This post is for anyone who has a friend (or small group member or congregant or neighbor or family member) who is living in a difficult Christian marriage, or who is going through a divorce, or who is a single mom. You want to help her. You want to support her. But if you’ve never been in her shoes, you might not know what she needs. But I’ve been all of these, so I want to help you to help her.
If your friend is in a hard marriage:
Pray. Ask the Spirit to help you know things you do not know, to give you the right words, and to soften your heart.
Ask her. If your friend openly talks about the difficulties in her marriage, great. But if you just think she may be in a hard marriage, or even an abusive marriage, you will need to go to her. But be prepared that she may be defensive because she may either be in complete denial, she may not be ready to admit it to herself, or she may not be ready to deal with the potential fallout.
Read up on the subject. There are some amazing books out there on this subject. I’d recommend The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick, Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious, or my e-book Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage.
Gather resources. Do some investigating for your friend. What kinds of support groups and social service agencies are available in your area that you can recommend to her?
Offer to go with her to talk to someone. If your friend readily admits that things in her marriage seem more difficult than they should be, gently suggest she talk to someone that she trusts, and offer to go with. First of all, saying these things out loud can be scary enough; but secondly, if you end up in a conversation with, for instance, a pastor who doesn’t know about these kinds of things and treats all marriages with a formula of pray more + a monthly date night + join a couples’ group = everything will be fine, odds are, she will feel unheard and probably won’t go back to him. If you’re with her, she may say all that needs to be said.
Follow up. If she didn’t admit to anything the first time around, but you still think there is a problem, keep praying and gently check in with her one more time, making sure she knows you’ll be there for her. If she did admit there’s something going on but wasn’t quite ready to do anything about it, go back and reassure her that you will help her walk through this.
Here’s what not to do:
Ignore it. The Spirit can help us sense things and if you truly feel a friend is in trouble, taking the chance on a difficult conversation is the least you can do for your friend. I know it can be scary, but ignoring it will only keep your friend in peril – emotionally, spiritually, and/or physically – longer. So speak up.
If your friend is going through a divorce:
Pray. Please. Knowing that I had people in my life who loved Jesus who were talking to him about me was so huge, words almost can’t express. There were times that I couldn’t pray, or my prayers were way too small or selfish or, hate to say it, just plain mean and immature. That I had people talking to my Savior on my behalf in ways that I never would’ve thought to do or been able to do was what got me through that season the most, hands down.
Ask her how she’s doing. Caveat: but only if you can handle the truth, because depending on the day, you might get an earful.
Check in. The occasional email, text, voicemail or note will make her day. This thing she’s doing is isolating and scary.
Don’t try to fix her or her situation. UNLESS she asks for advice, otherwise, please keep the “you should’s” to yourself.
Invite. Ask her to lunch or tea. Ask her kids to do something with your family. Keep her feeling connected. She may say “no, thank you” but just knowing she’s included – especially as she’s transitioning out of couplehood – is essential.
Don’t judge. This might be the hardest one. No one can know all the details of any situation. If you feel close enough to the person, ask the questions that you’re wondering deep down, and then listen with gentleness. If you’re not all that close, hand it over to Jesus. Remind yourself that we all make mistakes. In any situation there are three versions – yours, the other parties’, and God’s. Assume the best about the person because there may be so much more to the story than you know or may ever be able to know.
Love her. Remind her that she’s loved. She is more than likely very lonely. She might be beating herself up over pretty much every choice she has made and is making. She is probably scared. She needs to know there are people who’ve got her back and won’t walk away. One dear friend said to me during my divorce, “You can mess up absolutely everything in your life and I’m not going anywhere.” That’s love.
Lastly, show grace. She may be sucking at being your friend right now. She’ll get better soon, I promise. Please cut her some slack. Getting through a divorce, I learned, was practically a full-time job.
If your friend is a single mom:
Pray for her.
Handyman help/lawn care help/automotive repair help.
Mentor and love her children.
Give her gift cards to: grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, Target/Walmart, Amazon, pretty much anywhere.
Invite her and her kids to be a part of your life. Have them over for dinner. Take them along when you do a family outing.
Offer to take care of her kids to give her a break.
Take her out for coffee or a lunch.
Surprise her with a gift like a mani/pedi or massage or drop off a home-cooked meal.
Check in to see how she’s doing and what she might need.
I know you’re busy. I know your life is full. I know you could use an extra set of hands yourself. I get it. I was you a while back. But picture for a moment doing all you’re doing in your life, but without a partner as a helpmate or his income as a cushion. That is what your struggling friend is doing. She needs you. She needs your support. She needs your grace. She needs your time. She needs your love. If you help her get through this, you will be showing her that even though her marriage is over (which means she more than likely feels abandoned), God has not abandoned her and neither have you.
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I would love to show this to all those who walked away when my journey started. Only a handful of friends stayed close. One friend said “you just put your head down, do what you need to do, focus on your children, and cry when you’re alone”….she was so right & had been through the exact same thing 1.5 years before. I always stayed in contact just so she knew I was still a friend as I watched all those who walked away from me do the same thing to her. Confusing, I know, but life as a fire wife is not an easy one….it’s a different family. You may think you’re not lonely b/c of your children, but it’s a different loneliness w/o adult contact in your daily life.
Wow. I am not a mother, so there are parts of this I can’t relate to. I am actually only 23 years old. I married my husband just over a year ago, thinking that I was making a lifetime commitment that would stand through all times, good and bad. I thought it was the beginning of the rest of my life. My husband and I met in a small group at church, both very expressive of our intentions to have a Christ-centered relationship from the beginning. Almost immediately after getting married, it seemed that my husband turned against his faith and me. He progressed from being uninterested in me and growing in faith together to being actively hateful towards me and telling me God would not help me or us. I still have no idea what caused my husband to change so dramatically, but I stuck through the pain as long as I possibly could, which ended up being one day shy of a year. Through crying as he yelled and belittled me on a regular basis. Through finding messages he sent to others telling hateful lies about me. Through him trapping me in rooms, not allowing me to leave when he became so angry it scared me. Through begging and begging him to commit to counseling or talking to someone from the church with me. Through the depression and aloneness I felt each time he moved out temporarily, telling me he just couldn’t handle me any more or that I was crazy and needed help. There are so many things that have happened in the past year of my marriage that I never even thought possible. It was the scariest and hardest year of my life, and also the most alone year of my life. Actually, by the time I decided I couldn’t take it any more and moved out, my mom was the only true friend I had.
Every friend I had from the church I had been involved in for years stepped out of my life when I expressed my situation to them, including my maid of honor from my wedding. Most had nothing to say to me when I talked to them; they just didn’t know what to say, I guess, and I don’t entirely blame them for that. My situation was something I’m not sure I would know what to say had the roles been reversed. I would like to think I would have been more compassionate. Eventually, everyone stopped communicating with me other than once-a-month Facebook messaged saying something like, “Miss you!” One friend even told me that I committed to being with my husband forever, regardless of how he treated me. I believed this for too long. I wish, oh I wish so badly, that I would have had one friend that knew the things you said in your blog post. I can’t imagine how drastic of a difference it would have made in my life to have one friend that remained unconditionally there for me through everything I was going through. From someone who walked through the scariness and embarrassment of a difficult Christian marriage, this is such wonderful advice.