Help. Hope. Healing.

The Last Thing a Friend Should Do

By Rex Goode

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Sometimes, when people ask your advice, they already know what they think they should do about it. When you hear what they are planning, and it isn’t a good idea, the euphemistic thing to say about it is, “That’s the last thing you should do.” What you really mean to say is, “Don’t do that.”

In that same vein, I’m going to tell you what I think is the last thing a friend should do. I mean it almost as strictly as I would mean it if I said, “Don’t do it at all, ever.” As with most rules, I think there are exceptions. I don’t encourage you to look for the exceptions.

If you are the friend of someone who struggles with sexual addiction, regardless of whether you struggle with it yourself, you may wonder what you can do, as a friend, to help your friend. I believe there are many productive, useful, and healthy things you can do. By the way, these ideas I also recommend to people who are friends of spouses of sex addicts. While I’m being so inclusive, I’ll even venture to say that what I’m about to describe applies to all healthy, adult relationships.

Before I get to that “last” thing, I think I should offer a few of the first or middle things. As the saying goes, first things first.

Firstly, you should listen. When everything seems to have been said, you should ask questions that will get your struggling friend to say more. When you’ve heard all of that, ask another open question. A listening ear is a priceless thing. Don’t ever underestimate it. Don’t ever think you are doing almost nothing when all you do is listen.

If all you’ve done is actively listen, maybe you’ve done all you need to do. You’ll never get to the ubiquitous “last” thing you, as a friend, should ever do. Remember that to actively listen means that you ‘ll sometimes need to encourage a friend to talk. Open questions are best.

Another great thing you can do as a friend is set an example. Maybe you think you are doing that by leading a virtuous and exemplary life. If that is the kind of life you are leading, you are only part way there when it comes to setting a good example. The other part of setting a good example is to model for your friend what it means to be an open person who is willing to reach out for the comfort and love of a friend. If your friend you are trying to help doesn’t know how to share, show him by doing a little sharing of your own.

This brings me to the next thing you should definitely do. Show him some respect. Remember that you are equals. He or she may be having the problem of the moment, but you both have problems. You are both here working out your salvation and dealing with your own lot in life. It doesn’t really matter about the level of difficulty of both of your challenges. If your challenges are easier, it doesn’t make you an expert, nor does it if your challenges are harder.

You should have some healthy boundaries. Once, I was asked by a bishop to assist a family where the husband was dealing with pornography addiction. Knowing about my own issues, I knew that if I ever started pursuing him to make sure he was staying away from pornography, I’d end up dealing with my own codependency issues. So, I set a boundary that I would never call him to check up on whether he was acting out. If he wanted or needed my help, he had to call me. It may not seem like the friendliest behavior to insist on that, but it was a healthy boundary.

I usually recommend that you only offer the exact assistance that your friend asks. Other kinds of boundaries include limits on time, such as only calling you in the middle of the night if it is truly an emergency, or budgeting the amount of time you are will to devote to support and comfort of your friend. It is not healthy for you to neglect your own family responsibilities to help a friend. Certainly, there are times, like emergencies, when you can rearrange priorities temporarily, but don’t get sucked into a full-time job.

I would say that there are even times when your friend asks you to do something that you should say “no”. Remember that many sex addicts are also relationship addicts. You don’t want to become an addicts “drug of choice.”

Another big “first thing you should do” is work on your own problems. This goes back to the setting of a good example. If, at this moment, you are thinking, “But I don’t have any big problems,” please stop reading this and get ready to be taken up into heaven. Cook a few dinners for your family and put them in the freezer, for example.

There are probably a lot more good first and middle things you could do. This is a good working list. Truly, you could just do the first thing I suggested and you’re good to go.

So, now we come to the last thing I think a friend should do. The last thing you should do for your friend is to behave like a parent of a small child. When our children were small, we protected them from things like burning their hands on a hot stove or walking out into traffic. We made plans for them, fed them, cleaned them up, drove them where they needed to go, and did all of the other responsible things a good parent should do.

Do not ever let your parental instincts come alive for a struggling friend. Cook them a meal now and then, but don’t become their personal chef. Don’t run interference to prevent them from getting into trouble. Don’t clean up their messes. Offer a ride now and then, but don’t be a chauffeur.

If they need to go to weekly meetings for addicts or spouses of addicts, don’t offer to drive them there each week. Help them find it maybe, use your computer to figure out the bus schedule or something like that. They need to get themselves to their meetings. If you take them there, it won’t do them any good. If they know where the meeting is and how they are going to get there, you’ve done enough. YOU ARE NOT THEIR MOM! If you think you are, go to the meeting with them. You’re going to need it.

OK, if you really are their mom, you may not need the meeting yourself, but still let them get there on their own. If you’re dealing with an addict and you are the addict’s mom, take off the apron while you’re being supportive. 

Your addict friend needs a friend, not a parent. This is a time for them to grow, become self-reliant, and learn to cope with their lives without the aid and comfort of an addiction. As a friend, you are in imminent danger of doing for your friend the same thing their acting out behavior does for them, namely, to avoid legitimate suffering and the consequences of their behavior.

Being a good friend is tricky. It is right there on the top of the list for good things to be, but be careful you don’t fall from that height. It’s the last thing you want.

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