the other may indicate evil is present. God can and does restore anyone and anything where He is given opportunity, even if evil is present. But there may be times the only safe and redemptive step is to remove oneself from such a relationship.

You cannot tell your friend what to do. But be aware that evil exists. You may need to join your friend in the fight against evil, without fighting a person.

  1. Provide insight and support.

While giving advice is dangerous, we need each other. Your friends struggling in their marriage need you. If you’ve walked through similar marriage struggles, sharing your journey can provide insight and hope. Even reflecting to your friend what you observe in their relationship can provide wonderful perspective.

If complaining about his/her spouse is the only thing your friend talks about, you may need to say something like, “It seems your marriage is really struggling. I feel for you. I’m happy to discuss with you the options or choices you have. But I’m not willing to talk more about what your spouse is doing wrong, unless we can focus on what you’re going to do next.”

You may be aware of resources that could help; share them. And if you have an ongoing relationship with this husband and/or wife, there may be times you will need to lovingly speak truth to them about his/her own bad behavior affecting their marriage.

  1. Walk with them.

Every marriage needs support. Perhaps the best gift of all that you can give your struggling friends is connection. That might look like periodically inviting them to hang out with you, and simply being yourselves. Whatever healthy ways of being married you have learned are much more easily caught than taught. Offering a listening ear at key moments can be life-changing.

Working to find restoration in a struggling marriage is often exhausting and discouraging. You being present along their journey can be priceless. Celebrate small victories. Weep together over painful times. Keep pointing them to Jesus who does have the answers.

If God provides an opportunity for you to help a struggling marriage, your rewards will be great. You don’t have to know it all. Just be a follower of Jesus lending a hand to another follower of Jesus along the journey.

Your Turn: Have you tried to help some friends in a troubled marriage? How did that go? Do any of the above items give you a new idea about how you can help? Leave a comment below.

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