It’s a cliche, but it made it to cliche status because it’s true: the foundation of any relationship is trust. In a friendship, a family bond, a work relationship, and especially in a marriage, the other person should be able to rely on not just the truth of your words, but on the dependability, rightness, and consistency of your actions and your attitude. The basis of that trust is accountability.
As every Boulder marriage therapist will tell you, in a healthy relationship, partners encourage, support, and help each other in a variety of ways. For example, my husband and I are both trying to move forward in our respective careers; we encourage each other and keep each other motivated. Accountability is just another facet of that.
Accountability isn’t just a concern for recovering addicts. It is crucial in any relationship, and it applies to both partners. If either partner is acting in a way that is unhealthy for him or her, contrary to his or her stated goals or principles, or isn’t in the best interests of the relationship, it is the other partner’s responsibility to hold him or her accountable for that behavior.
It is important to remember that it is not your job to punish or judge your spouse, or to force him or her to stop or change the unhealthy behavior. You are never responsible for your partner’s actions or decisions. Your role as a spouse is simply to point out, firmly but lovingly, that your partner is getting off track. What he or she does with that information is out of your hands.
In any relationship, both spouses have a right:
- to know that their partner is living up to his or her commitment,
- to an honest admission of responsibility from their spouse if he or she is off-track or has slipped up,
- and to action from their partner to fix the problem and keep his or her promises.
In marriages affected by addiction and/or infidelity, accountability is especially vital as trust in the relationship is being rebuilt after serious damage by the unfaithful partner’s actions. If you are a recovering addict, remember that your spouse’s need for accountability is not a punishment or a penance for your actions or your illness. It is a legitimate need to see that you are correcting your behavior, improving yourself, and following through on your commitments, and that you will admit it honestly if you don’t.
Accountability is also an important tool in the recovery process. A spouse with the right attitude can make a very good accountability partner, because he or she is closer to you, knows you better, and has more opportunity to observe your actions than anyone else. He or she is also hopefully someone you don’t have to hesitate about trusting with access to your computer, phone, files and passwords.
If you are the partner of an addict, remember not to make your need for accountability feel like a punishment for your spouse. Approach accountability as a mutual need and a part of moving forward, not a debt that is owed because of your partner’s behavior. Remember that you, too, should be accountable for your behavior, including how you treat your spouse and how you approach the process of recovery and healing.