What's the proper protocol for spouses when it comes to helping other people of the opposite sex with problems – especially problems of the marital variety? Sadly, my brother and his wife are in the process of divorcing. My sister-in-law called my husband the other night to see if he would meet with her to provide counseling and advice. I think this crosses a line – she should be discussing her problems with another woman, not my husband! He, on the other hand, feels that he might be able to help in some way. What do you think?
We think you should trust your feelings on this one. Even if your husband is gifted with unusual wisdom, and even if your sister-in-law genuinely values his opinion and considers him a good listener, it's still vital to maintain proper boundaries in marriage. To put it more bluntly, you and your husband need to protect your own relationship. As we see it, the kind of help your sister-in-law needs requires a level of intimacy and trust that simply isn't appropriate between a woman and a man who isn't her spouse (unless, of course, the man is a professional therapist – and even then it's important to proceed with great care).
That's not to mention that, from our perspective, you have good reason to feel uneasy about your sister-in-law's request. For one thing, it's hard to see why she needs to meet with your husband alone, one-on-one. If she really wants his input, invite her to come over and talk with the two of you sometime. For another thing, you're absolutely right to insist that she'd be better off consulting with another female. A caring Christian woman would be in a far stronger position to relate to all that she's experiencing at this moment. What's more, since she looks to your husband as a kind and understanding person, we think he should be the one to communicate these perspectives and set these limits with her.
Ideally, your sister-in-law should consult a Christian marriage-and-family counselor. Perhaps you're familiar with a local counselor or pastor to whom she can turn for help. If not, call us. Focus on the Family's Counseling department would be more than happy to discuss this situation with any one of you – you, your husband or your sister-in-law – over the phone. They can also provide a list of qualified professionals practicing in your area.
One last thought before closing. It's obvious that your husband is a man of integrity and good sense. This is probably what's leading your sister-in-law to look to him as a mentor. He needs to realize that he gained this good reputation in the first place by setting reasonable boundaries. If he wants to hold on to it, he's going to have to maintain those boundaries and keep those fences in good repair. Our advice to both of you is to get on the same team and do everything you can to prevent this from driving a wedge between you.
Boundaries in Marriage
Strengthening Your Marriage