What About My Friend In A Bad Marriage?

by adustyframe ~ November 23rd, 2010

I have considerable training in Biblical counseling, but I do not claim to be an expert. Going through a mess has given me  eyes I didn’t have before.

Someone asked me years ago,

“What about my friend in a bad marriage?

What would you say to her? What should I do?”

I’ve thought about it for a very long time and I’m not sure I have all the answers but I wanted to share a few thoughts–finally!

This post is written to those on the outside looking in. I’ll try to write a post to the wife who’s actually living in the bad marriage soon.

I have friends who live in very difficult marriages. My mom has friends who had hard marriages.

When I see my friends struggling with hard things, it’s easy for me to get emotional and protective towards them. In all reality, I’d like to smack their husbands and get in their faces.

I’d like to say, “Are you serious? You can’t see this woman loves you with all her heart and she’s waiting for you to step up to the plate. This woman is the best thing to ever happened to you and you treat her like this?”

However! That won’t accomplish anything and will probably cause problems for my friends.

Here are some things to remember in no particular order.

1. You must pray for your friend.

*Pray that God will give her wisdom and clarity.

*Pray that she will know what to do and how to speak and that she’ll make good decisions for her and her children.

*Pray that God will bless her faithfulness.

*Pray that her husband would come to know the Lord or return to living as a godly man if he already claims to know the Lord.

2. You must give your friend godly advice.

*Don’t spout what the world would say.

Things like, “You should kick him out.” or “You don’t deserve this.” or “He’s such a piece of junk.” may be true but saying them does not help. Often it makes her defend him and dig her heels in even more.

I’m not talking about women enduring abuse. *IF she is being abused, you must encourage her to make a safety plan.

You must pray extra extra hard for her. You must be careful what you say–don’t email her things about leaving.

Don’t leave phone messages talking about any information she’s shared.

Realize that leaving may not happen and as much as you want her to you cannot make her. You must pray for God to open her eyes and be willing to get help. I know that it’s easy to look at an abused woman and wonder how in the world she can even consider staying.

But you and I both know that it happens. Be smart and be honest with her, but also consider her safety when you’re dispensing advice. Don’t do anything to jeopardize her situation. Until she’s ready to leave, unfortunately the only thing you can do is support her and listen.

I have a friend with an alcoholic husband. He hides it pretty well, but she lives a really sad life. When I talk with her, I’m honest with her. I tell her things that he says that aren’t ok. I’ll say to her, “You know that’s not a normal thing to say. I’d be really concerned for my safety.” I also say things to her like, “You know if you choose to leave you have a lot of support.”

I think it’s important to let her know that many people would help her and that she’d not be alone. She needs to hear that because when a woman is beaten down by such misery, it’s easy to think that staying is better than leaving because she feels she has nowhere to turn.

So, back to my godly advice–the rest of this post refers to women in a rough marriage without physical abuse or danger.

Share with her from God’s word encouragement. Let her know you will pray for her.

3. Don’t burden her with a list of things she should be doing.

Let me be very frank here. Unless you’ve walked in this type of shoes you have NO CLUE the physical burden a woman in a hard marriage carries. Don’t expect things from her that she cannot give.

Don’t expect her to do everything at church. Don’t be pushy when you need help with something.

When you wonder why your friend doesn’t do more at church or more with a group of friends, realize that keeping herself and her kids together may be taking all her energy.

Another thing to remember is that honestly, when you’re living in a hard marriage, some of the things that women talk about or do together seem so trivial and ridiculous.

It’s hard to participate in a purse party or talk about getting your nails done, when you wonder if your husband is coming home sober that night. You wish you could tell them to enjoy their blessings and ability to take time to goof off because right now the silly stuff just doesn’t mean anything to you.

4. Check on her–often.

Ask her how she’s doing.  Ask her how you can pray. Send her a card. Help out with her children. Give her little pretty things that may encourage her.

