The addiction recovery community often talks about the concept of accountability. Addicts are often advised to find and work with an “accountability partner”, and spouses are admonished to hold their addicted partners accountable for their actions. Several companies market software designed to support accountability efforts. What is accountability, and why is it so important?
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary calls it “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Accountability means that:
- You have responsibilities;
- You accept those responsibilities and will do your best to fulfill them;
- You will be honest about whether you are fulfilling your responsibilities; and
- You will accept the consequences of failing to fulfill your responsibilities and
- You will actively work to improve.
By that definition, accountability is based on the premise that we each have specific obligations to someone. Most of us have sets of slightly different responsibilities to several people in our lives. Let’s examine those most relevant to dealing with sex addiction and recovery.
During your life, you will form different kinds of relationships- romances, friendships, professional acquaintances, family ties- with many people, all of which will come with responsibilities and obligations, but your ultimate responsibility will always be to yourself. You owe yourself certain things no matter what your marital status, job title, or situation in life. These include:
- Be, or actively move toward becoming, the person you want to be.
- Form and maintain healthy relationships with your family, your friends, and your spouse.
- Define your personal morals and always act in accordance with them.
- Be honest with yourself.
When you enter a relationship with someone, you each accept certain basic responsibilities to each other. You each commit to these obligations because you care about each other’s happiness and well-being, and because a loving, healthy relationship is based on its members treating each other in certain ways- otherwise, the relationship is unhealthy and probably unpleasant for at least one of you. Your obligations to your spouse include:
- Treat him or her with respect.
- Avoid knowingly hurting him or her.
- Be faithful to him or her.
- Be honest.
If you have children, you no doubt understand that you have responsibilities beyond just providing them with food, shelter, and other basic necessities. Your children have a lot of intangible needs- mental heath, emotional well-being, good examples, and healthy mental and emotional development- and as a parent, you’re the one they turn to for these things. As a good, loving parent, your responsibilities to your children include:
- Be a strong positive role model.
- Create a clean, safe, appropriate environment for development.
- Provide a stable, happy, drama-free family.
- Demonstrate a loving, healthy relationship.
Your Co-Workers and Employers
When a company or individual hires you for a job, they do so with certain expectations about your actions and performance. When you accept the job, you also accept obligations to your employer and to the people you will work with. These include:
- Be reliable, punctual, and focused.
- Abide by company policies, and practice basic decency and courtesy.
Accepting and acknowledging these various obligations in your life is responsibility. Whether you voice it aloud or not, when you enter a relationship with a partner, bring a child into the world, or accept employment, you make a commitment to fulfill that responsibility. How you handle that commitment once you’ve made it is what accountability is all about. Accountability is
- Consistent follow-through on that commitment,
- Constant honest assessment of your performance, and
- Honest disclosure of that assessment to those you have made a commitment to.
Trust is the basis of any successful relationship, whether it’s a romantic relationship, a friendship, a familial relationship, or an employment contract. If you are trustworthy, the people in your life know that not only can they believe what you say, they can rely on you to fulfill your commitment to them and to others. The basis of that trust, and mechanism for preserving it, is accountability.