Recently, I interviewed my accountability partner of two years, Michael Stuart, for the Porn to Purity Podcast. Mike had been my best friend since seventh grade. We were college roommates, pursued the ministry, and both planted churches around the same time. After my sexual sin was discovered, he was the first one I called.
We began a new chapter in our relationship. Even though we lived in separate states we experienced a deepening of our relationship during the first two years of my sexual addiction recovery. Mike walked through the mud with me and knew how to be a support and come along side me in this terrifying chapter of my life.
I thought it would be a good idea to ask Mike about his experiences, and find out what made our accountability relationship good. I wanted to get inside his mind and understand the struggles of being a good supporter. I also wanted to find out what he would do differently.
Our two-part interview can be found by clicking these links:
- Part 1: Jeff Fisher and Michael Stuart on “What Does a Good Accountability Relationship Look Like?”
- Part 2: Jeff Fisher and Michael Stuart on “What Does a Good Accountability Relationship Look Like?”
Here are 12 lessons I am reflecting on from my interview with my accountability partner:
- The best thing he could do was listen, especially early on. He recognized that I was in a very broken place. He could feel my desperation, raw emotion, and fear. His job was to listen and let me talk. Even though he and I go back far in our relationship, he needed me to know that he wasn’t going to leave me and that he cared.
- He recognized that calling him was a courageous thing. To Mike it was an honor to our relationship that I trusted him with my sexual struggles. When we ended our calls, he tried to emphasize how good it was that I called.
- He was personally hurt and frustrated at times, but reserved that for later conversations. Mike was hurt that I hadn’t shared my struggles with him. He made a conscious decision not to share any of his personal feelings until later. He knew that, especially in the early stages, I needed to talk and get the pain out.
- He called more experienced ministers for advice. This was the first time Mike had worked with a sexual struggler. He spent time talking to other friends in the ministry who had success helping others through their sexual sins.
- He put the burden of recovery in my hands. It’s not that Mike didn’t call me or take initiative, but he made it clear that I needed to take responsibility for my own steps. His role was one of support. In his words, “I didn’t want to be chasing you. In a support role, it’s never good if I start working harder than they’re working. It would have been easy in the early stages for you to put the leadership in my hands, but this is not empowering to you or building you up.”
- He was hesitant to give advice. Mike had thoughts and opinions, but he recognized they could be colored by his own assumptions. When I asked for advice, he would throw the question back to me and ask for my insights. It helped him get a much clearer picture of where I was and what I was thinking.
- He knew that I didn’t understand the consequences, yet. Mike knew I did not understand the weight of my situation. I wasn’t grasping the pain I was causing others and to myself. I was holding together as much as I could and walling it off to protect myself. He felt like it was his job to keep shining light on my situation and help me move toward the truth, but not push me.
- We could not have a good accountability relationship if I was lying to him. He expected me to be truthful. He knew that if I started lying to him he might not realize it, but he kept reminding me of the consequences of lying. We could lose our friendship and break trust if I lied. He told me if we go on this journey together and I don’t honor it, it will have a big impact on us. He didn’t want me to lose the support he was willing to offer.
- He kept pushing me to create new, healthy outlets. I had created the habit of filling my life with pornography. I needed something to replace it with. I also needed to build relational intimacy with my wife. Part of his job was helping me express my feelings to my wife, focus on loving her and building healthy intimacy.
- Our accountability relationship evolved. At first, our relationship was 95% me talking about the pain and walking me through my crisis. As I became stronger and received additional support, we didn’t need to talk as frequently and we started moving to conversations that were less one-sided. We got back to a relationship where there was mutual giving.
- Sometimes it was hard to take my calls. Mike said there were times when he felt tired, had a hard day or was feeling some frustration with me. Those were the times he tried to say less and listen. Or he might say, “Jeff, I’m pretty tired right now and probably can’t give you the attention you need. Can we talk another time, or do you need to talk now?” It was important in our relationship to be honest about where we were emotionally. We always kept our appointments, but sometimes we would talk later.
- His focus was not on a list of questions, but moving forward. I wanted Mike to ask a list of questions, police me, and help me explore why I was doing the things I was doing. I also wanted to talk about the pain and the past. He wanted to keep asking me questions like “Where do you want to be?” “What steps do you need to take to get there?” “How can I support you in taking the next step?” Helping me go forward was his strength. He trusted my counselors and support group to help me more with working on the past.
What would you do differently?
Jeff’s answer: “It was critical for me to find good support quicker. Going to a support group, a counselor, or building other healthy relationships with guys were important steps. I think I would have benefited by going to a counseling intensive or Christian sexual recovery camp for a while.”
Mike’s answer: “It would have been helpful if I were familiar with the programs and ministries that were available in the area you were living in. It would have been good for me to reach out to find more resources.”