5 minute read

Why We All Need an Ally

Last Updated: March 6, 2023

Jen Ferguson
Jen Ferguson

Jen Ferguson is a wife, author, and speaker who is passionate about helping couples thrive in their marriages. She and her husband, Craig, have shared their own hard story in their book, Pure Eyes, Clean Heart: A Couple’s Journey to Freedom from Pornography. They continue to help couples along in their journeys to freedom and intimacy. She’s also a mama to two girls and two high-maintenance dogs, which is probably why she runs. A lot. Even in the Texas heat.

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?

Related: When Will I No Longer Need Accountability?

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:

  • Humility
  • Trust
  • Encouragement
  • Truth without judgment
  • Compassion
  • Hopefulness
  • Grace

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.

  • Comments on: Why We All Need an Ally
    1. MikeC

      Accountability never used to be this confusing. It always meant simply a system of checks and balances that prevents a person in a position of responsibility from abusing that responsibility by assuring negative consequences for bad behavior. Action. Reaction. That’s how the word was always meant and still always means in every other context.

      I suspect that the confusion about the word “accountability” is primarily the fault of the church and its reaction to pornography. Promise Keepers in the early 90s was trying to create relationships among men that would be defined by frank and honest disclosure of sins, specifically sexual sins. It was believed that if we could get guys to open up, they would so dread the weekly beat-downs that they would be motivated to stop lusting or masturbating to porn out of sheer embarrassment. Other sins may have been discussed but were never the catalyst for this new interest in “accountability.” And while men’s groups have focused on accountability relationships over the ensuing years, women’s groups have remained social clubs where the sins usually discussed are the ones committed by their husbands.

      After a while, it became clear that accountability groups were not creating a better species of Christian men, but were just creating a better species of Christian liars. Accountability, as it has always been meant, was a failure.

      It wasn’t a universal failure, however. Accountability does work for some men. This is the small percentage of highly committed men who through sheer willpower have made themselves give up lust and porn by various techniques including eye bouncing and rubber band snapping. But for the vast majority of men, the traditional ascetic strategies have been failures. Continuing the beatings, as it turned out, did not improve morale.

      But no one wants to admit that accountability is a failure. Because angry wives of porn addicted husbands must be placated by assurances that the sinning jerks won’t get off with just a warning. So we keep the word “accountability” because it sounds punitive, but we quietly make it mean something different. Something a bit more about grace and support and love. We hug each other and talk about our pain and grief and we get to cry about our mommy not loving us enough or our daddy leaving us when we were children.

      Of course, after all the love and support from our “allies,” we must realize that we are still accountable to God, of course. There is hell and damnation or at least the loss of eternal rewards. But likewise on this earth, we are especially accountable to our wives who are supported by the church if they decide to end the marriage and especially by the state who will kick us out of our homes, take away our right to see our children, and garnish 50 percent or more of our income for years to come. Now that’s what I call real accountability.

      • A healing wife

        Yes, this! Until my husband faced the loss of his job and family, he continued to skate through “accountability” to several friends, a counselor, a marriage counselor and our pastor. Hear, hear to putting in place strong consequences while also providing as much support as necessary.

      • Guy

        wow how encouraging

      • Some interesting thoughts my friend and much of it has elements of truth. I do wonder if MikeC has had some bad experiences with accountability. There are many of these. However, there are many beautiful stories of authentic male relationships (and female) that include accountability. Not all people with “allies” will break free of porn. But nearly all who do break free from porn, from my experience, had “allies” as part of their story of healing. We are created for relationship, primarily with God, but also with others. It is not a surprise that “relationship” are always at the centre of conversion and restoration.

    2. MichaelC

      I have no bad experiences with “accountability” because I base my relationships with other men on shared interests, including intellectual and spiritual interests. I prefer the fellowship of Christian brothers who celebrate with me during the good times and support me during the bad times. It’s kind of like the way Christian women relate only we talk about guy stuff. When my wife decides to base her friendships on accountability then I might be interested in the concept if I see it working for her.

