If you’re in a partnership where one of you is addicted to pornography, you may have heard that the person struggling with the addiction needs an accountability partner.
Guess what. The person who’s not addicted needs one too.
But first, let’s talk about what accountability is and isn’t.
What Is Accountability?
When you hear the word “accountability,” what emotions does it elicit? It may vary depending on the context in which you hear it.
We often want our church leadership, our government, and our children’s teachers to have accountability because it assures us that checks and balances are in place to keep us safe from fraud, harm, or unwanted situations. We want people who break the law held accountable for their actions so we know our justice system will continue to deter others from making similarly poor decisions.
But how does our emotional response change if it’s us that needs to be held accountable? Does the concept make us squirm? In some cases, the squirming is more than justified. In many ways, Christians have done a poor job both explaining and executing accountability.
How many of you have had a meeting with your accountability partner where you reported all your slip ups and left simply feeling ashamed and less-than?
Often this is due to the fact that the accountability relationship is one-sided—one person does all the confessing and the other simply listens, doles out the advice, etc. Or perhaps, you felt forced into this relationship in the first place and there wasn’t the sense of trust needed for you to feel safe to express your struggles. So, you reported some minor slippage, but left the rest hidden in the closet, because who knows how this person in front of you might react?
The last thing you need is more criticism about the one thing that keeps plaguing you.
But what if we replaced the words “accountability partner” with the word “ally?” What if you knew you had an ally in the battles you face, someone who readily joined in the fight with you? And not only would s/he fight with you for you, but you for him/her, as well?
When Do You Need Accountability?
Part of the myth of accountability is that you need it only when you have this really big sin in your life that you can’t shake by yourself.
But here’s the truth: sin is sin. By definition, sin is simply separation from God. There is not a hierarchy of sins in His eyes. If you’re struggling with any sin from gossip to envy to porn, He wants to help you overcome it. He wants you to have people in your life that will encourage you, empathize with you, and be a compassionate truth-teller because, hello, we need people to tell us the truth about ourselves, even if it’s hard to hear.
This is why it’s so important for both people in marriage to have an ally—because we all struggle with brokenness. Here are just two examples of when you might need accountability:
When you fall short of being like Jesus.
Our goal as Christians is to become more and more like Jesus. We all struggle with sin because we all have brokenness. Every single one of us have habits, lies we believe, and unmet needs that cause us to look for the wrong thing to make us feel right. And none of us are continually and completely self-aware of our behaviors.
Many times, the results of our actions are best reflected in the words and expressions of our closest relationships. Our health or unhealth has a direct impact on them and awareness of this impact can help us discern where or in what ways we need to grow to become more like Jesus. It is in community that we both recognize where we need help and where we are able to help others.
When you need some healing.
James writes, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16). We have an idiom that describes how we are compelled to “get things off our chests” because the weight of what we’re carrying feels suffocating and oppressive. Satan may try to convince us to keep our sinful behaviors secret, but God knows that it is out in the light where healing and peace live.
Did you notice that, basically, there is no season in our life when we could not use some accountability—or rather, an ally in the fight for wholeness and freedom?
Engaging an Ally
You want an ally to be someone with whom you can be real and who can be real with you. These allies are people who understand they also need people! It’s a relationship characterized by:
- Truth without judgment
As Craig and I journeyed through his porn addiction, we were both desperate for allies to help us through. Even though we are now on the other side, guess what! We are still desperate for allies to help us through personal and marital struggles. Here are some tips for establishing a great ally relationship that is helpful to both parties:
Have a DTR (“define the relationship”) meeting.
Be intentional about asking your potential ally to keep you accountable and ask if you could do the same for them, laying out the characteristics of an ally and making sure they have a clear definition of what you mean by accountability.
Be honest about the help you need.
What current goals are you working on? What are some objectives you’d like to achieve? What kinds of spiritual growth do you want to see happen in your life and what is your plan to work on that? If you’re trying to stay away from a particular habit, it’s good to have your ally help you address that, but equally (if not more important), you also need to let your ally know what positive behaviors you’re going to invest in to add to your life.
I remember when Craig first came clean to a small group of friends. He called them over to our house, sat them down in our living room, and basically said, “I’m addicted to porn and I need y’all to be a part of my recovery. You’re free to ask me any question about my behavior and my relationships. Call me out if you see me headed in the wrong direction.” He was very clear about what he needed from them and gave them permission to speak into his life.
Commit to honesty.
No one gets anywhere by hiding the truth. This is to be a safe space where you can be completely real.
I remember several times when I needed to call my ally and say, “I’m so scared he’s looking at porn again. I’m so angry/hurt/scared and all I can think of are berating, accusatory statements.” As an external processor, it was so helpful for me to get all my raw emotions out so I could have a rational conversation with Craig that could actually be helpful.
Have regular meetings.
Discuss with your ally when/where/how you’ll meet so you can get in a regular rhythm. Coming clean to people about your shortcomings isn’t always highly motivating in and of itself, so it’s important to get some dates on the calendar. Don’t forget to schedule some fund and downtime in there! Part of having a healthy ally relationship is getting to know your friend in fun, relaxing situations!
Now that you may have a different or expanded definition of accountability, perhaps it’s time to pray and ask God how to incorporate this into your life. As with anything new, it’s always good to spend some time in prayer, talk to trusted friends, and watch where He is opening up new avenues to explore. It may feel overwhelming and scary, but it is a risk that will pay off in the end.