A successful marriage often involves more than two people. Or as pastor and comedian Ted Cunningham puts it, “Marriage is a duet in need of background singers.”
But when a friend comes to us, confiding about the problems they are facing in their marriage – whether it is infidelity, emotional disconnectedness, addiction, or tensions over finances – what tune should we be singing to? How exactly can we support them well?
I spoke to Theresa Pong, principal counsellor at Focus on the Family Singapore, to find out more. Here are 6 tips she shared.
1. Lend a listening ear
When a friend comes to us, it is very natural and instinctive to offer advice. However, Theresa advises restraint. She said, “While it is not easy for you to experience your friend’s pain, as a friend, lending a listening ear and acknowledging the hurt your friend is going through is the best thing you can do.”
Keep the conversation focused on your friend’s feelings and let him/her vent as much as they need to. We can also try to be empathetic to their struggles.
2. Avoid providing solutions or judgment
Most of the time, when a friend comes crying to us, the last thing they want is for us to offer a quick fix. While somewhere down the line you may think it best that your friend seeks professional support from a counsellor or family therapist who is able to help them process their thoughts and issues, try not to suggest this too early on in the conversation without having fully understood what they are struggling with.
Instead, Theresa suggests validating your friend’s hurt and reflecting what they are going through. For example, we might say, “I know it is not easy for you to experience your spouse’s silence and being absent from home most of the time. It is very painful and lonely for you to experience this while needing to be strong so that you can go to work daily and take care of your children.”
3. Avoid being critical of your friend’s spouse
It is often easy to fall into the good guy/bad guy dichotomy. You may feel that this is expressing loyalty to your friend, but the truth is that such a stand neglects the fact that both parties often have a part to play. Also, you wouldn’t want to bad-mouth your friend’s spouse, and end up feeling awkward or guilty when you see them together again.
4. Avoid feeling like you must share something negative too
Sometimes when a friend shares vulnerably about their marriage, we mistakenly think that we should offer something similar in return. We think that this is the best way to show empathy.
That said, if you do have a personal story to share, go ahead to do so if you feel it will encourage your friend and remind them that every marriage has its ups and downs.
5. Watch out for signs of depression
As you journey with your friend and nudge him/her towards healing and restoration, be sure to also be on the lookout for potentially dangerous situations that need immediate attention from a professional, such as physical abuse, infidelity, depression and thoughts of suicide.
Theresa added, “If your friend is experiencing signs of depression, such as sleeplessness, low energy, negative thoughts and mood swings, do not hesitate to encourage them to seek immediate help from a doctor or counsellor.”
6. Avoid taking the burden upon yourself
Remember that although you are journeying alongside your friend, you are certainly not expected to fix their marriage. While we can offer friends our love and support, ultimately they will have to make their own decisions on the way forward.
Just be there for them in their times of need and continue to breathe hope and encouragement into their lives – even when the situation seems bleak and hopeless.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
June Yong is editor of Focus on the Family Singapore’s blog.
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