Elements of Building Strong Male Friendships

Kent Ernsting

What are some of the elements of building strong male friendships?

Authentic. Male friendships that go the distance are authentic. Be yourself and be real. Allow the real you to emerge. Take down masks that hide your true self from others. Strong friendships grow where the roots go deep, down to the depths of our heart. Don’t allow yourself to hide behind surface comments, such as answering the question ‘How are you doing?’ with the response ‘OK,’ ‘Good,’ or ‘Fine.’ A relationship that is real includes both your strengths and weaknesses. Be open, real, vulnerable, honest and sincere. Share your struggles with your friend. Risk exposing yourself as you really are. When we risk sharing our struggles with grace-giving others, we find that they accept us regardless of our faults, and we experience the joy of acceptance. ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.’ (James 5:16)

Friendships must be cultivated; they’re not automatic. I have lost touch with former friends by neglecting to stay in touch with them. Spending time together is required. Stay in touch with each other periodically. Make the phone call to initiate getting together with your friend. Friendships require commitment and devotion to one another.

Laugh and enjoy some fun activities with your friends. Do something different with your friend such a getting together at a park and taking a walk while you talk. Enjoy a game of golf or tennis together. Go camping together. Some of my most cherished memories of high fidelity moments with my friends have occurred when we take our annual backpacking trip. This has become a much-anticipated weekend with just the guys. We get away to a remote area, explore, challenge each other and ourselves and stretch beyond our normal comfort zone. We serve each other and tell stories. Around the campfire we talk honestly about our lives, our loves, our disappointments, our failures, our hopes and dreams. There is tremendous camaraderie that is built during such weekends. It is fun to read their annual Christmas letter in which they inevitably mention the ‘Scratch and Spit’ weekend as one of the highlights of the year. ‘[There is] a time to ‘laugh, a time to’dance.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Avoid isolation. It is our natural tendency to withdraw from others and it can often become unhealthy. Solitude is fine but isolation is deadly. Why do you think that ‘solitary confinement’ is one of the worst punishments devised by men?

Friends are essential; they’re not optional. There is no substitute for a friend. A friendship provides someone to care, listen, comfort, and even reprove. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’ (Proverbs 27:17) We are not self-sufficient.

Encourage one another. Many of us grew up in families where affirmation was withheld. All of us need encouragement in facing life’s demands, worries and defeats. Cheer one another on, lift their spirit by exhibiting a spirit of grace. Look them in the eye and tell them what you see when they have demonstrated a character quality which you admire. Commit to praying for them by name every day of the coming week. Put an arm around them and let them know that you believe in them.

Friendships impact our lives for good or ill; they’re not neutral. If you connect with good people you become a better person. ‘He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.’ (Proverbs 13:20). If you connect with bad people, you become like them. ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ (1 Corinthians 15:33). Choose your friends carefully, prayerfully and wisely.

Be confidential. Hold confidential information that is shared with you close to your heart. You will damage the friendship and possibly harm your friend if you share this information with others, even as a prayer concern. Trust is built on a foundation of confidence that what I share with you will stay with you.

Allow him to be himself, don’t try to change him. Give him the freedom to be himself without pressuring him to become someone else. Allow him to make mistakes, to be human, loyally maintaining the relationship regardless of his ups and downs. ‘Love is patient, love is kind’it keeps no record of wrongs.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Protect him. Look out for things that may harm your friend, help to protect him from danger. Watch each other’s back.

Thoughts on Rest in Recovery

Bob Damrau

Say, ‘When’

A cartoon that recently got my attention depicted a client exclaiming to his counselor, ‘I’m learning how to relax, doctor—but I want to relax better and faster. I want to be on the cutting edge of relaxation!’ I smiled on the outside but a deeper sense of fatigue prompted a time of personal reflection. I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands of a major life transition. My behaviors appeared frantic, as if I was in a run-down between necessary activities and scheduled deadlines. I thought nothing was being done quite right and gave up on ever hearing the words, ‘You’re safe.’

This downward pattern of thought is a vulnerable place for anyone, but it is especially dangerous to an individual with compulsive tendencies. The temptation to give in to a quick fix presented itself as my way to escape from feeling out of control. It would have been easy to act out and medicate the seeming negativity, but I have learned to better manage situations like this in order to prevent that kind of relapse. I brought to mind a quote from Rollo May, who said, ‘It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.’

Then I remembered the Lord Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew’s gospel, ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Did you know that Christ spoke this during a time of increased opposition to His ministry? That acted as the reality check I needed to identify the problem, break free from the insane thoughts, and find rest within the bounds of a healthier perspective.

The earthly lifestyle of our Savior is the prime example of living a balanced life. A colleague once said, ‘Jesus–the only person ever to be charged with saving the world—never got in a hurry.’ Just prior to preaching in Galilee, cleansing a leper, and healing a paralytic, the Lord ‘went out and departed to a solitary place’ (Mark 1:35). When the disciples finally located Him they said, ‘Everyone is looking for you’ (Mark 1:37). There were urgent matters to be addressed for sure, but He knew the limits of life in the flesh.

