Trained third party help

December 13, 2010

Marriage Problems © Sveppi | Dreamstime.comI sometimes use the phrase “Trained third-party help”, and I would like to clarify what I mean by that.

First third-party Simple enough – it’s someone other than you and your spouse – a third person added to the mix. It’s amazing what a third-party can see. We can get so wrapped up in our situation and our perspective that we can’t see things that are very clear to others. Beyond that, the third-party is not directly involved, does not (or should not) have a side (has no dog in the fight as it were), and thus has no pride at stake. A third-party does not always mean a stranger, and it can be someone who knows one spouse better than the other. If their goal is to resolve issues and better the marriage, rather than to gang up on one spouse, a friend can help.

As for trained, maybe trained is not the right word – perhaps skilled would be a better word. Training can make one skilled, but great skill can be had without formal training, and sometimes folks have a natural talent for something such that they need very little training to be very good. Additionally, experience can be a great teacher, and sometimes a friend who has walked a similar path is all one needs.

The level of skill and training needed depends on the situation. Minor issues can be resolved with the help a friend or two. A couple with a good solid marriage can be a huge help in some situations. If the problem is bigger, or has not been resolved by talking with friends, then more skill is needed. The more complex and/or unusual a problem is, the more picky you will have to be. Just because someone is trained in general does not mean they have experience or skill with every possible marital problem. Those who are professionally trained will be very up front about this, and will generally refuse to deal with you if they have no training for something unusual you are dealing with.

Be aware that you have to connect and fit with anyone helping you. The bigger the issue, the more important this is. A counsellor who is world-famous is of no use to you if you or your spouse don’t feel connected and comfortable with that person. Personality issues can make or break a relationship with third-party help. If you and/or your bride are following Jesus, you need to fit in this area as well. Some non-Christian counsellors have training that allows them to work with Christians in ways that don’t violate their faith. If you have an uncommon issue to deal with, or live away from a major city, this may be something you need to consider.

Please be aware that third-party help, no matter how skilled, can’t fix you, your spouse, or your marriage. Only you and your spouse can do the necessary work; the third-party can give you insight and offer ways to proceed, but they cannot do it for you. You have a journey to take, and the third-party is offering you a map that shows safe and dangerous places, good roads and bad roads. If you and your spouse are both willing, a good map will ensure success – but the two of you still have to make the journey and deal with any obstacles along the way.

A few sources of third-party help, and what to expect with each:

  • Friends: You already know and trust them, which is great. You may not (and should not) feel comfortable discussing some issues, which is a limitation. If the friend shows favouritism, or you or your spouse feel they do, it’s not going to work out. Good for simple things that have not grown too large.
  • Lay-counsellors/lay-pastors: These folks have some training, and if done right some oversight or someone they can call on if they get in too deep. Often these people have some personal experience with whatever they are now helping others with, and that is usually a plus. If they stick to what they know, tell you if you get into something they don’t know, and can maintain confidentiality, they can be significant help in a wide range of marital and personal areas. Lay-help is usually free or very low-cost, which is sometimes an important issue. A great first choice for many things.
  • Pastors: Being a pastor does not mean that a person has been trained to counsel, nor does it mean the person is gifted in helping others in this way. Some pastors are awesome counsellors, others are not, and some should be receiving marriage counselling. Ask about training and experience. Also consider what you will be sharing, and if you will find it difficult to face with your pastor after sharing personal parts of your marriage. Generally a no cost option. May or may not be of any use depending on the issue and the pastor’s training, but a good choice if a good fit.
    Note: Pastors can be a great source of direction for seeking help, as they may have a good awareness of who is available and the strengths and weaknesses of various people.
  • Counsellor/therapist: Individuals who have training and certification are generally the safest and surest choice, but there are both emotional and financial issues that may keep folks from using them – even when their marriage desperately needs “professional help”. Many problems never need this level of help, but some are only going to be resolved at this level. Don’t waste time with other forms of third-party help if this is what you need, or if the others clearly are not getting the job done. Never a bad choice, but sometimes over kill and sometimes too expensive.

