I don’t like the word “accountability partner” any more than I like the word “diet,” and I dislike them both for the same reason. They sound like an exception and a punishment rather than a lifestyle and a gift.
No one is going to live on a diet or in an accountability relationship. They’ll do it for a little while and then they’ll stop. We know this. So let’s quit saying it.
What is the alternative vocabulary to “accountability”? It’s friendship. Every instance of accountability that I’ve ever seen endure did so because the two (or more) people were friends and acted as allies on the journey toward a porn-free life; not because they enjoyed going on a sin-hunt (a concept we’ll debunk in a moment, but let’s take it one at a time).
So what if you don’t have a friend who will serve this role?
Step 1: Make yourself accountable , which is a radically different mindset from “having accountability.” If you’re married and struggling with sexual sin, this is a vital step in protecting your spouse.
Step 2: See who appreciates the authenticity of your actions. People are hungry for authenticity. Live the kind of relationship you want and see who is drawn to you.
Step 3: Invest in that relationship you develop in point #2 in the ways described below.
2 Important Aspects of Accountability
The accountability questions provided below serve two primary purposes that are not always considered part of developing an accountability relationship: developing trust and addressing pre-crisis temptation. Both of these are generally known to be important for effective accountability, but the questions most commonly asked in accountability relationships are not targeted at these objectives.
- Deepen trust to draw out greater honesty—We trust those who show the ability to care for us well. Many of the questions asked between accountability partners (by now you should hear “friends”) should be for the purpose of demonstrating care for the individual so that trust is developed and greater honesty ensues.
- Identify pre-crisis contributors to temptation—Crisis level temptation is not born in a vacuum. Usually, there are predictable things that lead to the pivotal moments of decision. Many of these have nothing to do with what we classically think of as “temptation.” If this concept intrigues you, but you’re not sure what this would entail, keep reading.
Related: Biblical Accountability–What It Is and How to Live It
5 Accountability Questions You Wish Your Ally Would Ask
Without further ado, let’s begin to look at questions you wish your ally would ask and why. These five questions are merely meant to be representative and to spark creativity (stale, repetitive questions result in withering accountability). Use them as a launching pad for the kinds of conversations you should be having as you establish lasting and enjoyable accountability in your life.
1. What are you doing to enjoy life?
We sin because sin is fun. We enjoy sin (at least for a little while). The more we deprive ourselves of legitimate pleasures, the more we will be susceptible to the temptation of illegitimate pleasures.
A friend who spurs you to avoid illegitimate pleasures (e.g., sin) should, just as passionately, call you to pursue legitimate pleasures—in balance with your life responsibilities. “Shooting the breeze” about your favorite hobby is not just wasting time while your waiter brings your breakfast; it is part of the accountability relationship.
2. What new stressors are entering your life?
Sin is frequently an escape more than it is a pursuit. If that is true, then being aware of the things we are prone to want to escape from is important. Often, just not being alone with our stresses is a huge relief.
When we don’t feel like anyone knows or understands what we’re going through, all of the lies that make sin appealing become more convincing. Sometimes our friend may be able to suggest things to reduce the stress, but even if they can’t these are not wasted conversations.
3. Would you like to “just hang out”?
If accountability partners only spend time together “doing accountability” then their relationship will likely begin to feel like a sin-hunt. Accountability will be deemed to only be “working” when sin is found. The purpose of the relationship will be called into question during extended periods of time when our sin-of-choice is absent. The result is a neglect of the relationship and creation of a context riper for temptation during “the good times.”
Having times when you “hang out” (or whatever the cool word is now) is vital to accountability providing the long-term protection desired when people enter into these kinds of relationships.
(Again, you should be saying, “This sounds more like an intentional friendship than an accountability protocol.”)
4. Who or what is getting too much air time in your thought life right now?
This is similar to the stress question but does not have to carry a negative connotation. Our mental air time can be consumed by a fictional argument with someone we believe has unreasonable expectations of us. But it can also be fixated on a particular craving or a personal ambition that is becoming too central to our identity.
