Marriage 911 – Caring for Yourself as a Mentor

By terovesalainen @ Adobe Stock
As a Marriage 911 counselor, you spend time caring for others. Make sure you're practicing godly self-care as well.

You run down the jetway, thread your way through the narrow aisle and throw your carry-on in the overhead bin. You’ve finally made it to your seat. Now you can settle in, buckle your seat belt, and wait to taxi down the runway. Before the plane leaves the gate, a flight attendant shares safety instructions. “Be certain your seat back is upright, and your tray table stowed. Fasten your seatbelt.” And you know the next line by heart. “If needed, oxygen masks will be released overhead. Be sure to secure your own mask before assisting others.”

There’s a good reason that line is included in the safety instructions. If oxygen masks drop, it means there’s a crisis. Often, our first response when we see someone in crisis is to reach out and help. But how can you help someone else when you can’t breathe? Put on your own oxygen mask before helping another passenger. You’re not being selfish. You’re protecting your life so that you can help someone else.

That’s good advice at 30,000 feet. It’s also good advice here on the ground. And it’s excellent advice for Marriage 911 mentors.

As a Marriage 911 mentor, you’ve committed to walking alongside a couple in crisis. Their marriage is in trouble. The oxygen masks have dropped. They’re looking to you for help. But before you reach out to help – safety first! – secure your own mask before assisting others.

Safety Instructions for Mentors

Marriage 911 mentors aren’t counselors. Your role is to “do life” with another couple. To walk them through the Marriage 911 curriculum and, if necessary, refer them to a licensed, professional counselor. Although you’re not a counselor, you will be exposed to some challenges counselors face as couples open their hearts and share their stories. So, before you help, secure your oxygen mask. Here’s how.

Remember the Two “O’s” of Mentoring

Karen and R.G. Yallaly lead Marriage 911 at Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri. As they train mentors to work with couples, they stress the two “O’s” of mentoring: First, Obedience to God. “Your job is to obey and show up,” R.G. says. “The second “O” is to leave the outcome to God. He’s the only one who can change hearts.”

Set Guardrails

Dean and Sonja serve as marriage mentors under the Yallalys. They’ve built guardrails into their ministry to protect their marriage while helping others. “Spend time together,” Dean said. “And don’t compare your spouse with the other spouse you’re helping. Remember your spouse’s good qualities and praise your spouse, encourage them, and build them up.”

Dean and Sonja also hold mentee meetings in public places to avoid any challenges or accusations.

In addition, they prioritize their relationship with God. “If your relationship with God isn’t right, your relationship with your spouse probably isn’t right,” Sonja said.

But one of the most important guardrails involves how mentors process their conversations with couples. “Don’t internalize the situation,” Dean warns. Internalizing the counseling experience – dwelling on the couple’s problems – can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout.

Avoid Compassion Fatigue and Burnout

Mentors who fail to let go of the stress run the risk of compassion fatigue and burnout. Compassion fatigue is a type of trauma or emotional pain first responders, counselors, and mentors face as they deal with repeated exposure to other’s needs. It’s an emotional overload that can leave mentors feeling depressed, numb, or anxious. If not dealt with, compassion fatigue can lead to burnout.

Jenny Accord is a Hope Restored counselor. She spends her days in “intensives” – three-to-five-day counseling sessions – with hurting couples who see this as their last stop before signing divorce papers. She’s a licensed professional. She’s equipped to deal with the challenges of listening to a couple’s struggle. And yet, she’s human. It’s easy to internalize the anger and pain couples fling at each other. So, she’s found ways to “let go” of the stress. “Sometimes, it’s as simple as putting my hand on the office door as a way of leaving the struggles behind.” Accord recommends Marriage 911 mentors find similar ways to reset emotionally after working with a couple and shares ways to let go of the stress:

  1. Spend time with God, His Word, and allow Him to speak to you.
  2. Use the Pause app by John Eldredge.
  3. Practice the art of gratitude.
  4. Try crafting or a hobby that brings you life.
  5. Intentionally disconnect.
  6. Rest.
  7. Add variety to your life — don’t let this mission become your whole life.
  8. Give yourself permission to let things be.

And, Accord adds, “Give the burden to God. He can handle it. He’s responsible for change. Your job is to show up prepared and to invest.”