GospelGuidance - Gospel Guidance - Chat Online with Christian CounselorsBottom line – get help when you need it. Waiting too long can make a small problem large, or make a manageable problem unmanageable.

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Hi Mabeme It was me who posted the top problem. Thank you for your response, I had really hoped to receive some good advice. It has now been about a year and a half since this happened and the pain is mostly gone. The Third-party help was a complete waste of time, my wife found bringing it up too painful so I still don't feel like I have properly discussed all the issues with her and I am not sure if I ever will, but I live by God's grace, forgiveness and love. In terms of feeling connected, that was my first thought also. We had been seperated due to work/study and we were only seeing each other on weekends for eight weeks. I had tried to change that but she had told me that she did not want to disrupt our work/studies for this so I stepped down. I have since realised that I have been too controlling in the past and I have learnt many lessons since then. I would write more but I have exams coming up very soon. I would be happy to write more in three weeks if you would like it, but I remember the pain I went through then and I wanted you to know that you are in my prayers. My thoughts as to your situation are briefly this: 1. I know I personally have a lot of difficulty focussing on more than one thing at a time and when I manage it I do not enjoy either. Intense deep concentration is natural and enjoyable for me, but it has led to some people, my wife included, think that I am obsessed with things other than them. Now if I were talking to your husband I would say different things, but to you I say this; is it that he forgets you are a part of his life or is it that he has difficulty focussing on more than one thing at a time? 2. One of my pet peeves is the idea that men are less effective at communicating their emotions. I disagree. Unless your husband is autistic, he has emotions and does express them. However the way he expresses them is most likely different. Personally (and for most men I know) I divide my emotional thoughts broadly into positive and negative. Negative thoughts are more easily understood by our wives as we communicate them in a way that is more easily understood, "why did you do this?", "I am unhappy you did this", "that person is really annoying", or we just get angry/passive-agressive/withdraw, or whatever. Positive emotions are less well understood by our spouses (in my limited experience). Has he tried to tell you about his other hobbies? what was your reaction to that? If he has tried to communicate his hobbies to you, this IS him communicating his emotions. "Doing X was fun/exciting", "I succeeded in doing X" these are emotions we are proud of, these are positive emotions. However our spouses often seem to interpret these as "he cares about hobby X more than me." That is not the case, we are just trying to talk! When I meet up with a male friend if he is uninterested in my hobby I will not talk to him about it. Therefore if, when he talks about a hobby you indicate that you are not interested in it then he will not talk about it. He then feels you are not interested in his emotions and becomes confused when you say that he does not talk about his emotions. Do you see what I mean? So my second question is this; has he tried to share his hobbies with you and did you show any interest? 3. Do you still see your husband as you are seperated? if so how often? If he has chosen to live away and not make the changes necessary to live as you indicate then there is a strong chance he does not want to make those changes as where he currently lives is a simpler life. This hurts, believe me I know how much this hurts. My wife has (since this last event) chosen to live away from me for another 8 week period partly because I was becoming more controlling since this last event and partly because it was a good work opportunity. I know how much it hurts when they do not choose to be near you. My question then would be, is there anything you are doing that might contribute to him not feeling comfortable living around you? I know there were things I was doing that made my wife less comfortable. My recommendation is next time you see him ask him about one of these other hobbies and try to show a genuine interest to learn more and see how it goes. He may just share his emotions as they regard his hobbies - that may well be the start of his emotional life. There are so many more things I could write but I really must head off. If you would like me to write more I will be happy to do more after my exams in about 3 weeks but either way know that you and your husband are in my prayers. I leave you with the reflection that kept me going in the hardest times: On Ephesians 5 - the part about marriage I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church. So when I talk to her and she does not listen, I love. When she disregards my wishes and feelings, I love. When she runs after other men and not me, I love. When she flogs, insults and humiliates me, I love. When she delivers me up to be killed, I love. Then and only then will I love as Jesus loved.


