How to help good friends enduring marital issues?
September 24, 2007 10:48 AM   Subscribe

How do I best help and support long time friends in the midst of marital issues?

Hi all - I'm just after a little advice about how best I can help a pair of close long-time friends who are experiencing marital issues right now.

I won't go into the details of their problems, suffice to say I've known them both for 15 or more years, they have young children and they are going to seek counselling and try to work through the situation. A general breakdown of things has occurred over a period of time to a point where the marriage is in some semblence of trouble.

I seem to be the link point for both of them - I spent two or more hours on the phone to one of them yesterday, and a separate hour or more on the phone to the other partner today. They both know I'm talking to the other, and they both respect it and have no problems.

I've worked to listen, offer advice, comfort, perspective, objectivity, honesty and what have you. But I guess what I'm asking the massed intelligence here is if anyone has found themselves in a similar situation, and if so, how have they walked the line and tried to offer help in this situation.

Its not an easy line to walk. I love them both and want to see them happy, whatever that might entail. But how best do I go about this balancing act?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So long as both know you are a neutral third party, I think you are already doing everything you can for them.

I got caught this way in a fight between my Mom and my sister, and the best I could do is give both of them a willing ear, and point out the other's position in the argument and encourage them to see the other's perspective. They will figure it out themselves.

Best of luck!
posted by LN at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2007

Oh my, I can't imagine what a tough place you are in and I respect you immensely for wanting to do right by your friends. Its very good that they each know that that other is talking to you. I don't have much advice except to say that you must try real hard not to betray that trust or give the semblance that you may be using their words against them with the other party.

Good luck to you and your friends.
posted by mmascolino at 10:57 AM on September 24, 2007

Don't let the warm feeling of being needed draw you any further into their world than absolutely necessary. And at any (ANY) point if you feel uncomfortable or find yourself dwelling too much on the matter, tell whichever of them, "Hey! I know you're in a bad spot right now but I need some time to think about this before we discuss this any further. Can I call you later/tomorrow/etc?"

You are of more use to them as a sane outside thinker than an embroiled, drained, or upset one. So stay outside, stay sane, and try to keep this from becoming YOUR problem.
posted by hermitosis at 11:19 AM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Indeed. And I would draw the boundary line of not being the go-between, not answering any questions like "did he say anything to you about X?" Any communication they should be doing directly, not through you.

Other than that, you're doing more than enough. They're lucky to have a friend like you.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:31 AM on September 24, 2007

you sound like a really good friend, but don't take on the role of their therapist. they should get someone who's trained to help sort out these situations. in fact, probably the single best thing you can do is to point both of them in that direction.
posted by buka at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2007

Remind each of them that "the injury we do and the one we suffer are not weighed in the same scale." Aesop

For more information, google '"magnitude gap" + Baumeister': "Offenders generally tend to undervalue the significance and consequences of their acts, while victims understandably feel the full weight of their suffering. This 'disconnect' is a major obstacle on the route to reconciliation."

At this stage, the golden rule "Do unto others..." is not enough for them to repair their situation - they have to overdo and understand why. For the couple holding onto their baggage, this will be hard to see. From an outsider like you, maybe they can see how it (magitude gap) distorted their perceptions in each specific incident.
posted by mediaddict at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

If things get ugly between them, you will catch some of the flak.... My advice is to stay out of their business, even if they try to pull you in; what almost inevitably happens is that eventually you will be asked to take sides.

If you want to help them, offer to babysit their kids while they go out to dinner and hash things out between themselves, that sort of thing.
posted by sic at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

try not to take sides, and encourage them to be constructive-- that is, talking more about their hopes and needs for the future or whatever they can do to feel that their problems are resolved, and less about rehashing who has hurt who and why. you could also read something about peer mediation and/or nonviolent communication (using "I" statements and all that).
posted by lgyre at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2007

yeah don't take sides unless there are obvious reasons to (abuse, unethical behavior, etc): your friends may even ask to. try no to.
posted by matteo at 3:43 PM on September 24, 2007

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