    3. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of authentic accountability here. Accountability only works if each person is motivated to truly change. Some people attend accountability groups as a place to confess their behavior without judgement – almost like a passive action to not really change. Others attend out of guilt of what they are doing but are not actually ready to change. In these cases, the accountability groups will not help a person recovery in any form. Unfortunately, in my professional experience, these two situations probably make up for 70-80% of those attending these groups. Also as “the healing wife” pointed out, the shock in his life caused her husband to “hit bottom” which in may cases is the key or actual trigger to motivate change. However this motivation to get back what one has lost has to also convert to and sincere personal desire to change for the process to be lasting. Also accountability groups are only one part of the recovery process that is required for authentic healing and recovery and when people use it as their only means, then they will also typically fail. Recovery requires authentic conviction to change, behavioral changes, spiritual commitment, physical healing and emotional healing. ALL MUST be addressed to truly heal and become free.
      FYI, I outline all of these in my programs and materials I offer addicts. I was personally a sex addict for 35yrs and have been in recovery for 10.
      Dann Aungst
      Author, counselor, speaker

      • MichaelC

        Actually, accountability is when there is a functional system of rewards and punishments necessary to induce a person to perform at their best and avoid their worst. What you are describing is NOT accountability but group therapy. I argue that group therapy has been successful given the scenario you describe. But in the early days of Promise Keepers, there was a concerted effort to persuade men to join groups for the sole purpose of disclosing uncomfortable facts about themselves and then relying on their sense of shame to lead them to change their behavior lest they have to confess their sins in front of their peers. This was in a culture that did not yet have internet pornography and where there were still huge social disincentives to be found out using pornography. I remember the Meese Commission and the evangelical voter push to get pornography laws tightened to contain it from the demand side. Obviously, that is no longer feasible.

        Also not feasible now is expecting men to quit porn just because they are afraid of having to admit it to others in a group. We are way past that now. So we still hang on to the old early Promise Keepers nomenclature of “accountability” while moving all of the remedial efforts into the area of therapy and recovery, a much more clinical model and a much less retributive model.

        I believe the reason the word accountability is still used even though the methods have moved strongly away from actual accountability, i.e. rewards and punishments, is because there is still a desire to communicate that the church is officially intolerant of the behavior even as it extends grace to those who use it. Most importantly, wives of porn addicted husbands are angry. Angry wives do not want to hear of their husbands being given grace and forgiveness because that sounds like coddling. So we retain the word “accountability” for marketing purposes even though we now recognize that these groups do not and cannot offer real accountability. But what so-called accountability groups cannot offer, no-fault divorce laws can. Nothing quite fixes the mind of porn addicted husbands as the prospect of being unilaterally divorced by their wives, kicked out of their homes, having access to their children taken away, having more than half of their income garnished by the state for years to come, and being socially ostracized when everyone at church supports her decision to have him thrown out on his back side.

        That’s actual accountability with teeth. Without that threatpoint looming in the background, none of the efforts of these accountability groups will actually force him to deal with his issues, unless, as you say, he is willing to undergo the process by his own conscience-seared volition.

    4. MichaelC

      Re: Meese Commission

      Correction: When I said “demand side” I actually meant “supply side”.

    5. MichaelC I think we have a differing perspective on the purpose of accountability. From my perspective, accountability is not to be looked upon as a cause and effect of behavior change. It is merely a tool to reveal a behavior that needs deeper work. Especially with addictions, the shame or being found out, or even kicks out of the house may cause a start or motivation for change but it rarely is a lasting effect. In particular with porn addiction, being found out typically results in better efforts to hide the behavior rather than lasting change. Accountability as it is being used in recovery groups today is not as a method to create a negative response or to generate consequence (although it could) it is more of an identifier as to the success or lack thereof, of the individuals efforts in behavior change or healing. It is also a tool to help a person to recognize and identify their own behaviors and then being led, or encouraged to look deeper into the cause of the behavior. As with any addiction, the behavior isn’t the problem, its merely a symptom. And Yes, this may seem more like a therapy group, but good accountability or integrity groups are run this way. And they can be run by non-professionals if set up and structured properly.