5. Do not get into the trap of gossiping and running down her husband.

It’s ok if she shares with you and you should allow her to but don’t encourage her to rip him to shreds or take out all her frustrations by badmouthing him. There is a difference between honest sharing and spewing venom.

One allows others to help carry the burdens–the other makes the burden heavier by encouraging bitterness.

6. Encourage her to follow the Lord no matter what.

7. Tell her the truth from God’s word, but pray first. Ask God to give you wisdom as you counsel her.

Pray that he will direct you what to say.

Pray that your words won’t be another burden to her heart but that God will help you to only say what is good and right and necessary.

8. Do NOT share what she has told you with others unless she gives you permission. If you’re the only person she trusts be very sure that you don’t break that trust.

I’ve heard some stuff from my friends that could be “shared” as a prayer request. All you church women know EXACTLY what I’m talking about don’t you?!

Don’t do it.

Unless she specifically asks you to share the information you must keep it to yourself.

**If she shares abuse or illegal activity, you have to be honest with her and say something like this, “I’m sorry but I cannot promise you that I won’t tell someone about this.”

If she’s sharing hardships and burdens don’t share unless you have permission to do so.

It’s so hard to know who can be trusted. If you’re not trustworthy after she’s shared her heart with you, then you’ve added a massive burden to her life. She won’t trust you again and you’ve taken away her ability to talk to you.

9. Know that you don’t know everything. No matter how open she is with you there are things you just won’t know.

Her life could be far worse than she tells you.

Her life may not be all bad either. **Remember! I am NOT talking about abuse.**

When she tells you that she loves her husband, believe her. When she tells you she wants to try, believe her. When she asks you to pray for her husband, pray for him. Don’t pray about him–pray FOR him. (Think about that a bit.)

In the past, I’ve shared that our life was not all bad. The bad was plenty bad, but everything wasn’t bad. Those looking in could wonder what on earth I see in him. But you don’t know everything.

You don’t know how he smiled at me. You don’t know the silly jokes we shared. You don’t know how amazing he was while I was delivering our son. You don’t know the many times he sacrificed to serve me–even then when the bad was plenty bad.

This is why it’s so important to pray before you give counsel. You simply do not know everything.

10. You cannot decide what God’s will is for her life.

If it is God’s will for her to stay in this marriage, do you want to be the one pushing her to leave?

If it’s God’s will for her to leave, do you want to be the one loading guilt on her to stay?

I heard a lady at a retreat share about a friend of hers who was going to leave her husband due to his gross sin. However, the speaker went on to say how she counseled the woman to stay and that God’s plan is for marriage. She pressured her relentlessly to stay and is heartbroken that her friend is choosing to persist in her willfulness and leave.

AAARRGGGH!!!  Please remember that you cannot know everything and that you cannot decide God’s will for another. I’m sure this woman was well meaning, but she was coming from a place with a trustworthy husband. I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty positive she never dealt with a sin like this. I know that her words and counsel had to have been a huge burden in this woman’s life.

10. Remember that God gives HER the grace to endure this trial–not you. It’s her trial to endure and God supplies his grace and strength to her to face it.

You’re not facing it and so you don’t receive these things for her trial. If you cannot understand, remember that God is holding her up. You’re an instrument of his grace–or at least you can be if you choose to lovingly care for her.

God will give you your own strength to support her, but not to endure her trial. That’s hers–the blessings too.

11. Ultimately she’s accountable to God for her decisions.

I’ve had so many people try to make my decisions for me as I’ve gone through this trial. I shake my head and wonder if they realize that I am the one walking this path. I am the one who sought God for answers.
I am the one who knew that God wanted me to stay.

Please remember that she’s the one who has to decide.

12. Never ever ever act better than her because your life is more together. (Don’t think it either–it will show in your actions.)

13. Realize that women and families in difficult marriages often get left out of fellowship with others.

Don’t ask me why it happens but it just does. It’s not only me. I’ve heard it from others living very hard lives.

