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How do I find accountability partners?

Last Updated: July 26, 2021

Michael Leahy

Michael Leahy is the Executive Director of BraveHearts, a ministry providing mentoring-centric solutions for men who struggle with habitual sexual sin. He’s the author of five books, including Porn Nation: Conquering America’s #1 Addiction, and is considered a subject matter expert on sexual addiction and recovery. A father of two grown boys and a grandfather, Michael and his wife, Christine, live in Gainesville, GA.

This week, I’m celebrating 13 years as a paying Covenant Eyes customer. I say celebrating because, from day one, Covenant Eyes has been an invaluable tool I’ve enlisted to help me break free from a lifetime of habitual sexual sin and maintain my sexual integrity.

As a result, today I’m still living in freedom from my sexual addiction and able to mentor others who struggle so they too can experience the freedom that I now enjoy. Needless to say, I love what I do for a living.

But I remember the many challenges I faced when starting out on my journey to freedom. One of the bigger challenges was the one staring me in the face 13 years ago as I was completing the online process of signing up as a new Covenant Eyes customer.

“Enter the email addresses of your accountability partners here.”

What!?! Oh, yeah, that’s right. I need to have some accountability partners. Hmmm.

When I Started Using Covenant Eyes

Before I go on, remember we’re talking early 2004 here. The general public first became aware that the internet even existed only about nine or ten years earlier. And Covenant Eyes was only a few years old. No one was out there talking about “best practices” with regards to how you go about choosing your internet accountability partners. We were the pioneers, and it was all still trial and error.

Strangely enough, the one thing I had going for me back then was that I’d gone through about eight years of recovery from my own sexual addiction, including breaking free from a pretty serious addiction to Internet porn. The other advantage was, since I spent most of my career working in the computer industry, I had a deep understanding of technology tools and trends.

I think that’s why Covenant Eyes has worked great for me from day one–because I had already acquired some hard-earned wisdom and knew better than most what I needed to bring to the table in order to get the most out of using this powerful tool for recovery.

Related: Accountability Partners–How to Leverage Them for Growth

How Do I Find Accountability Partners?

As for that daunting first step–finding and naming my accountability partners–here’s just a sampling of that same logic and common sense that helped me succeed in my recovery, and that I also learned to apply in my ongoing search for accountability partners:

1. Don’t follow conventional church wisdom.

As a recovering sex addict, I knew better than to follow the conventional pastoral counseling wisdom and go looking for what I call the “Local Moses.” Every pastor has one. You know, he’s the guy your pastor is so proud of–his Moses. So godly and devoted to his faith. So they think it’s inevitable that you’ll get better and stop on your own just by osmosis–by hanging around this person as he draws you closer to God.

Well, it seldom works out that way. While it never hurts to surround yourself with godly men, most Local Moses’ I’ve met have never struggled with habitual sexual sin anywhere close to the degree that I and most guys I know have. So the help they’re able to offer you is limited by their own personal experiences. Which unfortunately makes them easy pickings when it comes to a recovering addict’s pulling the wool over their eyes as they struggle with living in the light of the truth. Which leads me to #2.

2. Seek out like-minded, like-hearted peers.

What you really want to find are peers of your gender. But not just guys or ladies who also struggle. They need to be link-minded and like-hearted. In other words, they need to be at your level or beyond in terms of recognizing the depth of their problem with habitual sexual sin, and as equally committed to getting well as you are. Those last two parts are critical. Otherwise, you might find yourself linked up with some well-intended people who know they have a problem, but who aren’t as committed to getting well as you are–a sure recipe for stagnation and frustration.

3. Seek out the help of a mentor.

Okay, this may come across as a bit of an advertisement for my ministry. But it’s really more of an endorsement for taking a mentoring-centric approach to recovery, or getting well, and staying that way. Working with a mentor–someone with significant sexual sobriety who’s living in freedom from habitual sexual sin–will give you structure and a plan that puts you on the most direct path to freedom yourself. But also by virtue of your mentor-mentee relationship, you’ll be learning firsthand how to hold yourself accountable to another man or woman.