      With respect to the wives being angry at the church for offering grace and forgiveness, this is reflected in the lack of healing of the wounds caused by the addict to the victim (the wife in most cases). The trauma caused by this behavior every bit as important to be addressed as the behavior of the addict himself. After all, Jesus Christ forgave our sins with His blood on the cross, that that forgiveness is free to anyone who asks and repents. The anger of the wife at the church ( or Christ) for giving forgiveness is a sign of a trauma that is so raw that it has not sought healing. Which in and of itself can cause all kinds of problems for the victim, physical and spiritual damage. Anyone who has the opportunity to work with these wives of addicts who are angry at the church or Christ for extending forgiveness or grace should caringly guide them to understand as best they can that it is perfectly ok to be angry at the addict , but the grace and forgiveness that is extended by Christ may actually help the addict heal and repent for their grave actions. This may be difficult early in the offense, but at some time it is necessary to heal and move forward for the victim.

      Dann Aungst
      Author, counselor, speaker

    6. For those also desiring sobriety from their addiction. You are warmly invited to work your recovery with us. We set up a daily conference call 7am EST – (605) 475-6700 extension 9303658 in line with SDA corriculum. Same 10 steps as AA. No judgments no expectations. If interested please send a text to 419-515-8229. Six months ago I had no hope of changing and I still don’t know if it will last but I think having one or two more people in our group could really help.

    7. MichaelC

      “From my perspective, accountability is not to be looked upon as a cause and effect of behavior change. It is merely a tool to reveal a behavior that needs deeper work.”

      I look at accountability from the standpoint of what it means in EVERY SINGLE OTHER CONTEXT that isn’t group therapy for addiction or habitual behaviors. And in every other context, accountability is for the protection of the persons or organizations to whom a person is accountable. I am accountable to my employer to produce value commensurate with my salary. If I fail to provide that, I can get fired. If I exceed my performance metric, I can get a raise. In this context, the accountability system is set up to ensure that the company does not get hurt by my lack of productivity.

      In politics, accountability of politicians is for the benefit of voters to ensure that the office holder fulfills their obligations to the taxpayers. Failure to perform can result in removal or impeachment. Success leads to re-election many times. But the complaints about accountability in the political realm have to do with politicians being shielded from the consequences of their bad decisions.

      It matters not whether the individual being held accountable willingly submits to the accountability process. Accountability is built in to the job for the protection of those to whom the individual is responsible.

      The group therapy version of accountability, what you call “authentic” accountability (“authentic” is a very popular Christian buzzword), is as you say a “tool” that depends on the willingness of the individual being held “accountable” to submit to the process. Whatever effectiveness this has is less related to the tool and more related to the willingness of the person to submit to the Holy Spirit’s power to transform. This power is, however, always available from within and without “accountability” structures.

      What does NOT depend on an addict’s willingness to submit is the church’s ability to excommunicate and the state family courts to impose child support or alimony and to restrict visitation rights. Many states also have laws that impose jail time on “deadbeat” dads.

      Interestingly enough, a new trend is developing around “deadbeat” moms, but because there is far less accountability given to women in divorce cases, single fathers end up getting royally screwed by divorce:

      “In 2011, 32 percent of single fathers with sole custody didn’t receive any of the child support that had been awarded to them. This number is compared to 25 percent of single moms with the same situation. Therefore, statistically speaking, custodial single parents that are men are actually more likely to receive no support from the other parent than are women.
      There are still far more custodial single mothers than fathers, but that is changing. Single dads are on the rise in the United States, with nearly 3 million households led by a single father, which is nearly a tenfold increase from 50 years ago.”

      What is lacking in the law and custom is a system of legal accountability for mothers. But this is unsurprising given that nearly all of what you call “authentic” accountability that occurs within the evangelical church is male-oriented and is specific to sexually-related sins. Celebrate Recovery targets a wider range of issues, but I would say it represents much more group therapy and much less “accountability”.

      The point is that women are not used to being the targets of church-based accountability ministries. So when they are subjected to legal accountability, they are completely unprepared for how it feels. But that’s the difference. Real accountability does not care whether the individual is ready or willing.

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