For the most part, I’d say the average person doesn’t enjoy being the bad guy in any sort of close relationship or tense situation. When given the chance, most of us would rather not create anxiety, strife, or conflict when dealing with the people in our lives we care deeply about.
don’t enjoy tension with their spouse.
don’t want to yell and scream at their kids.
don’t like calling out a good friend on something problematic.
Sure, there are many who love creating drama, especially on social media, but when it comes to important and valuable relationships, maintaining peace is usually preferable.
This is in part why many find it so hard to deal with their friends and/or family when it comes to their unwanted sexual behaviors like porn use and the like. It’s not necessarily a lack of concern or care. But how do you confront such a sensitive issue without looking like a jerk?
We don’t want to be the bad guy.
But sometimes, in order to be the “good guy,” we need to confront these issues with some degree of directness and not avoid such conversations in the interest of preventing some hurt feelings.
Here are a few basic guidelines to help you help them without being the bad guy.
1. Lead with love.
Unfortunately, Christians sometimes have a hard time with this one because they want to lead with the truth and fall back on love after the fact. But you just can’t do that. In most cases, when dealing with someone who has a different viewpoint or problematic lifestyle, if you start the conversation with, “You’re not going to like hearing this, but…” they will shut you down before you ever get started.
In order to have a meaningful dialogue about sensitive matters, you need to start with the basics.
- Hey, I love you.
- Hey, I’m not here to judge you.
- Hey, I want to talk to you about something because I care deeply about you.
In other words, you need to make it clear that what you are about to say comes from a place of care and concern, not judgement or self-righteousness. This doesn’t mean that you avoid the truth altogether, it just means you need to set the stage for the truth to be heard and hopefully accepted.
Truth without love is abusive.
Love without truth is enabling.
But when you mix them together and lead with love, you create an environment where real progress can take place.
2. Avoid blanket statements and generalities.
I know this can be a somewhat natural tendency, but often when we get into discussions with someone else where tension exits, we use phrases like,
- You always.
- You never.
- You don’t ever.
- All you do…
You get the point.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, but when we communicate in such combative terms, we build walls between us and those we want to help. For instance, if a wife catches her husband looking at porn for the umpteenth time it’s very understandable that she’d be frustrated. But if the conversation starts off like this…
You’re always looking at porn. You don’t care about me or our marriage. All you care about is yourself and your penis, etc.
There’s a very good chance that her husband (who’s in the wrong) will get defensive and angry rather than taking a moment to appreciate the gravity of what just happened. After all, her statements when you think about them are somewhat unreasonable.
Clearly, he’s not ALWAYS looking at porn. Maybe he doesn’t care about the marriage, but for the most part I’d say that’s not the case. And it’s highly unlikely he ONLY cares about himself, let alone his penis. That’s just silly.
So what happens?
He ends up feeling trapped because her accusations are broad-sweeping and universal, so his natural reaction is to get defensive rather than seek humility. However, the same message could be delivered in a less combative way and still communicate the level of pain and hurt she’s experiencing.
Hey, I see you were looking at porn again.I have got to tell you, when you do that it really hurts me because it MAKES ME FEEL like you don’t care about me or our marriage. I know you’ve promised to stop, but when this happens it causes me to lose trust with you and that’s not what either of us want for our marriage.
Admittedly, he might still get defensive or angry or not even care. But I’d suggest that more often than not, this type of approach still communicates a high level of pain and concern without painting him into a corner.
Yes, wrong choices are wrong choices. But we need to be careful when confronting those we care about with their unhealthy decisions so that we don’t make broad and sweeping statements that serve to impugn their behavior as well as their character and identity.
3. Don’t shame them into wanting change.
The truth is when we approach someone we care for about their destructive sexual habits and choices, it can get very frustrating if they seem unmotivated to make a change.
- You point out the errors of their ways.
- You tell them you care and because you care, you want the best for them.
- You call attention to all the damage they are doing to themselves and those in their life by continuing to go down the road they’ve been travelling.
- You explain to them until you are blue in the face that you are willing to walk out their recovery efforts with them and support them along the way.
Only to get a half-hearted, “I don’t know – I’ll try better I guess” or even worse, “It’s no big deal.”
I know, but what you don’t want to do at that point is shame them into submission. That’s a total “bad guy” move. Making them feel worthless or small in hopes that they will cave to the pressure will not ever work because, at the end of the day, one of the primary reasons they go to porn and sex in the first place is the shame they already feel in their life.
Shaming a shame-ridden person only creates more shame and destroys hope.
This doesn’t mean you may not have to exert some tough love. Nor does it negate the very real possibility that you may need to draw some boundaries and set some expectations. But drawing a line in the sand due to their apathy is not the same thing as trying to insult them into desiring a change.
Be the good guy (or girl).
Make it clear that their behavior is destructive and needs to stop. But make sure that as you communicate your real concerns and frustrations that you do so with love, grace, and empathy and avoid the tendency to judge or cast shame in the process.
And as always, if you have any questions about this topic or anything else we talk about check out Office Hours and ask!