In addition, if your mentor is like most mentors and is working with several people at once, he or she should be able to recommend other like-minded, like-hearted men or women for you to contact and connect with for accountability. For instance, in BraveHearts, I’m currently mentoring over 40 men, most of whom are always on the lookout for good accountability partners.

4. Don’t look for just one–build an army.

People, no matter how well intending they are, will occasionally let you down when it comes to having your back. Sometimes they get distracted, other times they get caught up in their own battles. You may even find them getting complacent, thinking you’ve got everything well at hand and don’t really need them to stand watch for you.

That’s why from day one I’ve always sought to have at least three accountability partners. Sure, it’s a lot harder to find three people than it is just one. But with only one, there’s no safety net, no fall back. Like Scripture says, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A chord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Pretty straight forward–three is always better than one.

5. Don’t make your spouse an accountability partner.

I’m sure my just saying this is going to rub some of you the wrong way. After all, on the surface, there are all kinds of noble and righteous reasons to make your spouse an accountability partner.

Don’t get me wrong, you are definitely accountable to her in many ways and all areas of your life. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to hold yourself accountable to your spouse when it comes to maintaining sexual integrity. As far as her receiving detailed reports from Covenant Eyes, I don’t recommend it. The why’s and how’s behind this piece of advice will need to be covered in more detail in a future blog post.

Read through more cases for and against having your spouse as an accountability partner.

6. You’ll find your best accountability partners in recovery groups.

Without question, the best place to find prospective accountability partners is anywhere you see people assembled specifically for the purpose of recovery from habitual sexual sin (and typically not in your run-of-the-mill men’s small group). We have a saying along those lines–if you’re not working on your recovery, then you’re working on your addiction.

Although I work with a lot of guys in private 1-on-1 mentoring, that’s just a starting point for most of them. But it’s when they’ve progressed to the point where they’re sober and getting healthier and now want to connect with others in recovery that they’re primed and ready for rich accountability relationships. Those are your best prospects.

  • Comments on: How do I find accountability partners?
    1. Thomas Jay on

      I appreciate this post, but I question the wisdom of scheduling a webinar in the middle of the day dealing with such a serious affliction effecting millions of men. Most of us are at work. I understand that the two gifts are meant to help those who cannot join in on the webinar get going on the road to recovery, but it would be very beneficial to be able to participate live in this webinar.

      Reply
      • Michael Leahy on

        Point duly noted. It’s more a function of availability as I’m already leading a Tuesday night group mentoring session that runs from 7:30-8:30pm ET, and have been for over 4 years now. For all the rest of the nights, they’re off limits as I need to guard against my ministry taking over my personal life and negatively impacting my marriage. As a compromise though, I do record these webinars so those who can’t make it can at least view them on their own time. Sorry, but for the time being, that’s the best I can do.

    2. A Wife on

      To put it simply, I mostly agree with 1-4 and disagree completely with 5 and 6. I am just one woman with one opinion, but I am a woman whose faith has grown by leaps and bounds as a result of helping my husband in his struggles. I am one woman who doesn’t appreciate the sweeping judgement that a wife should never be their husband’s accountability partner let alone ONE of their accountability partners.

      By making this sweeping judgement and encouraging other men to intentionally leave their wives out of a very important part of their recovery, you are encouraging men to keep secrets from the very person that God intended them to be most transparent with. A husband and wife are to be one flesh. A wife is the God- intended helper of her husband. We were created for this kind of work even if it is hard work.

      A wife is the very best accountability partner a man can have. It may not seem that way in the beginning because there is a lot of work to be done to get to that point. There is a lot of spiritual growth and healing that needs to occur. However, there is no greater partner in any area of life than a spouse. Can you think of any other human being who is bound by a covenant to love and care for another person the way a spouse is supposed to? A person who is personally invested in that person and their future? I certainly can’t. (I am aware that not every man is married. However, I am focusing only on married couples in this comment.)

