Imagine you’re out to dinner with your girlfriends, catching up on life. About twenty minutes in, someone shares a silly story about her marriage. There’s laughter, nodding, maybe some eye-rolling. But then, a friend quietly admits that she and her husband are arguing. A lot. The conversation is no longer light-hearted and funny. Everyone secretly hopes someone else will respond.
What Should You Say?
It’s difficult to know what to say to a friend who admits a serious struggle in her marriage. Most of us aren’t trained counselors, and we may not have experienced the situation our friend describes. We often feel paralyzed by inadequacy and remain silent. Or perhaps we quickly share a few thoughts and hope for the best. Our desire to help is good, but if we’re not careful, our words may not be helpful.
In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says our words should build others up, be appropriate for the situation, and offer grace to whoever listens. These principles can help guide us as we navigate a conversation with our hurting friend. We can’t fix her marital problems. But we can help to build up her marriage by listening attentively, asking thoughtful questions, and encouraging her with the gospel.
Oftentimes, our initial response to a friend’s situation is to identify with her pain or relate to her struggle. If our friend is sad, angry, or discouraged in her marriage, we want to show empathy. As she recounts arguments with her husband, we might adopt some of her negative feelings toward him. Even if her feelings seem justified, we offer more grace by withholding bitter, angry, or malicious words about her husband (Eph. 4:31).
When someone shares a personal struggle, it’s natural to want to share one of our own. However, shifting the conversation to our own situation could make her feel neglected. A more fitting response may be to simply acknowledge her pain, express your sorrow over her struggle, and invite her to keep talking.
Ask Thoughtful Questions About Their Marriage
One way to discern appropriate words for our friend’s needs is to probe deeper into her situation. If you’re anything like me, this feels daunting. But we don’t need professional skills to tease out details.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- Tell me more. I know—it’s not actually a question, but these three words demonstrate your willingness to listen, a desire to enter into her struggle, and compassion toward her situation. Your words invite your friend to openly share more details.
- How would you describe your arguments? When you’re arguing, do you each have an opportunity to express your feelings, or is it one-sided? Our goal as a Christian friend is to lovingly build up her marriage, not tear it down. By asking her to evaluate the situation, we can provide an opportunity for her to objectively process what’s happening.
- In what ways have your words or actions contributed to the situation? In other words, where might you be at fault? I know this is an uncomfortable question. But if our goal is to help build up her marriage, then we can gently and lovingly invite her to consider her potential sin.
- Do you think you should seek your pastor’s—or perhaps even a professional counselor’s—help? How do you think your husband would feel about seeking help? Sometimes marital disagreements move beyond the realm of normal conflict between two sinners. The result can be unhealthy, damaging, or even destructive relational patterns. We’re wise to consider this possibility when talking with our friend, and we can encourage her to find additional help. If your friend expresses that her conflict with her husband has become abusive, assist her in seeking help from her local church.
Encourage Her With The Gospel
A woman who is constantly arguing with her husband will experience a variety of emotions. She might feel angry with her husband or even herself. She may think her marriage is awful and everyone else’s is perfect. Or she may feel anxious about the future, wondering if her marriage will be able to survive overwhelming conflict. The best antidote to her floundering soul is the truth of the gospel.
Ephesians 4:32–5:2 provides two specific truths about our relationship with God that can help to reorient her mind and change her heart. Paul says if you are in Christ, God forgives you (Eph. 4:32) and God loves you (Eph. 5:2).
Regardless of how difficult your friend’s situation may be, because Christ died in her place, her sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven. This frees her from self-condemnation and fear of future failures in her marriage. Because of Christ, we have unhindered fellowship with God characterized by forgiveness (1 John 1:3, 9).
But we aren’t just forgiven. Jesus’ love for us compelled him to give up his life. A woman who feels stuck in arguments with her husband needs the reminder of God’s unfailing, sacrificial, and eternal love (Eph. 5:1–2).
The gospel reorients us, but its power doesn’t end there. The gospel changes us. In light of what Christ has done for us, Paul says: be like God (Eph. 5:1). Imitate his forgiveness and embody his love.
In the midst of an argument, your friend’s words can be gracious, kind, and helpful because God is constantly making her more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). She can extend forgiveness when she’s hurt because she’s been forgiven (Eph. 4:32). No matter what may come, through the power of Christ at work in your friend, she can walk in Christ’s love toward her husband (Eph. 5:2).
A Marriage Without Conflict
There is no perfect marriage on this side of heaven. But every imperfect moment we experience in marriage reawakens our longing for the better marriage to come. One day, Christ will return to receive his bride, and he will dwell with her in total perfection, forever. There will be no arguing, no conflict, no hurt feelings, and no harsh words. We will experience complete and perfect marital harmony with Jesus, our Savior and the Lover of our souls.
Meet the author:
Lauren is a wife, mom to six, and writer who enjoys sharing her love for God and his Word through writing and teaching.