Former Divorce Lawyer Offers Perspectives on Marriage with Toni Nieuwhof

Thanks for joining this week’s unSeminary podcast. This week I’m excited to talk with Toni Nieuwhof. Toni’s extensive experience as a family lawyer, pharmacist, and church leader has given her unique and practical insights on how people grow emotionally, personally and spiritually.

Although we don’t know the impacts of the pandemic on marriages and the divorce rate yet, it’s clear that families are seriously struggling on many levels under the strain. Some couples are at risk of splitting without clearly understanding why they’re leaving and what lies ahead. Listen in as Toni talks with us about how church leaders can come alongside couples that are really struggling and help them leave their unhappiness, rather than their marriages, behind.

  • Steer toward humility. // As a church leader, if you a have couple that is really struggling with each other, both individuals may want to get the pastor on their side. This kind of blame dynamic is something leaders don’t want to contribute to in any way. Steer the conversation toward each person being more self-reflective. Help each of them to become aware that if they’re laying blame on each other, they’re probably telling themselves a victim story that blurs their vision. Help each person see their own role and recognize the impact of pride while steering them toward humility.
  • Recognize your limits. // You may feel the call to meet with people who are struggling, but know that you have no experience as a counselor. Keep a list of vetted Christian counselors who you have confidence in and who have the experience to help couples who are struggling. Focus on guiding the couple into conversations about forgiveness.
  • Be neutral. // Be intentional about not aligning yourself with one person or the other. You see just a small portion of what is going on in the marriage, and one partner may be able to be more communicative about their side of the conflict while the other is quiet. Don’t let this draw you to one person’s side. Help each person to recognize they have a role in this situation and to take the plank out of their own eye rather than looking for the speck in their spouse’s eye.
  • Be an advocate for the kids. // Parents who are in a bad place with each other may have a hard time seeing what is happening from their kids’ perspectives. Be an advocate on behalf of the kids to help the parents see what they’re not seeing. Help them recognize that the kids are on this rough journey also. Encourage the parents to focus on what they can do to bring more kindness and respect to their family space. Having a level of cooperation for the sake of the kids is essential no matter what.
  • Recognize the value. // Sometimes when parents are really struggling with each other, they lose sight of the value that the other parent is bringing to their child’s life. Help parents to create emotional safety for their children by supporting each other. Encourage a couple to help each other win as parents even if they’re struggling as spouses. A couple needs to recognize that the other parent has value in their children’s life regardless of what happens to their marriage.
  • Personal growth and self-awareness. // Personal growth and self-awareness are key in developing good habits in marriage. Help a couple to take advantage of the resources out there to become more self-aware. Tools such as learning about love languages or the enneagram help individuals to become a student of their spouse. Also, issues like childhood trauma may not manifest itself until people are married adults. If there’s a hot button issue, there is probably something underneath it. Equip struggling couples with tools and resources that will set the groundwork for open and honest communication.
  • Solutions to the pitfalls. // Toni’s book Before You Split: Find What You Really Want for the Future of Your Marriage is aimed at the couple who is in that serious place of struggle and wondering what they should do. It walks people through issues that can really trip them up in marriage (such as baggage from the past, expectations, emotional intelligence, peacemaking, protecting the kids, and forgiveness) and helps them head in the direction of healing.

You can learn more about Toni and her book at You can also hear Toni speak on the Smart Family Podcast with Dr. Rob Meeder.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Chemistry Staffing

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  1. Thanks for this very helpful post. We’ve been running The Marriage Course at Menlo Church since last summer and just launched our third round of the program which has been so amazing. We’ve had over 260 couples register and it’s helped people who are happily married deepen their relationships and those who were struggling tell us that it’s been even more helpful than counseling for them. Not that therapy is not important, but it’s beneficial in a different way.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.