It’s a very sad fact about the church, that somehow those who are hurting the most get left out of the very things that could refresh their souls. Things that would make them feel accepted and loved.

Please try to invite her along. If you refuse to love her husband as Christ would have you do (and that’s a whole ‘nother post!), at the very least, don’t leave her and her kids out.

It’s so sad to hear people talk about getting together or going out to eat or about plans to go to each other’s houses and know that you’re never included. (And excuse me, but WHY would you talk about these things in front of the people you’re leaving out anyway? Sheer thoughtlessness on multiple levels I guess.)

Ok, so I imagine I’ve left a ton out.

*I do hope that I clearly conveyed the fact that these thoughts do not apply to abuse situations.

*I trust that you understand anything I’ve shared about frustrations is not because I’m angry about them. It’s to help you see how to treat others.

*I also hope that you will trust that my words and my heart are to help–not to burden or accuse or hurt.

If you have other thoughts or questions or something I said isn’t clear, please start a conversation in the comments.


18 Thoughts Shared to What About My Friend In A Bad Marriage?

  1. Joy

    wow, that came at the right time!!!! I need to call you.

  2. Lisa

    Thank you, Lizzie, for sharing these thoughts. You brought tears to my eyes remembering what it was like. My former pastor’s wife could make me feel so defensive and guilty for loving my ex-husband. But there was no way I could explain how good he was in the midst of all the bad. And after he left, my 4 children and I were included in church outings a couple of times. Then it was back to business as usual, someone inviting a group out to lunch, and me having to explain to the kids why we couldn’t go. I know it was never intentional, but it felt so much like rejection at a time when I was so sensitive to rejection. My children felt it, too. But our God is good, and he used your words today to lead me further into healing.

  3. Ame

    this is above excellent! continue to add when you think of more … it’s worth the time.

    you’re spot-on with everything you said.

    absolutely perfect.

  4. Prairie Rose

    As one of those women who lived in a bad marriage, this post is EXCELLENT. Well done!

  5. Ame

    i want to add … that divorce is not an “answer” or a “solution.”

    being divorced, with kids, from an abusive addict, does not solve all the problems. though we are not living in the abuse anymore, he is still abusive, and it still affects us.

    also, divorce itself is hell. divorce is a death that never ends. i do not recommend divorce. it is a necessary option sometimes, but it carries its own volumes of hell and heartache.

    if you are in an abusive marriage, get help asap.

    if you are in a difficult marrage, seek the Lord diligently to guide you and enable you. be very careful who you listen to and what you read. divorce is not a beautiful place to be. divorce is ugly and horrible and disastrous. and it never ends.

  6. Marie

    Wow, Lizzie, this post is superb! I didn’t know that you had had training in biblical counseling, but it sure comes through in this entry. What program are you doing – NANC?

    I feel completely inadequate to the task of counseling any woman about her marriage, but eventually I will have to — marital struggles account for 80% of biblical counseling cases. And it’s a very important subject, Scripturally. I will print out what you’ve written, and save it with my notes. You rawk! 🙂

  7. John

    First, let me say, very well thought out and then stated. I especially like your recurring words, “know that you don’t know everything.” So many people (myself included) seem to forget that EVERY life is different. I see things through my very unique grid. I only know what I know as I see it through MY lens. This is where grace and understanding come in…to know that another’s life and view of life can be strikingly different than mine.

    Second, I want to comment on this–“Don’t ask me why it happens but it just does. It’s not only me. I’ve heard it from others living very hard lives.

    It’s a very sad fact about the church, that somehow those who are hurting the most get left out of the very things that could refresh their souls. Things that would make them feel accepted and loved.”—I have found that many Christians (and mere church-goers) are afraid of messiness. We like questions with answers and when the answer staring us in the face is ‘I have NO idea’, we make up an answer. We forget that God is not in the fixing us business, He’s in the loving us business, and we have a hard time living in the mess. Especially in church. We want it to appear as though it’s a ‘together’ place instead of a ‘come here as messy as you want’ place. In case you haven’t noticed, the world is messed up…why not just admit it and start really loving people instead of sanitizing them first. We tend to leave hurting people out because we want to love them with our puny human love instead of God’s majestic Love.