People teetering on the edge of burnout usually spend too much time and emotional energy caring for others and too little for themselves. That happens when we attempt to outwork and under-rest everyone we know, including God. I often wonder if Jesus would be hired by a lot of churches if His work habits were well known. My favorite movie is ‘Regarding Henry.’ Harrison Ford plays a powerful and arrogant lawyer whose life is drastically altered when he walks into the middle of an armed robbery and is shot in the head. His injuries leave this character with some long term cognitive deficits. Returning to his office, Henry’s secretary offers him a cup of coffee and cheerfully says; ‘Say when,’ as she pours the milk. The camera pans from the coffee cup to Henry and back again, without a word from him. When the secretary realized her disabled boss would not respond, she finished pouring the milk, handed Henry the cup and cordially said, ‘When you’ve had enough, you need to say ‘when.” Later in the movie, Henry is fed up with his old lifestyle of sex, lies and greed, and decides to change. As he walks by his secretary he exclaims, ‘I’ve had enough, so I’m saying ‘when.” I was that character—always on, ready and in control. It wasn’t until I experienced a traumatic illness that landed me in the hospital for an entire month that I began to come to terms with the fact that control is God’s realm and I needed to cast aside my plan and take on His yolk. That’s how I learned to say when.

Getting caught up in the fast pace of life is a certainty. A lack of rest can lower a person’s resistance to the place of despair. Any plan for recovery must include an appropriate amount of R & R, and Jesus, Himself, promises to give it. He simply requires that we come to Him. There, in His presence, is where I heard, ‘You’re safe.’

Need help finding harmony and balance in your life? Join us at our next New Life Weekend.

Healthy Dating in Recovery

Bob Parkins

It’s easy to forget that many men who are working to maintain sexual purity are single men. There’s a perception that the majority of men in recovery are married because they have more to lose. I, therefore, applaud all men in recovery and welcome the reminder that some are yet single.

I find that, if left unaddressed, many single men in recovery groups have difficulty relating with the married men, or they feel left out altogether. For them, I give some thoughts on how to pursue healthy dating relationships while in recovery. It is imperative that single men struggling sexually continue in ongoing recovery. This is especially important if he begins a dating relationship. If you are this man and are not yet in recovery, start today. Without committing daily to recovery, your new relationship will be in trouble from the start.

I want to touch on two main components of recovery, the first being accountability, and second the deeper work required to work through the issues behind your addiction. Accountability is one of the most important tools in recovery. You should already be faithfully meeting with an accountability partner who is willing to get in your face and ask you specific and hard questions.

In addition to your accountability partner, I highly recommend an accountability group that is also willing to be confrontational. It is very unwise to choose your girlfriend or fianc’ as your accountability partner, or any female for that matter. Accountability groups may be composed of men who struggle in other areas, but should not be co-ed.

Addressing your deeper issues will require work. Usually this is best done with an experienced therapist who is familiar with sexual addiction and recovery. Give yourself time – you will need it. Working through deep issues is almost always a painful and arduous process. Before continuing to pursue a romantic relationship, ask yourself if you are ready to enter into a dating relationship. Get the input of your therapist, accountability partner, and group. Don’t rush it! If you are comfortable beginning to date again remember, sexual temptation is also a part of healthy relationships and will need to be managed with strong boundaries.

Boundaries are an important part of any relationship. Without them we would continually violate others and have difficulty holding onto our own identity and sense of self. It will be important to establish, maintain and clearly communicate both clear emotional and physical boundaries. Your accountability partner should hold your feet to the fire and encourage healthy boundaries. You also need to be accountable to your girlfriend or fianc’e. You most likely have already gotten into trouble doing “everything but.”

Physical boundaries should be set far before you approach the line of a sexual act. I would suggest considering the kinds of physical touch you feel comfortable giving and receiving either in public, or in front of her mother. This is a great place to start setting physical boundaries and will help keep the fires from burning out of control. Setting conservative physical boundaries also encourages an increase in your emotional intimacy; you will spend more time talking. Many couples add another level of safety by being alone together only in public. I also suggest setting a consequence for crossing each other’s boundaries. This should cost you something.

Before my wife and I were married, we setup a savings account for this purpose. Every time a boundary was violated we paid the account. While there was an immediate cost, we eventually had an account full of cash. I think we used the money to buy something nice after we were married, but we would much rather have been sexually pure. The monetary penalties didn’t cost us enough. I would suggest either trying something else or giving the money away.

It is also important to respect her emotional boundaries, and if you are an addict you probably crossing them by expertly manipulating and lying; both violate your girlfriend or fianc’e emotionally. You must have empathy for her. I have encountered countless men who become self-righteous and indignant after they repented and think their wife/girlfriend now owes them forgiveness – she doesn’t. That is between her and God. Allow her the time and space she needs to grieve her pain and losses. When in doubt, empathize.

A therapist or mentor couple will be invaluable in walking you through this difficult process. If you feel yourself becoming impatient with her, check your own heart. You may be feeling shame and guilt for the pain you have caused her. Regardless of how you go about it, either through acting-out or in unhealthy relationships, intimacy is what you have really been grasping for. True intimacy is not natural for the sexually addicted and takes work. Since you are used to expressing intimacy through sexual acts you will need to learn to be intimate through the expression of your heart. This is a tall order, and if you are serious about the person you are currently dating you will need to disclose the nature of your addiction and acting-out. You cannot be truly intimate and hide this part of yourself. Don’t rush into disclosure and don’t take it lightly. Disclosure is best done when you start getting serious about the relationship. It is dishonest to keep this area of your heart hidden from her as she continues to give you hers.

Sharing your heart may be one of the scariest things you have ever learned to do, but it will be the most significant aspect of a healthy relationship. You are embarking on a dangerous journey. Finding your heart and moving toward true intimacy can be very painful and rewarding. There will be times when it is all you can do to maintain sexual sobriety. Staying connected to your sources of accountability and keeping well within the prescribed boundaries are essential if you are to progress toward a truly intimate relationship. You have settled long enough for the counterfeit, now discover what God has for you.

For help in finding a Christian counselor or coach call 1-800-NEW-LIFE.