From a woman's perspective, I would say that your wife is looking for thrill and excitement that she thinks is missing in her life. Whenever I have contemplated throwing my beliefs and commitment to the wind, it has been when my husband has not been "connected" emotionally to me. I need that intimacy connection from our emotional/relational life to have the "in love" feeling with him. While I have never cheated on my husband, I can't say that I have not been extremely tempted. My husband treats me like a hobby. Do you understand what that is like? He "remembers" his hobby (me) ocasionally when he needs sex, or when he is bored. When he is working (he travels) or working on another hobby (facebook, blogs, discussion boards, tv, surfing the Internet) he forgets that I am even a part of his life. I feel like there is not real interest in having a relationship that is part of his emotional life, he won't let me in there. How I would love to be able to share everything with him. We have been going to counseling for a year, and there is no change. I love this man and want to preserve my marriage but right now it looks pretty hopeless. Yes, I have thought about cheating, but only because I feel like I am just a hobby, he really doesn't think of me as a living, thinking, hurting person, to him I am a sidebar on an internet page. I have been "blinking" for a long time and he is good at ignoring the signs. My advice is to ask your wife what it was that she was missing that made cheating a better option than staying faithful. Most women (in my experience) don't cheat when they feel totally connected to their husband. Where was that connection broken? Obviously, I need your prayers. My husband and I are separated and have been for 15 months. I asked him to go back to his empty home about 150 miles away and fix it up in order to sell it or rent it out, so that we could afford to buy a house together. He hasn't done anything to make that happen, the house needed work, but he continues to live there and just tells me that it will get done. I don't know what to do at this point.

Philip Cohen
Philip Cohen

That really sucks. My prayers are with you

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Posting this for someone: I have been following these posts for about 3 years (married for 2 and a half) and I have found them to be very helpful in reminding me to live as a Christ centred generous husband. I was wondering if anyone had some wisdom and/or advice for me. Two days ago my wife told me she had sex with another man about six weeks ago. She met him randomly on the train on an overnight trip, they had sex (on the train) and she has never seen him again. She has apologised and is sorry for the pain she has caused me and the offence she showed God. We have spoken to our pastor – who is a wise man encouraging us both. We have also looked for trained help (although selection is limited as we live in rural Australia) and hope to meet with someone soon. I love her. I love her a lot and I want to stay with her. She says she loves me also and I believe her, and she wants to stay with me. She tells me that I have been an amazing husband and that she loves our relationship (part of the reason she was so afraid to tell me as she did not want to damage our relationship and did not want to hurt me). I am sure that this is not all one sided and I am working to identify areas where I may have made this a greater temptation for her (and am trying to change areas where I can be more loving). But I can sincerely say I have been trying my hardest since day one and before to make this the best marriage I can. I hurt so much. How can she resist my attempts at seduction with the ease of breathing and fall for a man she has never seen before? How can she feel uncomfortable with me being affectionate in public and have sex with another man on a TRAIN? How can I trust her not to let this happen again? Another episode where she kissed a random man occurred late last year and she shed the same tears and made the same promises as this time. How do I know it will not happen again? How do I trust her? How do I get over the pain? How do I get over this fear? I cannot follow her 24hrs a day and that would neither be trusting nor loving. I want to rant and rage, but I know that it will only make her feel less able to confide such things to me in the future. So I listen and I do not shout. I tell her I am hurt, she tells me she is sorry, I ask her to promise never to do this again, she promises, we cry. But she has moved on, or so it seems. She has taken six weeks to come to terms with this and I have had two days. I am afraid to confess to her and express how deeply hurt I still am, how my heart cries. I have already said it once, so she knows it and I can give her only repetition of what I have already said. I do not want to “make her pay” or “guilt trip” her – I want to forgive and love her more. I want to grow closer together through this incident by God’s grace in Jesus. But my heart hurts and I don’t know how to tell her, as I said she seems to have moved on. She appears to accept me being a bit rattled and out of sorts, despite the effort I am putting in to continue to be loving and thoughtful, but it is a great effort and she does not seem to realise or appreciate that. I hurt so much. Does anyone have any experience/wisdom/advice? Thank you -Anonymous through shame