Facing the Scary ‘C’ Word: ‘Confrontation’

Dan Jenkins

– The Balance of Love and Law –

One of the most difficult things about interpersonal relationships is the occasional need to confront another person about their behavior. If you are like me, you do your best to avoid confrontation, usually with a justification like, ‘Well, the Bible calls us to be long-suffering.’ However, when I look at my true motives, I often find that they are not so righteous. Instead, my motives are self-centered and based upon faulty beliefs that have their roots in my childhood. Let me explain.

Very early in life you learned a very important lesson about obedience. If you obeyed your parents, then nothing bad would happen. If you didn’t obey, you would get punished, restricted, or experience some kind of pain. Sometimes you’d get into trouble and you had no clue what you did wrong. In either case, you had to learn to conform to some standard, some rule, that was placed upon you. If you didn’t conform to the rules, you would quickly run into bigger trouble with the powers that be.

Of course, learning to follow the rules of the family, classroom, society, etc., is not a bad thing in the least. Failure to obey all these rules would be disastrous to any individual.

But what if you were raised in a family that had lots of rules but very little love? What if the rules seemed more important than the people they were designed to protect? Personalities are shaped during the early years of our lives, and if your family environment was filled with lots of ‘law’ but very little ‘love’ we would expect several significant impacts upon your development.

In a family heavy in law but light on love, it may become very important to you to never be wrong . . . about anything. Without a foundation of attachment and love, the value of a person would come from following the rules and never doing anything wrong. Yet, this fragile sense of self-worth would be constantly challenged because no one can do everything right all the time. Over and over again, you would be found to be at fault for not being perfect. If a mistake is made, it would have to be denied and covered up, or the result would be a deep sense of self-doubt and personal shame. Like men with sexual addiction, the sin must be hidden, kept in darkness, or the shame would be overwhelming.

Additionally, it is difficult to confront someone about a behavior when you have far worse offenses hidden below the surface. Your wife may feel the same way when she knows about the sexual acting out behavior, and in her mind you have no right to confront her about anything until the Lord returns. ‘You broke the rules of our marriage and now you owe me big.’ If this debt can never be repaid and you cannot confront her again, then you will grow more and more resentful about the imbalance of power in the relationship. You must be able to share with your spouse both the good and the bad ways you are affected by her. Such is the basis of emotional intimacy, and without it, your relationship cannot stay healthy.

– To Slam or Clam, Either is a Sham –

Many of the men I work with in my private practice have tremendous difficulty confronting their wives about anything. They may be hurt by something she said or did, but instead of saying anything to her, the typical response is to clam up. Unfortunately, this technique only serves to confirm a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. Sometimes wives will actually try to get a response to see if their husband is emotionally alive. It’s as if he has turned off his emotions and she is left with the dubious task of trying to read his mind by any little thing he says or does.

Passive withdrawal can kill two birds with one stone. It is a response to our own fear and insecurity. Like a child in school who is afraid to raise his hand to answer the question, we hold fast to the rule, ‘when in doubt do nothing.’ But simultaneously, it can be a passive expression of hostility because the emotional shutdown usually drives the wife up a wall. If we have been hurt by her, the clamming up response can bring some satisfaction when we see the resultant frustration developing in her.

The other option is to let the fury fly and slam the person who needs confrontation. If their behavior has been eating away at us for any length of time, the confrontation could easily become an explosion. Like the proverbial pressure-cooker analogy, the steam release valve isn’t working properly, so an explosion is eminent. The emotions come out in a cathartic outpouring and the recipient of the anger doesn’t understand why it is so intense.

Both ‘Clamming’ and ‘Slamming’ are different sides of the same dysfunctional coin. The answer is to be assertive in expressing what we need. What does that mean exactly? It means letting her in on our feelings such that it doesn’t threaten or degrade her in any way. Confrontation requires action, not passivity. It requires tact and wisdom to share our emotions without harm to our spouse. Most of all, it requires courage to confront those we love.

For men struggling with sexual integrity, see Every Man’s Battle.
If you are a married man who has already attended Every Man’s Battle, we highly recommend Every Marriage Restored or Restoring a Wife’s Heart–programs at our New Life Weekend.

People Are More Important Than Things

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Few of us would argue with the title of this article. Yet, in our daily lives, and particularly in the lives of men who suffer from sexual addiction, the truthfulness of this statement is not translated into daily living.

Several days ago the following comments were made in my office: ‘I was enjoying a serious conversation with my son when his cell phone rang and instead of letting it go to voice mail he answered it. He spent ten minutes talking to someone else. I was infuriated! After he hung up I told him that he was rude, that he didn’t care about me, and that I didn’t want to be in a relationship with him if he was going to treat me like that.’

The man who made these comments is a 60-year-old man who is trying to re-establish a relationship with his 40-year-old son. He has a long history of addictive behaviors with alcohol, marijuana, and multiple affairs. Now, after a lifetime of avoiding emotional intimacy with his family, my client is coming to realize the importance of relationships. Yet, at the first indication of conflict or devaluation, he was willing to throw out all that he had worked for with his son.

Certainly he had justification to be hurt. His son was acting rudely by spending so much time with the person who was calling on the phone. The message received by my client was that the caller was more important. But the message explicitly conveyed in anger from father to son was that the whole relationship was being terminated. As he related this story to me in my office, I was struck by the fact that he was still serious about ending the relationship, even after several days to cool down. People are just not that important to him. His relationships with alcohol, marijuana, and sex have been far more loyal over the years than his interpersonal relationships with people.

If we are made in God’s image, and we were made to be in relationship with Him, then the need for interpersonal relationships is woven into the very fabric of our being. Turning to a pseudo relationship with ‘things’ rather than people is like trying to spend your life using counterfeit money. It seems to work at first, but such a life is based on lies and deception, and it always catches up with you. Substituting objectifying sex for true intimacy is no different than using counterfeit money.

When people have become the source of pain, either unresolved pain from the past and/or pain in the here-and-now, the allure of ‘things’ becomes so much greater. It can be argued that obsessive preoccupation with any material thing is actually a smokescreen, a way of avoiding painful wounds of past relationships. Giving up the things of this world, whether it is drugs, sex, food, material things like a new car, or even some relationships, will expose us to that which we are running from and trying to avoid at all costs.

In those moments of exposure, do you find yourself in places of safety, or, do you find yourself in places where you will be hurt again? To open up and talk about the pain with someone who has been deeply hurt by you might not be the best place to start. You’ll only confirm the belief that people are too dangerous and intimacy is an illusion. To face deep emotional pain without preparation, planning, and support is a recipe for catastrophe. Your wife and family deserve better. It would be like trying to save someone who is drowning when neither of you can swim.

Don’t let the things of this world STOP YOU from taking care of yourself!

Therapy, Every Man’s Battle conferences, and even trustworthy friends may be the best place to start the recovery process, rather than with a wife or relatives who are already hurt and emotionally invested in you. The chances of your successful recovery will improve dramatically if you seek ongoing support and help from people who have been where you are now.

People are more important than things, and that includes you too. Don’t let the things of this world stop you from taking care of yourself in the way that promotes healing, better relationships, and a closer walk with the Lord.

For more help, consider attending one of our Weekend Workshops or call 1800-NEW-LIFE(639-5433) for more information on Every Man’s Battle.