Question: My brother and his wife are in the process of divorcing. My sister-in-law called my husband the other night to see if he would meet with her to provide counselling and advice. This bothers me. To my way of thinking, her request crosses the line of propriety – she should be discussing her problems with another woman, not my husband! He, on the other hand, feels that he might be able to help in some way. What do you think?

Answer: We think you should trust your feelings on this one. Even if your husband is gifted with unusual wisdom, and even if your sister-in-law genuinely values his opinion and considers him a good listener, it’s still vital to maintain proper boundaries in marriage. To put it more bluntly, you and your husband need to protect your own relationship. As we see it, the kind of help your sister-in-law is seeking requires a level of intimacy and trust between counsellor and counsellee that simply isn’t appropriate between a woman and a man who isn’t her spouse (unless, of course, the man is a professional therapist – and even then it’s important to proceed with great care).

The value of a professional counsellor

That’s not to mention that, from our perspective, you have good reason to feel uneasy about your sister-in-law’s request. For one thing, it’s hard to see why she needs to meet with your husband alone, one-on-one. If she really wants his input, invite her to come over and talk with the two of you sometime. For another thing, you’re absolutely right to insist that she’d be better off consulting with another female. A caring Christian woman would be in a far stronger position to relate to the distress she’s experiencing at this moment. What’s more, since she clearly looks to your husband as a kind and understanding person, we think he should be the one to elucidate these perspectives and set these limits with her.

Ideally, your sister-in-law needs to engage the assistance of a Christian marriage-and-family counsellor. Perhaps you’re familiar with a local counsellor or pastor to whom she can turn for help. If not, Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department can provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your area who specialize in communication issues. Our staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can contact them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800.

Maintaining boundaries

One last thought before closing. It’s obvious that your husband is a man of integrity and good sense. This is probably what’s inducing your sister-in-law to look to him as a mentor. He needs to realize that he gained this good reputation in the first place by setting reasonable boundaries. If he wants to maintain it, he’s going to have to maintain those boundaries and keep those fences in good repair. Our advice to both of you is to get on the same team and do everything you can to prevent the enemy of your souls from driving a wedge between you.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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