If you have a close friend or loved one that is having marital problems or going through a divorce, you most likely want to do everything you can to help them. Your first instinct when they come to you may be to offer them advice, provide false hope, or criticize their spouse. However, this is not the best approach. The best thing you can do if someone has come to you to discuss their issues is to simply listen. Being there for emotional support is much more beneficial than asserting your own beliefs or opinions into the situation. When you start to assert yourself into the problems, people tend to say judgmental things, end up talking about themselves, and take sides, which is the last thing that the person going through issues wants to hear. One way to help remember your role as a listener is to remember that you are only hearing one side. If you offer any advice or give your two cents, you may be doing so without having the full picture and be jumping to conclusions. Below is a list of some Do’s and Don’ts.


  • Listen
  • Emphasize (but make sure it is towards their pain and not the details of their story)
  • Focus on nonverbal communication 
  • Reflect the person’s feelings back to them
  • Affirm their strengths 
  • Make them feel as though they are being heard
  • Use “I” statements, such as “One of the things I learned is that when I…”
  • If advice is needed (because the person is in danger of making a poor decision), it should be specific and infrequent
  • Recommend a book, the name of a marriage therapist, or a couples retreat
  • Help the person maintain some hope 
  • Help the person come to their own decision
  • Maintain boundaries
  • Keep your personal feelings in check 



  • Provide put-downs
  • Accept affairs, addiction, or abuse as normal  
  • Become a “confidant” to both parties
  • Be judgmental 
  • Diagnose or overanalyze any problems or feelings
  • Talk too much about yourself
  • Dismiss or diminish the problem
  • Take sides
  • Undercut the relationship
  • Offer solutions outside of your expertise
H. Van Smith
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Trusted Virginia Attorney Serving Richmond to Williamsburg