People ask, "What can I do to save my parents’ marriage? How can I save my brother's marriage? Can I help my girlfriend save her marriage?" The real question is can you do anything to help somebody else whose marriage is in trouble. The answer is maybe.
The problem is how you can help without becoming a stuck in the situation yourself? Let me explain. Most marriage problems involve a power struggle. Participants manipulate each other each other into taking the position of persecutor, a rescuer or a victim. Each tries to prove that he or she is right and the other is wrong.
If you attempt to help without being aware of that situation, you will quickly be recruited into taking one of those roles yourself. Not only will you be ineffective, but you are also likely to be blamed for making matters worse. To really help you need to approach the situation very carefully and consider these questions.
Has anyone in this troubled marriage asked for help? If the answer is yes, the first thing to do is to clarify what kind of help is wanted. If the answer is no, go on to the next question.
Do you want to offer your help? If the answer is yes, caution is required. Your first offer might be an offer to talk about a problem or situation that you have noticed. If the answer is no, stop here. Going forward will make you a part of the struggle. If your offer is accepted then you must still clarify what kind of help is wanted.
Once you have clarified what help is wanted, you must figure out whether you have the resources to provide what is wanted. This depends on your experiences and your skill.
You might be able to be a sympathetic listener. In that case listen without making suggestions. This is a real challenge but offering someone a chance to talk something through can be a real gift. You might also be able to help find appropriate resources that you can’t provide yourself like a referral to a marriage counselor or other support system. You might be able to help with childcare during a counseling session or even to pay for something the couple could not afford by themselves.
Whatever you do, be careful not to try to provide help you aren’t qualified to give. One last caution is to never put more energy into solving a problem than the person who has the problem in the first place.
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