      I am not saying that enlisting other men as accountability partners isn’t beneficial. Those other man can be invaluable to him. A man should enlist as many people as he feels he needs to help maintain purity and integrity. However, asking him to intentionally leave his wife out of any part of his fight (especially when she asks to be a part of it) is like asking him to cut off one of his arms in the heat of battle.

      Has it occurred to you that knowing that his wife will see his reports may act as a very strong deterrent? That it may actually help a man to be more careful about what he views? Knowing that his choices will be viewed by the person who will be hurt the most by his bad choices may be the key to the determination he needs to stay away from things that will hurt her and him. It is very much like using the image of Jesus on the cross as a deterrent to sin. If we focus on the way He suffered for our sins to save us and how much He must love us for going there willingly for us, then we find ourselves not wanting to have anything to do with our personal sins that put Him there. Sin causes pain. Christ felt that pain firsthand. Sin hurts us and the ones we love the most. In my own opinion, a group of male accountability partners will never be able to have this same potent affect on a man’s willpower to change his bad habits.

      Now some women may not be able to handle it right away and maybe never will be able too, but don’t you dare assume we all fit into that mold. Don’t you dare make assumptions about people and couples you don’t know. If you do make those assumptions, keep them to yourself. Don’t encourage all the men you come into contact with to automatically leave their wives off of their list of accountability partners. This will perpetuate the feelings of suspicion that a wife already feels when she finds out about her husband’s struggles. The wife is the only person who gets to decide how much or how little she wants to know. Not the husband and certainly not anyone outside of their marriage.

      Again, I say that I am just one woman with one opinion, but I’d like to stand up for any other woman out there who is ready and willing to help her husband fight in this war of sexual sin. We have a God-given right to stand side by side with our husbands and fight with them and for them. We don’t need secrets kept from us, we don’t need protected from the truth, and we don’t need people to assume we are too weak or ignorant to be compassionate and helpful to our husbands even though their struggles hurt us. We can be incredibly strong when we have God giving us our strength. Please, don’t underestimate me or any other woman who has God on their side and Christ as their personal Savior and friend.

      God Bless

      Reply
      • Husband on

        My wife is my accountability partner. I do know other people that would probably be okay, but I guess my wife seeing that she has an active role in helping / preventing helps her (?) When she caught me several years ago, she really was upset (understandably) and we talked and I have opened up to her, not completely, but I know as I progress in healing and strengthening I will open up even more and maybe be able to give a testimony to others. I did not only sin against The Lord but also her and she deserves to be kept in the loop. She is my best friend and I hers. I am 2 months solid clean and I have made some decisions, even financial, in order to help me. I feel the grip getting lighter and a confidence I once did not have and feel that allowing her to assist me in the battle has helped me rid the anxiousness of hiding my struggles.

        I am sure each person’s situation may differ as with their spouses, but I do feel that a husband needs to take into consideration how the wife would feel if he kept such a secret and did not even approach her to help him in the battle.

        Drastic measures had to be made with my situation…..I eliminated many things (including smart phones) in my home and never regretted it. Certain employment opportunities were passed over because of the temptation to be put in areas I felt I was too weak.

        Even though I praise God for the victory so far….I have a long road ahead of me and thank God I have a woman to walk beside me. For the women out there, us husbands love you and thank God you are there for us. Do whatever it takes to help him, he’ll be stronger and more confident with you by his side.

        Thanks Covenant Eyes for your ministry!!

