Navigating the finer points of close confidants
Q&A with Dr. Doug Weiss
When it comes to relationships, “It’s complicated” holds true for a lot more than just romance. For any man who’s had a friend his wife doesn’t like, isn’t sure how to confront a friend in the midst of a messy divorce, or for married men who aren’t sure whether they should stop being friends with other women altogether, it can be tough to figure out what the “right approach” is in some of these more tricky situations.
In this feature, we’ve sought the advice of Dr. Doug Weiss, a professional Christian counsellor, for his thoughts on what to do when friendships get messy.
1. How do you know if it’s time to end a friendship? Is there a proper way to do it?
Over the last decade I have sat with several groups of business people. The topic of when to fire an employee is one question that has come up several times at these meetings. Typically the response is, the first time you think about it. With a friend, you might not want to react as quickly, but clearly the time has come to do some serious thinking about your friendship with this person.
There are a couple of variables you need to think about before ending the friendship. First, is that person becoming a bad influence, encouraging immoral behaviour or leading you in the wrong direction? Did he do something to hurt you or betray your trust? Secondly, how deep and how long is the relationship?
There are three ways to end a friendship. In a passive manner you would stop initiating contact or responding to communication or opportunities to get together. In an aggressive way you are abrupt, even rude in ending a relationship. The third was is assertively. In this way you communicate your challenge in the relationship respectfully, and if it can be resolved, great, otherwise the relationship needs to end.
2. My wife dislikes one of my friends. She’s told me that I need to stop hanging out with him. Is there any way to keep the friendship?
Women perceive these things differently and are usually looking out for you and your family’s best interests. If you’re only looking at it from your perspective, that would automatically lead to a disconnect in the conversation.
Ask her (and really listen) to discuss her concerns and feelings about this person. Honour what she is saying and strongly consider her thoughts. If your friend has significant character issues, she is concerned he will influence and weaken you, which can, in turn, can hurt her. There are three options to consider: you can offer to see this person less, or only in a certain context; you can end the friendship to avoid building resentment with your wife; or together you can talk to your pastor and his wife so you can get further guidance.
3. I am getting married this summer. Like most guys, some of my friends also happen to be women. Does my friendship with them need to change? Is it even possible for men and women to be “just friends?”
Go to five spiritually mature women and ask this question. This will help you move this from a personal issue between you and your fiancée to principles to live by. When you commit to “forsake all others” your fiancée expects you to keep this commitment. She’s not going to want you to secretly e-mail, call, text, or use social media with women, especially if you were romantically involved.
Your friendship needs as a married man are met by your wife and your male friends. As you grow as a couple, you will have couple friends or if your fiancée is friends with one of these women, it might work out to have some contact. However, be willing to lay every female relationship down for her. If she feels safe with specific boundaries, you might have some female friends. However, if you demand this freedom, you are not ready for marriage.
4. Questions on confrontation:
a. A friend and his wife are going through a marriage separation. A lot of his guy friends are encouraging him and saying that he has done the right thing. For years he has wanted them to go to a counsellor together but she refused. Now that he has left she is willing to go but he says “it’s too late.” I am convinced it’s wrong for him to give up on his marriage but the other guys are telling me to not say anything and leave him alone. What should I do?
A true friend tells the truth. You may be the only one God is prompting to tell him the truth. If you are a real friend, you will speak your concerns even if it costs you the friendship. Knowing you did the right thing is way more important than living with regret if you see the life of your friend and his wife go the wrong way without warning them.
b. My friend is always complaining about his wife. At first I figured he needed to vent and listening would be helpful but I’m starting to lose patience. Is it right to tell him to stop or does he really need someone to vent to? Should I tell him to vent to someone else?
It’s totally okay to ask your friend what your role is. Are you the person he vents to but honours his wife, or does he just not honour her? It’s also okay to ask if he is praying with her, sharing his feelings, praising her privately and publically and taking her on dates. As a husband, it is his job to care for his wife.
Together you can establish the roles and boundaries for your friendship. If he is a man who dishonours his wife, then end the relationship with him. He is a boy and not a man and his friendship will be painful to maintain.
c. My boss is married and is getting too friendly with one of the women at work. Someone said something jokingly but people just laughed about it. I have been trying to ignore it but it is starting to really bug me. He has a great family and they don’t deserve anything to happen but I also can’t afford to get fired. I’m not sure what I should do. Help?
This is a tricky situation. You could pray and ask God if you are to say anything to either of them. Like David prayed whether or not to go into battle, the Lord led and protected him.
You could also share an article on sexual harassment with your boss and let him know you don’t want him to get in trouble with this woman because she may misunderstand his behaviour. If your company has an HR department, you may go to them and discuss the situation in general terms and seek their advice.
I’m assuming your boss is a Christian. If he’s not, you might be expecting unsaved people to have your values. Chances are they both may not have the same values as you. If this is the case, expect to be looked at differently if you bring this up at all.
5. I am not impressed with one of my 10-year-old daughter’s friends. Her friend seems to use her and only play with her when other friends aren’t around. I don’t know how to tell her that I don’t approve of this particular friend. Can I steer her to better friends without making her life difficult?
I am really glad you are a parent that knows your daughter’s friends. Remember, you’re seeing this relationship through adult eyes that have abstract reasoning. Your daughter doesn’t have the same eyes. So she may just be enjoying that someone wants to play with her.
Having said that, it’s okay to talk to her about the different types of friends. Discuss what is healthy and what is not, but let her have input into defining this. Teaching her to think about relationships is a great parenting thing to do and allows her to work these issues out for herself, unless she is in legitimate danger.
6. Between work, the commute home, family and a little down time for myself, when am I supposed to have time for friends? Are there things I should let go of for the sake of my social life?
Welcome to the balancing act of manhood! You will regularly make these adjustments in your life. Utilizing your time helps bridge this gap. You can use your commute time to connect with friends. You can combine having friends with their children and wife over to get some guy time or go to a small group at church. You also can get up early and work out with a friend, getting two things done at once.
What’s important is to communicate your desires to your wife. Allow her to have her time as well. A rotation schedule works well for that. Try to work out an agreement with your wife so that both of your needs are met and she won’t believe that you are selfish for asking for it.
7. I often do not feel like going to church but I go because I know it’s important. I like the preaching and the worship, but I hate the time after the service when we just hang around socializing. My wife is very outgoing so we are always one of the last to leave and I spend most of the time looking around, trying to either look busy or talk to someone but wishing we would just leave.
I am proud of you on two counts. First, you make going to church a principle decision instead of how you feel. Second, you realize your wife’s social needs and church is a major outlet for her.
It appears the problem you’re trying to solve is time management. You might ask the pastor to serve after service by directing traffic in the parking lot, cleaning up the sanctuary or other activities. Commit to something that takes about as much time as your wife needs and you might leave church happier!
DOUG WEISS is a professional counsellor and the executive director of Heart to Heart Counselling in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity.
THE ARTICLE ABOVE WAS FEATURED IN THE MAY 2014 ISSUE OF SEVEN MAGAZINE.