Relationship Connection: Should family get involved in marriage problems?


My daughter and son-in-law are struggling in their marriage. My daughter has hinted at the fact that they are contemplating separation and possibly divorce. I want to know what I can do to help them without being nosy and making things worse.


It seems that most marriages are only public in the beginning and at the end. What happens in-between is often a mystery to others who might be able to offer assistance and guidance through the years.

Research shows that most couples will wait an average of six years after problems begin before they ask for help. Without some type of intervention after problems begin, most couples will form patterns and behaviors that can cripple their union.

Here are a few ideas that might assist you as you contemplate how you can offer your support to this troubled couple.

First of all, recognize that you’ll be most helpful to this couple if you view yourself as a “friend of the marriage.” This is no time to side with your daughter against her husband. Your concern should be more about their marriage and less about each person’s side of the story.

Your daughter will naturally want you to side with her perspective. However, this may not be in the best interest of their marriage. You can still listen supportively to her concerns, but keep in mind you’re only hearing one perspective of the marriage. You might inadvertently encourage her to stay narrowly focused on her own painful perspective and neglect her responsibility to view her own contribution to their problems.

If there are dangerous patterns in the marriage, such as physical violence, work to ensure the safety of the affected individuals. Problems such as physical abuse, addiction, and infidelity require professional help. With the careful guidance of a marriage-friendly professional, your daughter and son-in-law can better navigate the delicate healing process.

Your job isn’t to referee their problems. Instead, they need to work out their marital differences with the unfailing support of family members who believe in long-term marriage. If your daughter has disclosed her concerns to you, encourage her to turn back toward her husband and decide as a couple what they can do to solve their problems.

I also recommend that you contact your son-in-law and offer your support and reassurance. Your ability to model a balanced perspective in their marriage difficulties will set a powerful precedent as they work to see both sides of the problem.

You can also share generalities of your own experiences in working out your own marital difficulties. Every couple struggles in their marriage to one degree or another. Your hard-won wisdom about the ups and downs of marriage will be a great source of encouragement to them.

Your daughter’s hints to you about her distress are an invitation to talk about the importance of preserving marriage and preventing the fallout of divorce. Your hope and encouragement can provide the support they’ll need as they work to preserve their union.


Stay connected!


Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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