Maybe your friend has confided in you that something is missing from the romantic relationship or marriage and he or she is considering an affair. Or perhaps your intuition tells you your friend might be headed in that direction. Affairs can cause a great deal of pain to both partners and often put the relationship at risk of falling apart. You want to help, but you're not sure how.
Advice Doesn't Work - Information Might
Edgar Schein, PhD, author of “Helping: How to Offer, Give and Receive Help,” says advice does not help people make healthy decisions. Instead, find out what's important to your friend first, and use what you learn to assess what kind of information might have the most impact. For example, if your friend is very proud of his role as a father, you might want to give him an article that shows the effects of marital instability on children.
What Your Friend Should Know About Affairs
Frank Pittman, author of the classic, "Private Lies: Infidelity and the Betrayal of Intimacy," suggests that affairs can deepen the very problems they set out to relieve; the secrets and lies that keep an affair alive push partners in the primary relationship farther apart. The ensuing guilt and the broken trust are additional hurdles to overcome after disclosure of the affair. Most children suffer ill effects upon learning that a parent had an affair and friends and family members often lose respect for the adulterer.
What Your Friend Should Know About Healthy Relationships
Keeping a relationship alive requires work, according to Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., author of "Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples,". While it may seem counter-intuitive, when the relationship seems the most troubled, that is often when it has the most potential for promoting personal growth for both partners. Considering an affair is normal even in good relationships and if the individual can use the temptation as a sign that serious work is needed, the emotional energy that threatens to be taken outside the relationship can, instead, be used to help resolve its problems and increase intimacy.
How to Approach the Subject
Given your knowledge about your friend, it's up to you to decide whether it is best to set aside some time to sit and talk together or to more casually and intermittently mention ideas such as those discussed above. As suggested by Schein, one of the best approaches is invite your friend to share what is troubling him or her about the relationship. Once your friend feels really understood, he or she may be open to the recommendation to work this out with his or her partner or to begin couples counseling. Even if your friend resists your attempts to help, the fact that you cared enough to try will not be forgotten.