While the number of couples getting divorced (or ending their civil or de facto unions) is down a bit in New Zealand from over 12 per 1000 married couples in the late 1990s to below 9.8 per 1000 married couples in 2011, most of us are touched at some point by the divorce, separation or infidelity of a friend or relative.
How friends and relations react when a couple is in crisis makes a huge difference, often for the worse. I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple
Part 1 of 5 HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ An Affair Strikes
While it can make a difference to how you feel about your friend if you know whether they are the unfaithful or the hurt partner in an affair, the following tips apply to both scenarios.
- Resist the urge to judge. Not all affairs are all bad. As I tell couples who come to me, affairs can be the death knell of a relationship, or the wake up call. When affairs are first discovered it is hard to know which way things will go and certainly there are two sides to every story. If you, as a dear friend or relative, sit in vocal judgment you may well interfere with the genuine insight, growth and healing that can come out of an affair.
- Be their friend, not their shrink . By all means be a good friend and listen, empathise, ask clarifying questions and be non-judgmentally supportive, but seeing your friend through the aftermath of an affair – no matter what role your friend played – goes over and above the bounds of friendship. Hug them, cry with them, then help them find a good professional – you’ll both be glad of it in the end.
- Don’t succumb to gossip. Betraying trust and trafficking in endless opinions about what’s happening, who’s right, who’s wrong and what “should” be done, does not help anyone. Let your friends know you trust the couple is getting help and change the conversation by discussing ways to support both of them.
- Extend invitations to your friend… repeatedly. Often a therapist will suggest the couple touched by an affair take some time apart. This does not indicate divorce any more than going to bed with the flu indicates death, so don’t treat your friends as though they were highly contagious. It can be a lifeline to know that friends are still reaching out, still care, and are willing to choose human decency over judgmental ostracism. Even if your friend turns you down repeatedly, keep asking. Whether you invite him or her for dinner next week or a cup of tea right now, even if the answer is “No thanks!” they will see you care.