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Setting Healthy Boundaries With Mentorees

What do we do if we feel the other couple expects more from us than we can deliver? In other words, how do we set healthy boundaries without coming off as uncaring?

This is a great question. We’ve seen too many new marriage mentor couples feel like they have to be all things at all times to the couple they are mentoring. And that’s simply not the case. In fact, it’s not healthy. It’s not a good model for your couple to see.

That’s why recommend that you keep in mind what your job as a marriage mentor does not entail. This list can go a long way in doing just that:

A marriage mentor is not…

  • a mother or father. Your job is not to parent the couple you are mentoring. They already have parents. You are much more objective.
  • automatically a pal or a buddy. Your job is not necessarily to be friends for the purpose of socializing. This relationship is designed to help them build a stronger marriage.
  • “on call” for every little crisis. Your time is limited to discussion about major situations, not minor ones. If this isn’t clear to them, you need to let them know the difference. Use concrete examples (e.g., phoning from the grocery because you’re in a squabble over your budget is not appropriate).
  • necessarily committed long-term. The mentoring relationship may have a prescribed timeline or it may follow a natural cycle of its own. But that’s up to you and the couple you’re working with to determine. If your time is done and they are still needy, be sure to hand them off to another qualified couple.
  • a professor. Your job it not to instruct in the traditional sense. You don’t have to prepare lessons or do research. You’re not giving “professional” opinions. You’re simply sharing what has worked and what hasn’t in your own experience. Your life experience is your teaching tool.
  • a know-it-all. Your job is not to have all the answers. If you did, you’d come off as off-putting. When you don’t know something, you can always say, “I don’t know, but let me see if I can find out for you.”

Keep in mind if a the couple you are mentoring is expecting more from you than what a mentor should be doing, you need to gently remind them of your role in their lives. And if you sense that they are really needing a professional counselor, explore that option with them. Talk about it together so they clearly see that you are not counselors. You are mentors, walking along side them and sharing your experience for their benefit.

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