Every parent wants to see their children grow to live happy and successful lives. This is why it can be difficult to watch from the sidelines as their marriage is falling apart. Many parents have stayed up at night trying to think of how they can best help their adult children, or even if they should help at all.

Determining what you should and shouldn’t do can be tricky. A lot depends on the nature of your relationship with your adult child and their spouse. What permission have they given you to speak into their marriage?

In matters that may involve abuse, violence, or anything that threatens personal safety, take swift action to ensure everyone is safe. *The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) 

However, if, by “falling apart” you mean issues such as an inability to communicate or connect in any meaningful way, growing distant, despising each other, constant arguing, or pure self-centeredness by one or both people, then this is for you.

What can you do about it?

  • Know your limits. You will always be a parent to your child. Pam Johnson, marriage therapist, says, “You know them as a child, but not as a spouse.” Without being married to that individual, you can’t know the fullness of their experience. 
  • Encourage them to work on their relationship. Give your adult child some things to think about when selecting a marriage counselor. Suggesting a marriage counselor you have a strong relationship with may not be the best move, especially if you’re concerned the counselor won’t be objective because of the familiarity. 
  • Set boundaries… Particularly for what you will and won’t listen to. Johnson encourages parents to avoid conversations that would make it difficult to forgive their child’s spouse. Often the adult child is sharing their perspective because they want you to take sides. It would be helpful to say, “You need to share that, but it’s best for you and your marriage for you to share with an objective third party.” As much as you want to be unbiased, the emotional closeness between you and your child can drive a bigger wedge in the marriage.
  • Support their relationship and them getting help. You might babysit to give your child and their spouse time alone, help pay for marriage counseling or do other things that strengthen their relationship. Tell them about Maximize Your Marriage.
  • Encourage them to be adults about their situation. In other words, encourage them to give all they can to work it out, hear and understand one another, and learn to be a team.

A few don’ts:

  • Avoid deciding you know best. Should they stay together? Should they divorce? That’s not the question you need to answer for them. And likely, they won’t let you answer it for them anyway.
  • Don’t make it easy for them to give up. As I mentioned earlier, with safety and health issues, help them get into a safe situation. But for many other instances, Johnson notes that making it easy for your child to leave their marriage and come home and stay with you isn’t helpful.
  • Don’t counsel. Expert counselors often won’t even give advice about their child’s marriage. It’s so easy for emotions to get involved. 
  • Don’t take sides. There are always two sides. Encourage them to do all they can to clearly understand each other’s perspectives.
  • Don’t try to control. You can’t control their thoughts, actions, or intentions. Even when we see the mistakes they may be making, we have to allow them to be adults and make their own decisions. 

Our children will inevitably make decisions that we disagree with and mistakes that could’ve been avoided. Ultimately, just like the coach has to allow their players to make the plays on the field, our kids have to make their plays in life. To love, accept, encourage, and give them space (even if you disagree with them) may be the secret to having the positive impact you desire. 

Other helpful resources (to help you help them):

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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