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Accountability in Intimate Relationships: What Does It Really Mean?

May 29, 2018

In my therapy practice I often hear about personal experiences of accountability.  Usually though, it’s a description of failed accountability. Today, I want to explore accountability from a perspective of being set up for success.  Accountability can be defined as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions” (Webster), and as “acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, . . . (Wikipedia).  Further, accountability for husbands in a marriage are set up for success when they consider the following elements:

 

  • Intentional/voluntary – Husbands, enter an accountability relationship by your own personal intention, not just at the request or insistence of your spouse.

  • Purposeful – The purpose of accountability is not to catch a man violating behavior boundaries.  The purpose is to assist in maintaining proper/agreed-upon behaviors, to assist in maintaining integrity.

  • Specific and comprehensive – Men, typically we know when we are most likely to act outside of our behavior boundaries; when we are most at risk for actions that we will end up regretting.  Successful accountability identifies specific questions to be asked that determine if personal standards of integrity are being met; if specific behaviors are being avoided. Successful accountability is also comprehensive enough to ask if there is anything else occurring that produces shame or guilt, or that a husband thinks would cause emotional pain in his spouse.

  • Scheduled/repeating/random – Successful accountability isn’t a one-time event; it’s scheduled, it’s regularly repeating, and sometimes even random.  Schedule your accountability to occur on some repeating basis that works for managing behavior and for scheduling busy people.

  • Personal/transparent/vulnerable – Accountability requires a man to discuss very personal matters.  Many men are acculturated toward privacy, avoidance, and superficiality. Choosing an accountability partner is an intentional choice to be deeply vulnerable.  Further, successful accountability requires choosing someone who can effectively hear a deep level of personal vulnerability.

  • Not for everybody – When an accountability relationship becomes ineffective it needs to end or simply needs to be recognized as a friendship that no longer functions as accountability.  Then another relationship needs to be established that does include accountability elements.

  • Hierarchical – Holding someone accountable, speaking encouragingly about responsibility creates a sense of reporting to a higher authority.  For this reason, successful accountability cannot be a man’s spouse. A committed, intimate relationship is a relationship between two equals.

  • Honest – Successful accountability requires a commitment to be honest with the accountability partner.  A lack of honesty is disrespecting of the accountability partner’s time, effort, and commitment.

  • Trusting/confidential – Submitting to accountability questions requires a relationship of trust that is committed to keeping the vulnerable information confidential.

  • Motivating – Living in a context of regularly scheduled accountability questions is motivation to maintain standards of behavioral integrity.

  • Foundational for informed consent – In the case of couples in recovery from some breach of fidelity, her husband’s accountability partnership can contribute to her ability to consent to efforts of healing and recovery.  However, this does not mean that an accountability partner should report specifics to the wife. I recommend that at the most, accountability partners simply state to wives that they are holding the husbands accountable.  It is the husband’s responsibility to be honest with his wife about breaches of agreed-upon behavior boundaries. Accountability produces increments of trust and security.

These elements, when implemented and maintained over time generally result in success.  We are designed for success, let’s use what we have been given. If you want an accountability relationship that is set up for success, inquire at a local church if a staff member can aim you in a direction of someone who would be willing to fill the role.  Discussing this list from the very beginning will help in making the accountability successful.

 

Accountability produces greatness.  

 

For trusted, experienced therapy and counseling in Lubbock, including marriage counseling and relationship therapy, please don't hesitate to contact us here at Dr. White and Associates for help.

 

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