4 Lessons Learned from Taking Sides
Understand BOTH Perspectives
Before my wife and I started to work with couples, I had an experience that taught me the importance of not taking sides and hearing from both partners in a relationship.
I knew Brian from church and he had explained that he and his wife, Cathy, were having some problems. We met for breakfast so that Brian could explain what was going on.
We sat down and made small talk while we ordered breakfast. I could tell that Brian was in tough shape. He went on to explain to me that he came home from work and Cathy was sitting on the sofa with an old boyfriend. He blew his top. He was convinced that she was having an affair.
I listened to Brian and I felt for him. Cathy was also a friend, but I could not believe that she would act this way. I immediately took his side. I told him that I thought she was way out of line and he had every right to be upset.
Later, I learned the more of the story. Cathy told me about how Brian had been distant and angry for months. He would go out of his way not touch her in any way. If they passed each other in the hallway, he would press up against one wall so that he didn’t come close to her. Cathy felt completely ignored and dismissed.
When an old boyfriend called, she invited him over. I never did find out if she had an affair. Siding with Brian without understand her perspective made me the enemy and she wouldn’t talk to me.
I certainly made some mistakes and learned some lessons.
Hearing only one side is very common in marriage ministry and mentoring. Often, we get asked to meet with one person. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen. Other times, I sense that they are trying to get people on their side to gang up on their partner.
Here’s four lessons that I’ve learned.
1. There are Always Two Perspectives
We all have our own perspectives. It’s always interesting to me that couples can come out of the same experience and disagree on what actually happened.
Cathy and Brian obviously had different perspectives on what was happening. Brian was fixated on her meeting with an old boyfriend. Cathy was fixated on Brian’s distance.
I’m not saying the Cathy was justified in meeting with a boyfriend, but neither was Brian justified in distancing himself.
In truth, they had some real issues that had created a great deal of resentment on both sides.
2. It’s Easy to Take Sides
I took Brian’s side because I could see his hurt. That was a mistake.
Since Brian was wrapped up in his own hurt, he didn’t consider Cathy’s perspective. I’m not sure he even understood what her perspective was. He certainly didn’t explain all of his poor behavior to me.
When I came out strongly that Cathy was in the wrong, it reinforced Brian’s indignation. In other words, I put fuel on his fire. Talk about making it worse!
Now, I’ve learned to listen to the one perspective and ask questions about it. When I find myself in that position, I remind myself that I don’t know the full story. I listen and help the person to process their own emotions and thoughts. I pray for them.
It’s better to stay neutral and focus on what would build up the relationship.
3. There May Be Odd Dynamics Later
If you take sides on an issue, it can create odd dynamics.
When my wife and I were having marriage problems, I would often go to a friend’s house and complain to him and his wife. They would listen to me telling them all about what my wife had done wrong. Michelle and I were able to repair our marriage.
About ten years later, I suggested that the four of us go out for dinner. His wife was so angry at my wife that they didn’t want to get together. I was shocked. It had been ten years. She had become so invested in my side of the story that she thought poorly of my wife. I had gotten over it, but she hadn’t.
Believe me, there were two sides to my story and I was also in the wrong.
Resentment from your friend could also be an issue. If you have said poor things about their partner, they may resent those things once they rebuild their marriage.
4. Taking Sides Makes It Hard to Work with the Couple
When I took Brian’s side, it basically shut Cathy down. At least, she didn’t want to talk to me or to my wife.
One time we were asked by a woman if we would meet with her alone. She wanted to explain what was going on in their marriage. I think she honestly wanted us to help and she was hurt by her husband’s behavior.
We were nervous about this for a couple of reasons. First, we wanted to get his side. We had learned that there are always two perspectives and we wanted to hear both of them. Second, we were afraid that he wouldn’t know what we had talked about. He may feel that we were ganging up on him.
We told her that we would be happy to meet, but we wanted to see the two of them together. She agreed. The meeting ended up being very productive.
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Remember the Two Sides – It’s not always possible to meet with the couple together. Remember that you are only hearing one side of the story and their partner may have a completely different experience.
- Stay Neutral – This can be tough to do. You can help someone by listening, empathizing and praying.
- Build the Relationship – I keep a simple thought in mind. What will build up their marriage and what will tear it down?