Are YOU a Marital First Responder?
Subtle, sometimes serious conversations are happening right now in your life and in the friendships around you. They may be one powerful line, whispered, or may be a long diatribe vent. These words happen by text, phone, email, drive by cubical conversations, at parties, and over the neighbors fence. Coffee shops, gossip among friends, at sports games, at religious social gatherings, and while hanging out with family at birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
We hear rumblings like….
- My husband makes me so frustrated coming home late every day. Nothing I do or say changes it and I’m going crazy.
- Why do I put up with his negative attitude? I deserve to be happy.
- She says we don’t spend enough time together. We had the entire weekend together and she just paid attention to the kids! I can’t win no matter what I do or don’t do.
- My wife says she’s thinking of leaving and I have no idea how to save my marriage.
- I’ve told him to stop drinking so much because it stresses me out. He’s sort of trying but it’s hard.
He thinks I’m just being a prude and need to relax.
- Very few of these conversations ever make it to a professional. Nor should they.Most of life happens away from professionals and experts.
This is real life.
We talk at various volumes (whisper to screaming angry) to people we trust, respect, or who at least give us the space to show our ugly side.
It’s in the ebb and flow of life that we share our intimate emotions, fears, frustrations and deeper desires, to our friends, our family members, sometimes to a coworker who isn’t as close in and can listen better.
We call a trusted listener to at least one other married person, a Marital First Responder.
YOU ARE A MARITAL FIRST RESPONDER IF:
“Anyone ever approaches you (online or in person) to complain, vent, get validation, support or ask what to do about a marriage issue they’re struggling with“.
This role isn’t one we officially sign up for. In fact it’s by being trustworthy we even find ourselves in a spot of being an ear (or…getting an earful!)
Catch It If You Can: These conversations can be fast – a last sentence before hanging up the phone is a whopper of a confession about something serious. Someone shares something really important then immediately backtracks and tries to claim they’re just having a rough day. Your kids soccer friends mom snarks something nasty about her husband as she heads out after practice. You want to engage more but they have to go or you have to go. How do you come back to something without seemingly intruding? Is it your business anyway? What’s your role in listening to their negativity and spouse bashing?
The Never Ending Story: They keep repeating themselves for weeks, months or years and you have lost patience!
Kick Back on (Seemingly) Sage Advice: You tell your friend what to do and it totally backfires. If you’re lucky, your friend isn’t mad at you for the new fight you helped create.
Marital Status Whiplash: Your own marital status is used as a weapon – if you’re not married, the friend flips it around that you can’t understand, or your marriage is nothing like theirs, or you got divorced so you can’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes. You don’t know how to respond especially because they came to YOU.
Silence Isn’t Golden: You have absolutely, positively know idea what to say sometimes and… to add insult to injury, you feel this moral obligation to be a wise owl in that exact moment.
Black Kettle Syndrome: You disagree with your friend or family member and have no idea how to tell them they’re being a jerk when they’re demanding support that their spouse is the bad guy.
Through our live workshops and online material, we lay out a way to help you in this precarious, exciting, sometimes terrifying role of being a listener to people you love!
We’ll summarize the course here but if you want to experience it yourself.
Unless you’re a Saint, you have your own flaws and those flaws can be part of a negative conversation you impart on an innocent friend or family member who comes to you with vulnerability.
Seven of the most common mistakes, or what we like to call “default” reactions, are listed below.
To see we all have instincts that sometimes get in the way.
Which are you:
- Smartie Pants
- The Interrogator
- Change the Subject
If you’re like some of our workshop attendees, you move through more than one in any given conversation! The point is that none of us are perfect and on our game all the time. Knowing where we veer off is the first step in really being there for our friend.
To learn the seven skills necessary to be truly present for our friend,
with healthy boundaries and the clear goal of being there for them, not being the expert.
L = Listen. Seems obvious but if you time yourself I bet you don’t last more than a few dozen seconds before interrupting! It’s an affiliction of a fast paced culture.
E = Empathize. This is easier for some of us, but it’s frightfully easy to ignore this part and jump to being a fixer.
A = Affirm. You know, when you go to the dr for a cold and the first thing they say is, “aw, you must be feeling so miserable right now.” You feel so warm and honored. We often fail to do this with our friends or family. Helping them see their own light inside a stressful situation. Unfortunately many of us affirm by way of destroying a spouse with things like “what a jerk!” or we hurt our friend by saying “I’d never put up with that!” Those are the opposite of what we mean.
P = offer Perspective. This isn’t in every conversation but sometimes a friend points something out and we go DUH! Sometimes we’re having a bad day and something on the news, or something in Facebook, pops us out and gives us perspective. The trick to perspective is to know enough about how normal marriages work to be wise. This is a huge area we’re helping people grow! Marriage counselors get this in spades – the research, the reality and the grounden reality of marriages outside the spotlight of social niceities and putting on a good front face.
More advanced skills that are often used first and generally are ineffective and sometimes backfire include:
C = Challenge. This is sparingly and always followed up by LEAP’ing. There are better and less effective ways of challenging. We humans do not generally like to be challenged so there is a fine line here.
A = Advise. Most of American pop culture seems to live here but it’s almost always a bad idea to give advice. This is also a horrible way to make someone feel like you care about them. When we talk to someone we want to feel deeply heard. Advice is often a cold slap. Even if we ask for it.
R = Offer Resources. Again many of us give up and tell someone to go get professional help. This is like telling a smoker to just stop. It isn’t effective nor does it get to the relationship between you and your friend and exactly why you really feel outside your comfort zone while feeling hope for them that someone with expertise in all this marriage stuff could really help them.
In and among all these skills is the ability to listen for feelings, not just the (sometimes wild!) content they’re sharing.
In other words, if your friend says:
I AM SO LIVID! My husband swore he’d be home in time but nope. Again, he was late and we missed our flight.
It cost us another $300 in change fees and had the start of our trip in a serious fight.
What can you hear? Do you feel mad for her and want to side with how annoying that would be? What else could be going on beyond the anger. And what do you think it is like to be the husband, running late and potentially dealing with an angry wife, hefty fees and a miserable start to a vacation. There are many ways to talk to your friend and only a few paths will calm her, give her affirmation of her feelings while also not bashing her marriage and inflaming her further about what was a frustrating, but unintentional scenario.
Another key ingredient in all this is holding good boundaries. By this we mean knowing where to let your friend or family member keep their dignity and grace, not intruding, but also not letting them poke at you, your marriage, or try to make you their professional marriage counselor. It’s a tough balancing act but workshop attendees start to relearn how they over or under function in certain relationships with the end result of being bitter, resentful or burned out with that person or the persons marriage.
To get a serious reality of normal marriages that our society deems abnormal and unhealthy.
We talk about the Triple A’s: affairs, abuse, addiction. These are not normal, acceptable, and require more crisis level work.
Every other problem (which include the top reasons for divorce) is what we call a Soft Problem. Triple A’s are the Hard Problems. Not being sexually compatible, growing apart, nagging, all the marital issues we all know about are soft problems.
This is a summary of what a Marital First Responder goes through in our course material!
There are a lot more moving parts that we cover.
To get started learning more, download our free guide to Getting Unstuck.