Many of us are in supportive roles for those who are struggling sexually. You might be a pastor, a counselor, a spouse, or a concerned friend. You are close to someone who has confessed their sexual sin to you and your friend needs your help. What do you say to the person who is struggling? How can you be a support to your friend? What can you do that will help him?
Knowing what to say and how to respond can be challenging. You may have known your friend in one context, and now you know him in a totally new context. His “big reveal” might be shocking news to you. You are probably learning of his secret behaviors and deep struggles for the first time. His behaviors and “second life” might be a surprise to you. Or he may have even sinned against you and broken your trust.
God has put you there for a reason.
Those who struggle sexually usually have a thin support structure. Their friends have left them instead of pursued them. They have been labeled and rejected. Their friends might have been so hurt by their revelation that they don’t want to be close any more.
Yet the sexual struggler needs help. He is sick, broken and hurting.
If your friend was in a car accident, you would speed to the hospital to be by his side. You would stay for hours at the hospital to pray, visit with family, and hurt with him. You would be focused on his pain and his recovery. You would drop other things that were important to you so you could be a “real friend” to him. Wouldn’t you?
We have to treat our friend with sexual struggles like we do a car accident victim. Your friend just had a major traumatic event happen. He confessed to a secret life. His spouse and kids may be on the way out. He is probably feeling hopeless or suicidal. You have an opportunity to rush to his side and be a real friend. God has put your friend in your circle of influence for a reason and for special circumstances like this.
Where are the mud walkers?
Even though you are not a trained expert in sexual addiction, you can still help. You may not be the “skilled help” that he needs, but you can be a support and someone who “walks in the mud” with him.
Your friend’s health and recovery is not up to you. That should take the pressure off you. All of Heaven and your friend’s future are not riding on what you do or don’t do. Your job is to comfort, encourage, believe in his potential to recover, and support. Your job is to get in the mud with him, get dirty, and help him out in the best way you can.
Here are some suggestions on how to be a “presence” in your friend’s life: things you can say, and things you should avoid saying.
What can I do to help?
- Be a regular presence – Your words are not as important as your presence. Stand by your friend’s side. Visit with him often. Take him out to lunch. Spend time with your friend who is freshly working through the effects of the trauma.
- Give your friend a hug – Your physical presence is huge. A simple thing like a hug communicates your care. It reinforces a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood. It also helps your friend know you are pursuing him instead of keeping your distance.
- Pray for your friend – Since your friend’s sexual struggle is beyond his ability (and yours) to fix, take it to God. Whether you know it or not, you will be the hands, arms and mouth of God as you spend time with your friend.
What can I say that will help?
Don’t look for the perfect words to say. There are no magic words that will fix your friend’s life. There are no perfect words to say. Even counselors and pastors still struggle with what to say in difficult circumstances like these.
Even though there are not perfect words, your attention to your friend is what matters. Here are some things you can say that have been helpful to many of the sexual strugglers I’ve worked with:
- “I’m sorry” – This is sympathy. You feel for your friend. You hurt for him. You hate that he’s going through this difficult chapter.
- “I know this hurts” – More sympathy. You recognize that your friend is hurting. You recognize that he is experiencing a loss. You are acknowledging his suffering.
- “I’ve had similar struggles” – (Don’t say this unless you have struggled sexually.) This is empathy. You show that you understand his pain in a personal way. You identifying with your friend’s pain out of your own personal experiences.
- “I’ve struggled in other areas too” – Maybe you haven’t struggled sexually, but you can empathize out of other struggles you’ve had. If you can pull from your own hurt and stand in his shoes, this will go a long way to help your friend.
- “How can I be a friend to you right now?” – This is a variation of “What do you need?” People in a crisis usually don’t know their immediate needs. This question gives him a chance to embrace your friendship and keep the door open.
- “What are you feeling right now?” – This is a great question that may open a flood of emotions. Your friend may be feeling regret, anger, disgust, sadness, hopelessness or shock. This question gives him permission to feel in front of you, to vent, and to communicate.
What not to say…
- Don’t give trite expressions – “This too shall pass….There’s a reason for everything that happens….It will all work out in the end….You’ll be a better person for this….You’ll be in our thoughts and prayers….It’s the painful times that cause us to appreciate God more.” These may be true, but they are not helpful in a time of crisis. These are not “get in the mud” statements. They blow past the incredible amount of pain your friend is going through.
- Don’t lecture the person – There’s a time for rebuke and for correction, and you may be the person later to dispense that. But the car accident victim in the hospital doesn’t need a lecture on driving safety and road responsibility. He needs words of comfort and encouragement.
- Don’t try to solve his problems – The person in crisis will say that he wants solutions, but what he really wants is for things to be magically wiped away. He will wish he could go back and undo what has happened. Now is not the best time for problem solving and quick fixes. You may have a lot of answers and solutions, but share those another time. Be a presence. Listen. Support. Comfort.
- Don’t spread gossip about your friend – Loose lips will fly on their own. Don’t make it any worse. Support your friend with your words. Stand up for your friend when others write him off or label him. Believe in his potential to recover and heal. Believe in God’s ability to redeem your friend’s situation.
Your love and concern for your friend will go a long way. Your steadfastness will speak even louder. Don’t be shy in talking to your friend. Don’t feel like you will be bothering him. Your friend needs you and your words more than he realizes
Q: What other suggestions do you have?
Q: What do you wish your friends would have said to you in your sexual struggles?
Q: What do you wish people had not said to you?