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What the Heck Do You Say to a Friend Who Is Opening up About Marital Problems?
The Real Housewives of Atlanta's Nene Leakes admits her marriage is rough sometimes.
She admitted to Cynthia Bailey that Gregg is overwhelmed and scared following his cancer diagnosis, but that her own emotions are often forgotten in the struggle for him to recover. “I get that he is overwhelmed and he’s scared but I am overwhelmed too,” she said after being unable to reach Gregg on his phone. “It’s a lot for me. I don’t like ever get this emotional about stuff. This is really making me emotional. [I’m] so serious because I never get this upset about stuff.”
Nene revealed it felt like the two were going back to when they had serious troubles and considered breaking up. “I’m tired of putting on a face for everybody,” she said.
Gregg has since apologized on social media.
While Cynthia was supportive, it’s hard to know what to say when a friend opens up with such raw emotion about their marriage. There are things you can say to help — but things to avoid, also.
Family Life, a group that offers support for people going through rough patches in their marriages, details five ways to help (and five things to avoid) when listening to a friend who is hurting.
“First priority is to listen … When a friend is facing struggles in their marriage, it is a very important time to hear what they are experiencing with compassion. Fixing the situation is not your primary concern, hearing them out is,” it advised.
Be there as much as you can. “Often times the hurting person feels like a nuisance and needs reassurance that they are not a bother. Ideally, it is good for them to have 2-3 friends to go to.”
Running little errands also helps. “People in crisis need meals, childcare, groceries, etc. Being practical can be such a huge gift during the crisis phase of marital mayhem.”
What not to do?
Don’t offer advice or tell them what to do. “Your role is to offer perspective, encouragement, and empathy.”
This one is hard, but don’t badmouth the spouse. “This adds fuel to the fire of emotions they are feeling. If they say something negative, respond in an appropriate way without being negative yourself.”
Also, don’t make your friend’s problem take over your own life. Don’t talk smack about them to mutual friends and keep what they tell you private.
New York City-based life coach and therapist Dr. Liz Lasky, says that taking on your friend’s burden can be extremely stressful, so you need to look out for yourself too.
“Being a caregiver is extremely stressful. If a friend starts breaking down to you, the most important thing to do is listen. Oftentimes people who are in circumstances like this do not feel heard,” Dr. Lasky said. “The most important thing to do is ask your friend how you can be supportive to them. Asking questions like, ‘How can I be helpful? How can I be supportive? How can I be there for you?’ are great examples of being there for your friend.
The goal is for you to follow through on whatever their ideas may be. We never have to create a solution on our own. Sometimes people do not offer help because they do not know what to do. Sometimes we’re afraid to ask because we don’t want to upset the other person even more. Asking is a great solution. Once we ask our friends, they can give us clear direction on where they’d like the support.”