We’ve all seen the Uncle Sam army recruitment poster. “I want YOU!” the type screams as the stern, top-hatted gentleman points his index finger right at our noses.
Imagine me instead of Uncle Sam in that poster: no top hat, of course, and no long, white goatee because I’m not that old. But I am pointing my finger. Why? Because married couples need YOU!
The Uncle Sam poster made its debut in 1917 when the United States was entering World War I and needed soldiers. More than 100 years later, our society has just as urgent a need for healthy marriages. Marriage is a cornerstone of God’s plan for humanity and for families worldwide. And you can help.
“But Greg,” you might be saying, “how can I help? My marriage isn’t perfect. Marriage is ‘for better and for worse,’ and we’ve had our share of ‘for worse.’ ”
That’s part of what other couples need to hear. No marriage is perfect. Sometimes, the marital struggles you’ve had to overcome make your help all the more valuable.
God doesn’t want us to hoard our wisdom. He blesses us so that we can bless others. Hebrews 13:16 says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Let others be blessed by your marriage, even while you’re still imperfect people on an imperfect journey . . . just like them.
How can you use your marriage to bless others? Let me give you three possibilities:
Set an example
Keep your own marriage healthy. Couples need to know that marriage is worth the work. They need to see clear examples of strong and vibrant marriages — so that they believe that they can have the same thing. We need to show the world that Christ makes a difference in our marriages.
We all know that no marriage is perfect. But with proper attention and love, marriage can be awesome. Our culture needs to see couples with unwavering commitment to each other — who show each other love and grace in the midst of all their imperfections.
Encourage other couples
When I was working on my doctorate, my wife, Erin, and I were dirt poor, extremely busy and had a little daughter, Taylor, to take care of. We didn’t have the finances or the time to go out on a date. One day, a couple from our church showed up at our little apartment and gave us a $20 bill. “This is for you and Erin to go out on a date. So, hand over Taylor, and you guys need to leave!”
Every week for four years, they would drive over to our apartment, hand us 20 bucks and babysit Taylor. I’m convinced that our marriage stayed strong because of their generosity.
Encourage other married couples. Pray for them. Celebrate their wedding anniversaries. Go on double dates with them or, like the aforementioned couple did for us, give them a much-needed break.
Help a friend’s struggling marriage
One of our culture’s greatest lies is that marriage is only about two people. Truth is, a marriage can’t succeed without help from family and friends.
“Marriage is a duet in need of background singers,” says my friend Ted Cunningham, a pastor and comedian. Couples need the encouragement of other couples — not just when a marriage begins, but also to keep it from ending.
But how do we, as background singers of a marriage, help one that has lost its harmony? These five steps can be helpful:
1. Be a great listener. The philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
Give your friend a safe place to vent. Pay special attention to his feelings, frustrations and pain. Instead of feeling pressure to say the right thing or come up with the perfect advice, just acknowledge what they’re feeling, being careful not to validate their wrong choices or unhealthy perspectives about their marriage.
2. Be an adviser. While marital encouragers should be mindful of giving too much advice, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk. But instead of being quick to offer advice, ask questions that encourage the couple to evaluate their emotions and to consider how they’ve each contributed to their martial issues. Soul-searching questions are often more effective than prepackaged platitudes
Encouragers also assist with finding the right help. Look for information together by visiting Christian websites, reading articles and blogs, and listening to podcasts. Encourage your struggling friends to see a licensed Christian counselor in their area. Focus on the Family offers a free counseling consultation and referral to a Focus-screened marriage therapist. Focus also has marriage intensive retreat centers with experienced marriage therapists trained to help couples in crisis.
3. Be trustworthy. Don’t talk about your friend’s situation with others — even as a prayer request. Keep what they share confidential. And be trustworthy to the friend’s spouse, as well. It’s tempting to criticize the spouse causing your friend pain. But remember, relationship problems are complex: Never forget that you’re hearing just one perspective. As you empathize with your friend, be careful that you don’t join them in criticizing their spouse.
4. Be a giver of hope. In a groundbreaking study, two-thirds of the people who were unhappy in their marriage but stayed together had a stronger marriage five years later. What helped those people who were unhappily married turn things around? Most of them actively worked to fix what wasn’t working. You can reassure your friend that they are not doomed to a lifetime of martial unhappiness.
Another aspect of offering hope is being transparent. Share your own marriage struggles with your friend. This will help them understand that marriage problems are normal.
5. Be on guard for your own marriage. Research shows that divorce is contagious and can actually “spread” among friends. Be alert so that your friend’s negative attitudes don’t prompt you to become discontent with your own spouse.
Married couples need YOU!
Marriage will always, in God’s definition, be between a man and woman — a husband and wife. But that doesn’t mean they’re in it alone. And when the relationship turns from better to worse, friends like you can help the marriage get back to where God wants it to be.