Asking this question is a great way to become self-aware of our thoughts, which is very important for addictive behaviors. Too often it is passivity towards our thought life that allows temptation to gain significant momentum before we begin to resist it as temptation. Knowing you’ll be asked reminds you to pay attention.
5. What are you passionate about in the coming weeks, months, or years? How is it going?
Your friend should already know, but if they don’t, then they have to know what “it” is before they can ask now “it’s” going. Part of what sin does is rob us of the time and energy that God desires us to invest in the things he made us to be passionate about. In that sense, sin is a parasite; it lives off of resources intended for another purpose.
For many people, it is helpful to realize that purity is an investment as much as an outcome. Purity is investing our lives in the things that really matter more than it’s the avoidance of particular activities; otherwise, couch potatoes would be saints. For achievement-oriented people, this realization can add to their motivation to pursue purity.
Ask the Traditional Accountability Questions Too
Don’t take the suggestions above to discount traditional accountability conversations. You should still ask traditional accountability questions:
- Have you succumbed to temptation since we met last?
- When have you been tempted and what have you done about it?
- How has your time of Bible study and prayer been?
- Has God felt more like a cop-detective or a Savior-Father to you recently?
- What have you not told me that you should?
- What should I have asked that I haven’t?
But don’t let these be the only questions you ask. Make sure that as you “do accountability” that you are “establishing a friendship.” If you don’t, chances are you won’t be “doing accountability” for long.
What accountability questions do you wish your ally would ask you? Comment below!
 In your “best available relationships” (whatever those may be) share when you’re tempted, tired, discouraged, unmotivated. Do this by e-mail, text message, phone call, or in person. Don’t rely on them for the changes you need to make, but allow their awareness to strengthen your resolve to make those changes.
 I caveat this point because there are too many adults, especially married adults, who are bitter about the responsibilities of adulthood and a family. Daydreaming about the fun of adolescents or singleness robs us of the ability to enjoy the fun of adulthood and marriage. God is pro-maturity and we should be too.
Thank you Mr Hambrick!
Accountability partners/groups do seem terribly contrived, and are often a sham exercise to placate and silence the most concerned party (the spouse).
In betrayed-wife support circles we are often told a wife cant serve as accountability for her husband (although it sure looks like God set it up that way in Genesis), which leaves pretty much no one except paid people-helpers; pastors and counselors who really are too busy and don’t have enough investment in the relationship to keep them interested for their own sake a well.
The biggest problem with sex addicts is they often have no real friends of the same sex. So they confide in a guy and lose what shallow interaction they had, and end up feeling even more rejected and alone than before.
My own husband lost at least three “good chrstian” brothers this way and the 4 other new recovery friends he engaged with have each relapsed and given up the fight altogether. So discouraging.
It turns out I am the only one who cares enough to stay involved, probe, ask the hard questions, and implement any consequences. But of course I am the only one risking EVERYTHING to stay as well. If he relapses I potentially lose my very life.
What seems to have helped my husband the most is reaching back. Looking behind and shining his weak little light to help the younger ones stumbling along in his same trail. It’s that 12th step I guess.
Talking to other lying addicts really opened his eyes to how irritating it must have been for me to argue with foolishness and self righteous indulgence.
We are still both aching for mentors, someone who has gone before us, but we seem to be stuck as the “older” believers in he lives of others. So we find our role models through books and websites and pray they are telling the truth.
I applaud you for being able to be strong enough to be your husbands accountability partner. Most woman can’t which is why as a general rule we suggest that spouses are not good accountability partners. Too often, the addiction behavior too painful and creates too much rejection on the part of the spouse thus making it very difficult for her to heal from the damage her husband caused. In theory, it would be wonderful if the wives could stand along their husbands helping them heal from their wounds and destructive behaviors that has gotten them to this point. It’s just too painful for most. Also, many husbands blame their wives for their addictions, or at least until they understand the truth of their behaviors. Until that point, they just can’t see their own responsibility in their actions.