      • Michael Leahy on

        Hi, I wanted to respond to you directly. You’re right, I was mistaken to paint all spouses with a broad brush in my comment. That certainly was not my intention. However, that being said, I think it’s interesting that if you ask that same question of a group of 100 qualified, licensed counselors who have experience working with sexually addicted men and their spouses, you’ll find you get a very similar response. Why? Because of a growing problem we refer to as relational trauma (think PTS and PTSD in spouses of sex addicts). I notice you didn’t mention that at all in your reply, but there’s a growing body of clinical evidence that points to the reality of this very thing. There are also some generalizations that you’ve made which I disagree with as well, i.e. “a group of male accountability partners will never be able to have this same potent affect on a man’s willpower to change his bad habits”, is absolutely a false statement for several reasons, not the least of which is that making these kinds of changes is simply not a matter of a man’s willpower. It runs far deeper than that, and it gets into the deeper, inner recesses of a man’s soul that takes most men a long time in recovery before they ever feel safe enough to share that with their spouse. I believe the answer to effective accountability with your spouse and other men is a matter of “and”, not “or.” So I’m sorry if my advice came across in a way that appeared like I was excluding their need to be accountable to their spouse as well. I always tell the men I work with that they MUST come clean with their spouses on everything they’ve done. But like I said in my article, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that, and there’s a right time and a wrong time. Get either of those wrong and men will do far more damage to their spouses and their marriages. If you’d like to have a follow-up conversation about this, you can always reach me directly at mleahy@bravehearts.org.

    3. Amy Kate on

      “After all, on the surface, there are all kinds of noble and righteous reasons to make your spouse an accountability partner. Just trust me and take my advice–don’t do it! And more importantly, if she insists, don’t do it!”

      I was all on-board with this article until this. I personally don’t think a wife should be an accountability partner but to say she *cannot* be? That is a recipe for marriage strife among other issues. She is supposed to be an equal in the marriage and has the right, especially after being betrayed, to decide what she needs – not him. Her rights were taken away from her when he decided to step outside the marriage sexually, healing it begins with him letting her BE his partner, in life. Now that may or may not mean she is his accountability partner (again I don’t think it is a good idea personally) but that decision shouldn’t be made solely by the one who lied to her and betrayed her.

      This attitude puts the marriage into a two enemy stance instead of two united people fighting a common enemy. His recovery/her recovery – “stay on your side of the street” recovery may heal individuals but destroys marriages.

      She needs empathy and safety and a voice. She does NOT need to have more decisions made for her and her needs ignored, dismissed and refused.

      Men, please do NOT do this to your wife. Not if you want to actually heal your marriage anyway.

      Reply
      • Michael Leahy on

        Amy, thanks for your response to my article. Again, I apologize for the way I shared this advice. I agree with everything you’ve said here. My intentions if anything were mainly in the interests of protecting the spouse, not giving the man a pass and allowing him to continue to hide his sinful behavior. But like you said repeatedly in your reply – and what I actually meant to say as well but didn’t do such a good job of – it’s not a good idea for her to take on the role of his accountability partner. It’s unhealthy for her because this is not her issue or her problem, it belongs solely to him. And while she has every right to know exactly what he’s doing and where he is in his recovery, it’s traumatic for a spouse to get into the level of detail on an ongoing basis that we as men go into re- the triggers and temptations and struggles. There’s an art and a science to this re- doing it well and in a way that gets a man to bring out the deepest, darkest secrets. We create a safe place for that to happen, and once he gets it out in relationship with other men, invariably they move strongly towards sharing that with their spouse. Exclude peer-level accountability with other men out of the process and leave it up to them to bring it up with their spouses alone, and I’m afraid many men simply choose to take it to their grave and never get on the path to freedom, choosing instead to continue to live a life of lies and deception.

    4. Wayne on

      I am new in my church and town I am living in. I just 3 days ago been brought to my attention that I need to be clean from secret sexual sin. I dont know anybody well enough to be my accountable partner in this area. I feel like Im carrying this horrible burden with noone to share it with and to get prayer for it. Im at the end of my rope with this wretched thing and dont know what to do,

      Reply
      • Kevin on

        Where do you live Wayne?

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