Out of the closet. Stuck in the middle. Cheating friend.

qanda_header_1by Rod Wilson

My brother in-law has just come out of the closet and wants to bring his boyfriend over to our house for Christmas. He can do what he wants with his life but I feel uneasy about exposing our 13 year-old and 5 year-old kids to his choice. How can I explain that without upsetting him and my wife’s family?

Healthy families learn to have “doors” that keep the participants protected from the outside world and “windows” that allow family members to see what is going on in the broader culture. The relationship between these metaphorical doors and windows will often depend on the age of children, as parents need to decide what they would like their children to know and understand at various developmental levels.

When it comes to moral and ethical issues, like homosexuality, all parents need to determine whether this lifestyle fits their own values and convictions and whether they want to communicate positive or negative messages to their children. In this case it is clear that you both want to affirm that your brother-in-law can make his own choices. But you do not want those choices put in front of your children in a way that they will not understand.

If your brother-in-law has any understanding of the broader cultural and religious issues around homosexuality, he will know that bringing his boyfriend will create tension for you and your family so a conversation ahead of time seems in order. While you may wish it otherwise, it is also likely that your 13-year-old will have had some exposure to this lifestyle already and so this event may provide an opportunity for helpful conversation around ethics and morality. Your five-year-old, who probably has not been tainted by the sexual obsession of the culture, may not frame this situation in a problematic way at all.

One of the reasons that parenting is so challenging is because we want our children to think through all moral and ethical issues wisely. This desire forces us to interact with the call to righteous living, outlined in the Bible, and invites us to understand the culture, represented in a Christmas visit.

Friends of ours have just separated. They both want our attention and our sympathy. We feel caught in the middle and it is now straining our marriage. How do I get out of this mess?

When friends separate their extended relationships can get very confusing. Instead of being together with both the husband and wife you can feel the pressure to divide your time, energy and loyalty. This is not easy and there is no simple way to extract yourself from the mess.

Be aware that your primary responsibility is to “love your neighbour.” Both of your friends need your love more than your loyalty. Sometimes your love will mean that you listen to and express support and sadness, while at others it will mean being direct and honest. Ideally, loving your neighbour should not be dependent on their marital status and needs to be given freely without conditions or expectations.

Resist the huge temptation to take sides. When marriages dissolve it always involves two stories. Often friends, communities, families and churches act as if there is only one story. But that is never the case. Your connection with the husband or the wife requires that you listen to each story story— all the while being aware that there is another one. It is not your task to decide who has the right or appropriate story, but to be understanding toward both of your friends. If both you and your spouse adopt this approach you will not have marital conflict about the other marriage.

Finally, be realistic about how these circumstances usually unfold. When couples separate they often develop new friends, change churches, move to a new area and begin a new life. Separation in the marriage gets generalized beyond that relationship and influences all of life. This may be the season of “attention and sympathy” but it will pass eventually and the crisis of the moment will lessen.

I think my friend is cheating on his wife but I am not sure. I’m afraid of mentioning it to either of them. What should I do?

True friends want us to flourish, grow and develop in virtuous ways. If we are married they are concerned that our commitment to our spouse other is strong and they want to do all that they can to protect that covenant relationship. While there is connection and communication with superficial friends, true friends recognize that there are times when you have to cut through fear and anxiety and speak truth because it is only truth that will bring freedom. So when we have a sense that a friend is cheating on his wife, we need to recognize that this is the arena of friendship. And while fear of mentioning it is a natural human response, the higher call to helping others live virtuously needs to transcend the fear.

Prayerfully consider your own leanings to sin and frailty so your confrontation is not arrogant. Select a setting where your friend is comfortable and one where he cannot easily wiggle out of the conversation. Admit that you may be wrong or misreading the situation, but that you have some questions. Questions are a better good place to start, because they both put the responsibility on the other person and also prevent you from formulating a water tight case before you have heard the facts. Focus on what you have seen or heard rather than innuendo or surmise so he will have to deal with what has happened rather than what you think has happened. Be prepared not just to find out if there is a problem, but also be ready to provide some suggestions as to who he might talk to or where he might go to deal with his infidelity.

Rod Wilson is president of Regent College in Vancouver, where he also serves as professor of Counselling and Psychology. He is the author of How Do I Help a Hurting Friend: Practical Help for Leaders and Laypeople (BakerBooks, 2006).

The article above was featured in the March 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.