I Know it’s been 3 years since your post, but if you see this (or anyone else) I invite you to check our website for help in recovery – lots of free material. http://www.roadtopurity.com
I’m in the same situation with my husband. I get it.
Carol – You describe a real dynamic that often emerges. Lying often does as much, if not more, damage than lust; both to the marriage and Christian friendships.
Modeling authenticity by mentoring people earlier in their journey with lust is one good way to cultivate more authentic relationships. It can be very eye-opening for the reasons you describe.
But I would not advise that this be the only source of transparent relationships in a man’s life. While he may have to begin from scratch with new friendships, he should seek non-recovery friends with whom he is authentic. This may be in a small group, men’s group, or adult Sunday school class. It is easy to allow short-term necessities to become ongoing patterns.
This is not just for his protection and maturity, but also for that of his wife. As you mentioned, there may be a season when the wife wants to be or is the only option for accountability. But the husband needs to begin developing the quality of relationships that would allow her to eventually fade out of this role.
As a caveat (for a frequent misapplication), this does not mean she is no longer “allowed” (as many a defensive husband has said) to ask questions about his purity, but that she can opt not to without fear of him being alone with his temptation because she knows other godly men are asking him.
I appreciate the points you made and questions you asked. I hope this is a helpful addendum to the post.
Thank you again. I am always encouraged by your insights.
If you don’t mind going a bit further, what did you mean by “non-recovery” friends? Do you mean non Christians or Christian men who are still hiding behind masks?
My understanding of true recovery is that it is both life long and all inclusive:the gospel in action.
I have found that a person not in recovery is a person who is still really blind to their own sin and human frailty.
We are not all porn addicts perhaps, but if we are honest, there are always very destructive things that aim to lure each of us away from living whole hearted lives.
When I mentioned the recovery friends who have relapsed and quit, it was to identify the several individuals who came out of my own husband’s attempt to connect with other men trying to shake off life long addictions. The other “brothers” who fled were men who were not ready to do any shaking.
I am not trying to be difficult here I really want to know. Where does one find this elusive person(s) who is not currently struggling, and yet is willing to stick around long term and ask probing questions? Does anybody really do this? I mean other than me?
Carol – Thank you for your additional clarifying question. By “non recovery friends” I am referring to where the relationship forms and how broad its interaction. A “recovery friend” would be someone your husband met at a purity group and primarily interacts with over the pursuit of purity. A “non-recovery friend” would be someone met in a casual social setting with whom interactions were more broad. It is not that these men are not struggling (we are all sinners) but that their life is not so dominated by a particular sin that they need to set aside a season of their life to overcome it. This allows for a more balanced and broad friendship.
These individuals who are Christians and are part of small groups (or your church’s equivalent), ministry team, or a Bible study at his workplace. A good resource for developing these kinds of friendship is Jonathan Holme’s book “The Company We Keep” – http://www.amazon.com/Company-We-Keep-Biblical-Friendship/dp/1936760959/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1436389505&sr=1-1&keywords=jonathan+holmes This would be a great book for him to recommend that his Sunday School class or small group study together.
Thanks Carol and Brad. I am way too late to this conversation but I am intrigued by the conversation on where and how to have friends.I will probably read the book *(linked above) but I feel extremely skeptical when I read the synopsis. I suppose I fear it will sound good in theory but never be a reality for me.
This is one of the best articles I’ve read on Covenant Eyes. It challenges and unpacks something intrinsic to CE – accountability partnership – something I struggle with in its inherent formality, however informal the actual discussion may be. It’s like having a spiritual Line Manager rather than a close friend with whom one can feel comfortable discussing things of a sexual nature (or as comfortable as one can doing so!). Still, if the relationship is done properly, including questions such as the ones you wrote above, then it is helpful. Nice work. Thanks, Mr. Hambrick!
I appreciate this article and these conversations. I wanted to add that I recently discovered a group called The Samson Society. There are regular virtual gatherings of fellow strugglers who really strive for honesty and also seek to develop true relationships. I would encourage anyone to check it out.