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Tips to building an effective accountability relationship

Updated: Mar 30

It is no surprise that it can be hard to find in an accountability partner if you are isolated or resistant to making changes.

We must recognize that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.

We must be proactive and find someone to be accountable to, you will discover many people are far more willing (even grateful to help) than you have ever imagined.

One of the first things we must overcome is our own mind. People who struggle with addictions such as ours don't really want to give up their comfort without a fight, in fact it's common to hear those among us say things about accountability like:

  • I can do this on my own

  • It's not such a big deal if I slip up, it's normal

  • I'd be wasting their time

  • I really don't need to change this, but I'll give it a try anyway.

  • No one will support me.

  • It's weird to call someone up or meet with them. No one wants to hear about this.

  • I’m beyond help.

Most of these simply aren't true, and all of them are distortions of the truth. For example, yes, it’s the “Norm” to slip up, but we are no longer trying to behave normal, we are on a path of recovery.

So Who should I use for an accountability partner?

Firstly, it is recommended that we never use a spouse or girlfriend for accountability because they are likely to take too much responsibility or be deeply hurt repeatedly when we need to be rigorously honest. You should however remain honest with your spouse or girlfriend, however within a different context.

An accountability partner should be another guy, who is wise, loving, and tough.

It should be demonstrated that they are trustworthy be it to the group or to you individually and will respect your struggle. They cannot be afraid to ask tough questions, and be real when you talk, not afraid to ask if you are being honest, equally you cannot be offended if they are double checking you, all addicts are familiar with how to manipulate, and lie.

An accountability partner/coach should do the following with you:

  • Hold you accountable for your behaviors.

  • Give you encouragement. This process is slow at times and sometimes you'll need a boost!

  • Listen to you when you are struggling and confused.

  • Model good healthy recovery to you.

  • Be willing to problem solve with you when you need help.

  • Be available.

What does being in an accountability relationship look like for you?

  • You should be checking in with them every day, maybe more, don’t make them chase you down. Be respectful of their sacrifice to help you.

  • Be real and honest.

  • Share your feelings with them.

  • Share Lustful thoughts and temptations that have been in your awareness.

  • Confess where you haven't maintained the boundaries you've set up. Inner/middle/outer circle.

  • Be specific about precise things they can ask you to keep you in check.

  • Celebrate with them as you make progress. Seemingly small wins lead to big victories!

Like most worthy endeavors in life learning how to be an effective accountability partner is a skill. Skills however require an intentional process of learning, practicing, and coaching to develop. In recovery we say in every meeting “From those who have gone before us, we have learned what has to be done to overcome our illness. We must attend and support recovery meetings, share with and listen to others, continue to work the 12 steps, gratefully serve the fellowship, and reach out to others who still struggle. Then each of us will know freedom and we will find ourselves truly alive in the serenity and joy of a spiritual recovery in Jesus Christ.”

Here are a couple common ingredients to a successful accountability relationship:

The ingredient number 1 Carefrontations

I once heard a professor describe how therapists are to approach clients when they are self-sabotaging. I used to think it was a cheesy word, but I appreciate the word when it comes to describing the role of an effective accountability partner.

Carefrontations are about the person who is being confronted. Carefrontation can become more about the person who is doing the confronting. Nobody likes to feel controlled in confrontations can create that dynamic. In the end the person being confronted is focused on the confronter rather than focusing on what is going with them internally.

Here is an example of an effective accountability via the “Carefrontation” ingredient. Say your accountability partner says he's going to call you every day to check in but misses a day. A carefrontation could look like “Hey man, you shared that your commitment was to call me every day and you didn't call yesterday. I was wondering what happened?” This could be followed up with “What will help you be more consistent?”

A carefrontation points out the inconsistency and asks an open-ended question to help the person process the inconsistency.

In a confrontation the connotation can be to point out the inconsistency with the intent of using shame as a motivator. “So, what's with not calling the other day?” The implicit message is: “You are kinda lame for not sticking to your word. You don't want to mess up again because I'm going to not be nice when you do.” Shame is unhelpful for accountability because most addicts have not learned to differentiate healthy shame versus toxic shame. Now, I am very guilty of using sarcasm, and humor, it is a fine line between Healthy Shame, and Toxic, and we have to be consistently cognizant of that line.

This shaming issue is not as common as a “don't ask; don't tell” approach for accountability partners. When there are inconsistencies a lot of guys will not do a carefrontation or a confrontation. Instead, they will just do a ‘ignore-frontation.’ The implicit message: “I won't point out your inconsistency, so you won't point out mine.” A lot of accountability partners fail in this way. This ignoring of reality erodes the integrity of the relationship and its purpose to help one another. While it might be nice to not be confronted deep down it can breed resentment.

A lack of confrontation can be seen as a sign that the other person does not truly care about me or my well-being. If someone confronts me about my inconsistency it means they are paying attention and looking out for my best interest.

Ingredient number 2 good questions:

Learning to ask good questions as an accountability partner is a key ingredient to effective accountability. It's easier to give suggestions but harder to ask productive questions. Suggestions awaken ego but questions awaken learning.

Helpful questions for when someone acted out are:

  • What do you think was going on for you the other day when you acted out?

  • What exactly did you do?

  • What were your triggers? HALT-BS

  • Is that all or is there more?

  • What don't you want to share?

Helpful questions for a check-in call could be:

  • What's been the high and low for your day?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10 what is your temptation level right now?

  • Is there anything coming up later today or tomorrow that could be a trigger?

Questions like these invite reflection, learning, honesty, and vulnerability.

So what is accountability really about?

When we look at the 12th step it does not say “Having been able to stop our addictive behavior...” Instead, it says” having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps...” The Basis of the spiritual awakening (and the work of the previous steps) is to let go and surrender yourself to the loving care of another. If that's true, the role of an accountability partner should reflect this message. In essence an accountability partner's message should be “you've been accepted despite what you have done. So lay down the illusion of control and come out of hiding so you can receive the love that is waiting for you.” This painful, upside down yet liberating process is what author Richard Rohr calls “breathing underwater” in the book of this same name. If that's what your accountability times, often feel like then you're on the right track.

I wanted to highlight 3 relationships I personally currently have as an accountability coach/partner:

Guy 1: We talk almost 3-5 days a week, he texts when he is up, and we talk about what his agenda for the day looks like. We end each day with a screen shot of his daily phone usage, this outlines where his priorities for the day were, and allows us to discuss, if things are starting to get out of alignment with what goals he has established. We do daily devotionals on YouVersion and have even read them together on the phone. I am an ally for his monitoring software and ask questions if something comes across concerning.

Guy 2: We Text 3-5 times a week, and increase this whenever he is feeling tempted, or may be in a position where he recognizes the struggle will be more intense. I am an ally for him on his device monitoring, and I review daily his activity, and if I see something that is concerning, I reach out and ask, if he’s ok, and if whatever the content was on, is safe for him.

Guy 3: We talk about 4 times a week, we have set questions that are asked, although some variations are added from time to time. These questions are consistent, and a few are growth questions, to encourage growth, not just abstaining from our struggle.

There is in my mind no cookie cutter form of accountability it needs to be custom made for you, not everyone’s struggle is the same, although the root of our struggle is similar, how we struggle, how we respond and how we grow is different for each of us.

Whenever I first establish accountability, I have a lengthy phone call with the guy to try to have some understanding of their background, where they struggle specifically within their home (or elsewhere), what time of day, what their triggers are, and when they're most vulnerable. These questions help build a relationship for a successful accountability...

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