When the marriage of someone close to us breaks up, we feel a deep loss ourselves. In this posting, I look at what you can do to help your close friend, brother, sister, adult child or parent save their marriage. Jesus promised you could make a difference, IF you first take the plank out of your eye!
Let’s start with the obvious. Most people are very private about their love relationship. The worse the marriage gets, the less they want to talk about it. Separation is usually a shocking surprise to everyone involved. This is the main cause of the divorce in the first place. When a person keeps their troubles in the dark, they are weak and vulnerable. Shame is a prison. When we fail in our marriage, we feel a deep shame.
How can you help? First of all, be an open book yourself. Nothing keeps a couple imprisoned more than feeling like they are the only ones struggling. We all struggle from time to time. If your marriage is in good shape, well, it didn’t get there by accident. If your marriage is struggling, first come to terms with your own situation. One bleeding man is of little use to another, besides commiserating.
Be a listener. Few people know how to listen well. Most of us get triggered by what we hear and soon the conversation becomes all about us and our opinions and experiences. The secret to a good listener is staying in the present moment. You are there to serve. No advice is often the best advice. Ask clarifying questions, not so you can problem-solve but rather so they can unravel their own convoluted thoughts.
Get informed about relationships. Couples have a predictable dynamic. In my work, I use the Near-Far Get Married to make sense of complex relationships. Using the metaphor of a driver and a passenger, couples learn to make those two words an integral part of their every day language. Near and Far are two opposite ways of making decisions (read: be in control!). These opposites cannot co-exist, which explains why every marriage contains a great power struggle.
One of our greatest challenges is to be neutral (no plank in the eye) about other people’s marriage troubles. People who are unhappy want you to be sympathetic, that is IN AGREEMENT with them about their issues. However, the wise Proverb from 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Don’t be the kind of friend who only tells them what they want to hear, or avoids the topic altogether. A true friend reaches out boldly. When you first get neutral, you will be amazed at how much easier it is to serve another.
Finally, pray for your loved one. Pray especially for the one who you feel the least sympathy. That is the person you understand the least. The plank in your eye will blind you from seeing how to remove the speck in that person’s eye. When you see and act with love in your heart, you will know you have it right, regardless of how things shake out in the end. Remember, some couples need to split up in order to appreciate each other. That part is not ours to control. But it is ours to grieve. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5:4)