    That’s my two cents 🙂

  8. Janet

    This is an excellent post, Lizzie! I’ve BEEN THERE and can say AMEN to everything you’ve said. Thank you!

  9. Jen

    i loved this post 🙂

    There are so many books out there for the woman/man in a bad marriage… perhaps it’s time there is a book for the friend to help them undrestand what it is they can and can’t do in the situation.

    Something to think about 😉

  10. Jen

    Oops… forgot to add my blog address. here it is now 🙂

  11. Pam

    Without going into detail my first husband was an alcoholic and abusive….the deciding moment came when my daughter was 9 years old and I knew I did NOT want her to think it was ok. I spoke with my pastor and his comment was to read from scripture about how slaves were to be treated…..and then to say don’t you think the Lord wants you to be respected? I went to a Christian attorney who said
    He didn’t believe I divorce….however he suggested I make a list of
    4 or 5 things that would have to change in the next 60 days or I was going to file for divorce……..I gave him the list and on the morning of the 45th day my husband said “I like my life the way it is…I’m not changing anything”……I filed that day…..on a side note….I never said a bad word about him to my daughter……as an adult she thanked me for that…..he passed away when she was 30 years old and had severed his relationship with her……she know that the alcohol took it’s toll and that none of this was her fault……she is a great Christian wife and mother. Divorce is not a painless solution….but we must keep ourselves and our children safe…..sometimes that is the only way. I was single for the next 17 years…..the Lord and our Christian friends sustained us.

  12. Stephanie

    Wow Lizzie such wise words and such an excellent, excellent post. I have lived many of the things you mention and thankfully my marriage was fully restored and our trial was short but trials in a marriage are just plain hard, and women in them have such a hard load to carry. Your words are seasoned with love and grace here. Thank you for taking the time to writing this!

  13. Courtney

    I found you through Works for me Wednesdays. I clicked over because I have a friend in this situation, and I really appreciate your advice. What a fantastic list of dos and don’ts. Thank you!

  14. Anonymous

    I am visiting from Works for me Wednesdays. This post caught my eye because I am in a bad marriage.

    Every single word you have written here resonates loudly with me. One of the biggest frustrations I have in going through this is my circle of friends is dwindling as I cross them off the list. I feel compelled to cross the friends off when they consistently tell me how and why I should leave my husband.

    Thank you so much for this post. :0)

  15. Raise Them Up

    Wonderful words of wisdom!

  16. Megan

    I came across your post on Works for Me Wednesdays. I have a friend whose abusive marriage is ending after almost 30 years. It just breaks my heart to see her in so much pain. Her entire world has been turned upside down and I’m struggling with how to be there for her. I’ve been praying that God would bring us closer and give me the words to say when I need them. Thank you for this!

  17. 'Becca

    This is such excellent advice!!!

    I have one thing to add from my experience a few years ago with a friend who wound up leaving a marriage that did not look all that bad to me but was intolerable to her. I am Christian, and she is Jewish. At one point she started to explore Christianity and read the Gospels, and of course I was so hopeful for her, prayed and prayed for her to come to know the truth that is so sustaining for me, explained things to her, invited her to church with me, and so on. But after a few months she decided it wasn’t her thing. My advice to anyone who finds herself in this situation is to resist feeling that you have failed. You showed the Light of Christ to a person walking in darkness, and even though she ultimately didn’t choose it, it lit her life for a while, and that still has immense value. Even more importantly, you showed her how to seek the Kingdom of God, how to knock on that door that will be opened to her if she is willing to choose it, and she may make that choice later; at least you helped her try that first knock.

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