Know Your Limits

“Know what your job is and isn’t,” advises Geremy Keeton, Senior Director of Counseling Services at Focus on the Family. “Influence but don’t control. If you have to ‘fix’ a person or make sure they do what you think they should do, then you may be forcing your own agenda due to issues you need to resolve. If you are feeling constant worry or mental exhaustion (maybe even physical exhaustion) after your mentor meetings reach out for help or counseling. It’s okay to do so and not shameful if you feel the tug of your own emotions being overly strong.”

Remember the Roses

Compassion motivates us to serve others. God Himself is compassionate and longs to help. The Bible even records a specific instance when Jesus felt compassion for those He served. “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36, ESV) As you mentor couples in crisis, you too will feel motivated to bear their burdens. But only Jesus can heal their pain and brokenness. And He can carry the pain you feel when working with a couple.

How do you give Him the burden? Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family, tells of an interaction between his father Gary and the late Corrie ten Boom. Corrie was by then a well-known Christian speaker who told of her experiences in a World War II concentration camp. Often, at the close of her message, people would shower her with praise and admiration. “How is it,” Gary once asked, “that in spite of the accolades, you are humble and approachable?” Corrie ten Boom shared her secret: “At the end of the day, I imagine all those compliments are roses and I then hand the roses — one by one — to Jesus.”

Dr. Greg Smalley says the same approach works when dealing with a mentee’s burdens. “See those troubles as roses, and then hand them one by one to Jesus. When you give Him the problems — the roses — they are His to care for.”

Godly Self-Care vs Burnout

Marriage 911 is a program to help couples in crisis. But it’s not just about the hurting couple. It’s also about you and your spouse. In addition to investing in others, Marriage 911 requires you to invest in yourself and in your marriage. And that brings us back to the oxygen mask analogy: secure your mask first.

You can’t give what you don’t have. If you’re gasping for air, you’re not likely to help another passenger on a plane. If you’re not investing in your own life and marriage, how can you invest in another’s marriage?

Godly self-care is the answer. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus teaches the Greatest Commandment: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NIV)

Jesus teaches us to value God above everything else. In the same breath, Jesus also teaches us to highly value our neighbor in the same way that He expects us to highly value ourselves, as God’s very special creations. Jesus assumes that we want the best for ourselves. That’s how He created us. He instructs us to pursue the best interests of others with the same energy that we pursue our own best interests.

To put it into perspective, when you love God with every part of your being, He fills you to overflowing with his amazing love. Out of that overflow, you give to others. But if you don’t care for yourself, you have no overflow. Without an overflow, you find it hard to take care of others. That’s called burnout. To avoid burnout, we must obey Christ’s commands to love God and to love others with the same energy we love ourselves.

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

If this “self-care talk” sounds selfish, think back to the oxygen mask example. Put your oxygen mask on first. Oxygen keeps you alive and alert. You practice self-care by putting on the mask and connecting to the source of oxygen. Only then can you turn to your seatmate and help them find the lifesaving air. The same principle applies to godly self-care. You’re putting the right things in the right order: oxygen (God) first, then the mask (self-care), and then your seatmate (the mentee couple).

What does godly self-care look like? Like the list Jenny Accord shared above. Start by spending time daily with God – loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Add healthy activities: rest, variety, and gratitude, and then reach out to others.

The Value of Self-Care

Unlike the oxygen mask (which we hope to never need to use), self-care should become a part of everyday life. Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family, describes self-care as a valuable practice. “Healthy self-care sets you up to give generously. If you take seriously God’s direction to be ‘filled with the spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), you don’t have to worry that God will drive you to give until nothing’s left. And you don’t have to wait to give until somebody does something for you. If you take responsibility for yourself and attend to your own self-care, you can act from a position of wholeness, not neediness. And that sets you up for relationship success.”

Some content taken from The DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley, copyright © 2007, and from The DNA of Relationships for Couples by Greg Smalley and Robert S. Paul, copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dynamic CTA Template Below


About the Author

Read More About:

You May Also Like

Husband trying to talk to his wife; his hands are on her shoulders and she's looking away

3 Myths About Forgiveness When Your Spouse Betrays You

When her husband confessed a porn addiction, Shelly thought she had forgiven him. A year later, she was still holding hatred toward him. That realization started her on the path toward true forgiveness.

Regretful young man sitting across from his wife who is upset with her arms folded across her chest

5 Reasons to Tell Your Spouse About Your Porn Problem

You’re ready to quit using pornography. Should you tell your spouse about your struggle? Ask yourself, If I maintain the secret, is that really the intimacy I’ve always longed for in my marriage?