Q: I'm 19 years old and living with my parents while I attend college close to home. They're having a really hard time in their marriage. I'm trying to be supportive to both of them, but they try to put me in the middle of their arguments. If I don't take a side, then they are angry with me. I feel helpless. How can I help them see how it is affecting me?
Jim: My heart goes out to you. We often hear of the wounds a troubled marriage can inflict on young children, but your experience shows that it can happen to adults as well.
Author Sandi Greene has written about the pain she experienced as a result of her parents' divorce. I'm not suggesting your own parents are destined for divorce, but I think you'll find Sandi's advice helpful.
First, she recommends that you not become isolated. Do you have close friends nearby, or classmates, or a pastor to whom you can talk about your frustrations? Don't endure this situation alone.
Second, don't allow yourself to believe that the problems your parents are experiencing are your fault. You didn't cause them, and it's not your responsibility to fix them.
Third, don't be drawn into taking sides. You can't play referee, and you can't be expected to pit one parent against the other. When they try to draw you into the melee, walk away.
Finally, forgive your parents to the extent possible. It's wrong for them to manipulate you in this way, but try to understand that by drawing you into their arguments, they're attempting to deal with their own pain in an inappropriate manner.
Finally, talk openly and honestly with your parents about the pain this situation has caused. Urge them, as lovingly as possible, to seek counseling. This will help them work through their issues with an objective third party, and relieve you of the burden of trying to be their mediator.
Q: I just found out my wife has been having an emotional affair over the Internet. I'm devastated. She's having a hard time letting this other man go. I want to place some boundaries on her external relationships and gain trust again. How can we rebuild our marriage?
Dr. Greg Smalley, executive director of marriage and family formation: I'm sorry to hear about this painful situation. Certainly, your wife needs to decide whether she'll commit to you or continue contact with this other man. But until she makes that decision, you need to take care of yourself. Your real fight is to keep your heart open to her. And to do this, you need the support of close friends, a pastor or a counselor. You need to talk about your pain and emotions. These are not "gripe" sessions. Talking with trusted confidants will help you keep your heart open and think through your decisions.
Once own support network is in place, you'll be prepared to ask your wife a direct question: "Are you or are you not willing to work with me to save this marriage?" If she's willing, she has only one choice: to cut off all contact with the other man.
As you grapple with the fallout, make every effort not to give in to the extremes of "all my fault" or "all your fault" thinking. Don't insist on knowing why your wife has been having an affair. Instead, ensure that she's willing to start over.
Most importantly, you and your wife need to seek out an experienced counselor. Contact Focus on the Family for a free consultation with a licensed counselor, as well as a referral to a qualified professional in your area.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.