It can be hard to interact with people who live different lives than we do. As a single adult in a church that cares deeply about the marriage and family, I know many single adults who feel like their married friends, family, and church leaders are critical of their lives, hyper-focused on their single status, or insensitive to their unique experiences. I also know many friends, family, and church leaders that believe single adults are too defensive, not motivated, too comfortable and oh-so-distracted. There is truth in all of this.
This disconnect between single adults and married adults in the church has troubled me. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife is a mormon therapist who has written about this topic. She sums it up well:
When marriage is an essential achievement of earth-life, single adults represent an aberration from our theological ideal. If one doesn’t get married (whether by choice or lack of opportunity), and marriage is the desired state, it is very easy to treat singles as though they are in a prolonged adolescence, in a holding pattern, waiting patiently to arrive at true adulthood, for their lives to truly begin.
I would add that it is very easy to feel as if we are in a holding pattern. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. When we or others see us as though we are not whole people if not married, it causes unnecessary pressure, obsessive focus on marriage, and undermines our ability to serve and minister to others — all of which detract from the main goal of marriage itself.
No doubt this is a complex issue and one that I certainly haven’t completely resolved. However, in my own struggle to make peace with my current life and the married life I hope to live one day, I’ve noticed one thing that helps immensely to bridge this disconnect between married and single adults. A member of my church stood up once in front of our congregation and boldly declared that in spite of her “issues” all she ever wanted was to “feel loved and not judged.” Don’t we all want to feel that way?
So… how do we show love and not judgment? Here are some ideas that have helped me most as I interact with my friends and family.
Sincerely Ask About Their Life
Show genuine love and concern for the whole person, not just about their single status. Ask them about their hobbies, their friends, their job, their church experience. Ask questions that start with “Tell me more about… “ or “What’s your experience with…” or “How do you feel about…” Above all, show love. If you show your sincerity, they’ll likely talk to you about every aspect of their life… but only if they feel loved and not judged. This takes time. Especially if there’s previous hurt or frustration. Don’t give up! In your busy life, you might not have time for a deep conversation. Once while visiting my home ward, a family I barely knew passed me a note across the aisle, delivered by their 4 year-old boy. It said, “Lindsay – we’re so glad you are here – the Davis’ are big fans of you!” It’s been at least 4 years, and I still remember how I felt when I received that note.
Show Confidence In Them
Whether or not they share their life with you, try to find a way to show love and confidence for them. We all want to feel significant, important, valued. That we matter. I once heard Steve Young speak about his own search for marriage, and the rare opportunity he had to meet with several senior church leaders, seeking their advice. He eagerly anticipated each meeting but over the course of several years, he began to notice that their advice generally include the same two phrases no matter what their experience or authority on the topic. They would listen intently. Then, inevitably they would respond with some version of 1) “We love you.” and 2) “Good luck!” In my experience, that’s infinitely better than any dating story or marriage advice.
Find Things In Common
One way to show love and not judgment is to find things in common. It’s easy for us to get obsessed with ourselves. Share with us your own feelings and thoughts and life experiences. The reality is that our lives are more alike than different. And the private struggle you feel in marriage is no less a struggle than the one we bear alone. We hardly remember this. Remind us of the challenges you face and the human in us will respond. Whether married or single, those who are happiest find “all things common” among their family and friends.
Be an Example
A million times better than talking about marriage is seeing a marriage worth emulating. Great marriages seem easy to talk about, but hard to do. So when I see couple having fun, solving problems, loving each other, showing kindness in little things – that makes me want to get married more than anything! Show us why it’s worth it. With declining marriage rates, and increasing dysfunctional relationships, it’s imperative that we find good examples of marriage and family from which to set our sights on.
Pray for Them
Once, a friend of mine (who happens to be married with four kids and a busy job) emailed me and told me he was praying for me. I had to hold back the tears while sitting at my office computer. Not only did he take the time to ask me about my life, but he also asked God about my life. That meant the world to me. If you care enough about them, care enough to ask God “How would thou have me interact with thy son or daughter?” Because he loves both of you, God has double the reason to answer that type of prayer.
In Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegnar sums up the feeling of being loved and not judged in a simple backward glance: “Our necks craned for a last look at the people who above any other two on earth made us feel good, wanted, loved, important, and happy.” I’m forever indebted to the family and friends that make me feel this way.