As guys, we all need some time out with the boys , hockey, golf, cards, whatever, just to shoot the breeze. Our friends meet needs that can’t be met by wives, kids or coworkers. We need the camaraderie, the jokes, the friendly competitions, and someone to watch the big game with. Friends help us blow off the steam created by the pressures of life.

On the other hand, friendships can have a dark side if they’re not chosen wisely. Sadly, I have counselled many marriages that have been shipwrecked because of things the husband has done when he was out with the boys.

A real friendship is so much more than just hanging out, watching hockey and shooting pool. If we allow them to, a good friend has the power to be a tremendous source of strength in our life. God loves to use good friends to bring the best out of us. Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of your friendships.

Set the Bar High for Your Own Life

Each of us has a choice to make in terms of what we expect out of our friendships with others. You see, some may be content with just hanging out with the boys after a game. It’s fine just throwing the the ball around, getting dirty, having some laughs, pounding a few brews back and then going home. For many that’s enough; that’s what friendship is. But if you want something more for your life, you have to go after it. You need to find people who are looking for the same.

Do you want to have a better marriage, or do you want to let it slide? Do you want to be a good Dad, or just stand by frustrated while your kids go sideways? Set the bar high for yourself. Ask God what He still needs to do in your life. Then, commit to being a person of character and integrity, and build friendships with people who you know will help you get there.

Choose Your Friends Wisely

It’s an old adage, but it’s still true: a bad apple wrecks the whole lot. You will become like those you hang around with. Look to the people you spend the most time with: in essence, you become the average of your five closest friends. They are a good indicator of the kind of person you are going to become.

That’s why it is so critical to choose those friends wisely. Be careful on surrounding yourself with people who are going to bring you down and possibly pull you away from your family and from what you know is right. Decide to bring people around you who are going to lift you in some way; who will challenge you and help you grow as a person, as a husband and as a father. Every man needs friends who are going to make them stronger. There are a lot of things in life we have no control over, but we do have the ability to decide who we spend our time with and who we are going to be the closest to. Look for those who will strengthen your convictions and not draw you towards compromise.

We hear a lot about the dangers of kids falling into the wrong crowd. Peer pressure leads them down roads that they shouldn’t be going down. What we often don’t realize is that the same thing happens as adults. As I said, I have worked with many couples who are fighting over, and even breaking up over what one partner did with his or her friends. If that describes your situation, you need to make things right with your spouse, and put some boundaries in place so that it doesn’t happen again. Don’t defend stupid, selfish behaviour.

Now, does this mean that you have to shut people out of your life if they don’t measure up? Absolutely not. In fact, maybe you can be the friend in their life who helps them to grow to their true potential. But this is not the kind of friend that you should spend most of your time with or go to for advice. For that, you need a friend that you admire – someone who inspires you to be your best.

Be Willing to Share

Okay guys, I know what you’re thinking. Oh, here we go. This is where he tells me to get in touch with my feelings; to sit around in a circle with my friends, hugging and weeping�

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Well, good news: you don’t have to go that far. But to really experience the benefits that good friendships can bring, you do need to be willing to let your guard down and open up more. Share your life goals, and even take the risk of talking about where you’re falling short of them. This seems dangerous, because we somehow think that we’re the only one with problems. But as we courageously let others see this side of us, we will discover that they are struggling too. Then we can support each other to begin to make the changes we know are needed. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” A good friend brings the best out of you, always helping you do what’s right.

For the past fourteen years, I have been meeting weekly with my friend Larry. He’s been bringing the best out of me. I’m not afraid to tell Larry that I want a better marriage � and he’s not afraid to admit that he wants a better marriage too. And most guys, if they are willing to get that vulnerable, would admit that. No one gets married saying, “I want a shoddy marriage.” Everybody wants a good marriage and family life, but no one finds it easy. So we can relate to each other on this level and help each other through the battles, because we’ve all been there.

You may not be used to sharing with other guys in this way. That’s okay. It takes time to develop trust – a feeling that this is a safe place to expose who I really am. But as you take that risk and work towards openness, you will experience the benefits.

Be Accountable

Let’s go one step further. A good friendship provides a safe place to share our deepest struggles. The temptation, though, is to keep things safe. Supporting a friend does not mean excusing or enabling behaviour patterns that need to change. A real friend is not afraid to share hard truth in a sensitive manner. Remember, “as iron sharpens iron .” This only happens as we courageously speak into other people’s lives with our cautions and counsel, and give them permission to do the same for us.

For example, suppose your friend is struggling with workaholism. He’s fixated on getting ahead in his career and pleasing his boss, to the point where he’s beginning to neglect his family. It would be easy to keep things comfortable by saying, “Well, I’m sure your family understands. And it’s not like you can quit your job. You’re doing the best you can. Just get through this busy period, and then you can focus more on the family.”

That may make him feel good, but it doesn’t address the fact that there is a real problem here. If we want to help each other grow as husbands and fathers, we need to be prepared to ask each other the tough questions. What effect is this overwork having on your relationship with your wife and kids? Does the way you are spending your time match what you say your priorities are? What changes could you make so that you are meeting your legitimate work obligations while also being home more for your family? How can I pray for you, and how can I help you in this?

This is a level of friendship that most guys never experience. Again, it takes time to get there. It’s built on a mutual commitment to go deep, and on a foundation of trust based on the knowledge that we truly want the best for one another. (Note: for a list of accountability questions that you can work through with your partner, click here .)

One final note: you may be wondering why your wife can’t just play this role in your life. Isn’t it enough that you have to be accountable to her? Definitely, you and your wife have invaluable roles to play in spurring one another on in your character development and family commitment. Nevertheless, it’s important that you each have friends of the same sex to work your personal issues with. There are temptations that you face as a man that your wife can’t fully understand. You may even have issues that you need help facing (sexual temptations, pornography, etc.) that would cause too much strain in your marriage if your wife was the one keeping you accountable. That’s why a close friend is truly indispensible.

I am encouraged because I see this kind of friendship growing in popularity in today’s society. And with the temptations that assault us on a daily basis, it’s absolutely critical to have someone to walk through life with if we want to stay on a godly path. Regarding your friendships, if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you keep on getting what you’ve always got. Take the risk. Go deep. And go out with the boys with real purpose. As it says in Ecclesiastes 4:10, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”

Copyright © 2006 FamilyLife Canada. FamilyLife, Canada is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada

by Dr. Dave Currie, with Glen Hoos

Dr. Dave Currie is the National Director of FamilyLife Canada . He and his wife Donalyn live in Abbotsford , BC , and are regular speakers at FamilyLife Marriage Conferences. Dave is also the host of Marriage Uncensored, a television program airing on NOW TV.