When we see the words “First Aid,” our immediate thoughts are perhaps on helping someone who has had an accident or has been hurt in some way. If this hurt is relatively small we can with First Aid probably give all that is needed to bring about full recovery; perhaps for example by providing antiseptics and bandages. However, if the hurts are more severe, First Aid will enable us to provide help by applying splints, a tourniquet or even perhaps giving artificial respiration, until professional help is forthcoming. We can often help the marriages of our friends and relations in a similar way. Either by helping them to sort out areas of difficulty themselves, or perhaps persuading them of the necessity to seek professional help from counsellors, when we see this is required. If we are the kind of person that people naturally turn to when they have difficulties, we will probably make good “First Aiders.” It is personal qualities like empathy and sensitivity, and not professional training which is important here. Some, who read this article might have attended a course at our Centre, so will be well aware of many of the problems that arise in married relationships. However, a word of warning! It is best if we help other couples as a couple ourselves; or if we can only initially help one of the couple then it should be by the one of us who is of the same sex. A level of emotional intimacy is easily created whilst discussing such a personal part of life, so we should avoid any one-to-one meetings with a member of the opposite sex, for the sake of our own marriage.
What might be expected of us in helping another marriage? Maybe for some it will be nothing more than listening properly. However for others we may need to gently point them in the right direction, always remembering that the couple in trouble have to ultimately find the answers themselves. We must avoid taking sides, which may be difficult if we know one spouse better than the other. Apportioning blame is impossible, as we never know all the facts, so we must not even try to. We must In fact remain non-biased in our appraisal of the situation, and show equal acceptance of what each spouse says; if necessary, we may point out to them that to help we must avoid taking sides.
Listening is a way to help show a couple that we are concerned for them, but we must make it obvious the we are really hearing them by showing open body language, attention and having comfortable eye contact. “Active Listening” as this is called, is something that we may need to practice to help others with their problems. Often, all a couple needs is to unburden their problems, and by listening to them, we are already providing a therapy. It also helps the couple to clarify their own thinking as they share their thoughts and feelings with us. This is helped by our reflecting a summary back to them, of what we feel they have said to us. Very often a major problem in marriage is that spouses do not listen to one another; and in their both talking to us, they may hear the other’s feelings for the first time! If one spouse is reluctant to talk however, we must make it clear that we consider their opinion is just as important as the other’s, in order for us to get a balanced view. We must always be aware however, when listening to the problems of the other’s, that we don’t absorb some of their anger. So it is important that we make a deliberate effort to revert from our “helper” role, back to our “husband/wife” role, otherwise our marriage may suffer!