Tuesday, September 18, 2012

3 Ways to Help Your Accountability Partner Succeed

Kenneth scrolls through the list of contacts on his cell phone.  He is 35 so he can remember a time when he would have been searching through a Rolodex(tm), but those days are long gone.  He can't help but laugh to himself.  If I were still using a Rolodex, he thinks, I wouldn't need accountability on the internet in the first place...

Kenneth is searching through his cell phone for a new accountability partner.  His first partner, Shawn, agreed enthusiastically to help hold him accountable for his online viewing habits, but a little time and a few failures showed that Shawn wouldn't be much help at all.  Shawn wouldn't meet with Kenneth, wouldn't even call or email.  Kenneth was left feeling awkward and a little betrayed. Again.

Kenneth pauses his search and asks himself a question that many have asked before: What do you do when your accountability partner won't hold you accountable?

All over the country, men and women just like Kenneth are asking the same questions. Tiffany Shores, LCAS of the Next Level Counseling Center in Charlotte, NC explains. "Having an accountability partner is freeing and relieving" but, she says, "there are a variety of reasons why accountability partners fail."  Reasons that accountability partners struggle may include, "the partner may not be savvy enough to detect subtle lies," "people are busy," and "if the partner is an addict... they might not want to confront if they are struggling."

So what's the bottom line? Not all accountability partners are created equal.  Some people have a personality that makes it easier for them to confront you in love, while others will struggle to do this well.  But regardless of who you choose, being an accountability partner will be a difficult undertaking for them. It will take the four C's to do it right: commitment, courage, confrontation, and compassion.  In future posts we'll break down each of the four C's, but for now we are discovering what you can do to help your accountability partner.

You may be surprised to learn that your own behavior and attitudes can have a profound effect on the success or failure of your accountability partner, but it's true.  So with that in mind here are:

3 Things YOU Can Do To Help Your Accountability Partner Succeed

1. Decide to desire accountability.
According to Emily Funderburk, lead counselor of the Next Level Counseling center, "Accountability relationships work best if the person with the struggle feels comfortable enough to be honest about their temptation. If they are truly able to admit they had a bad week and times where they are doing great, the relationship can fully serve its purpose."

This may sound obvious, but often times the reason that accountability partners shy away from confrontation is that they pick up cues from you that you do not really desire it.  A great accountability partner needs to receive affirmation from you that you desire accountability in your life. This is done through verbal communication, non-verbal communication, and your actions. This means that you have to do some real "soul searching" to determine your motives before and during the life of the accountable relationship.

Imagine, for instance, that you have a friend who comes to you and tells you they want to give you tickets to the football game this weekend.  So far so good.  But when you call your friend to pick up the tickets he never answers.  Furthermore, when you finally get a hold of him he is curt, cold, and tight-lipped.  On the day you show up to actually get the tickets your friend is very short with you and his body language is closed-off.  Although your friend said he wanted to give you tickets he communicated the opposite to you through his actions (or lack of them!), words, and physical presence.  In other words, make sure you are sending one unified message: Please hold me accountable!

2. Make confrontation a regular part of your relationship.
Confrontation is never fun, and chances are that your accountability partner is dreading the day that they have to have "the talk" with you.  The worst case scenario is that they don't say anything at all because they are afraid that it will be awkward, uncomfortable, and damaging to your relationship.  You can help allay these fears by consistently asking your partner to confront you!  This may sound counter intuitive, but a simple question like, "Shawn, was there anything at all on the accountability report this week that you'd like to ask about?  And remember, nothing is off limits," can go a long way toward creating a relational culture where confrontation is expected, healthy, and life-giving.

Emily Funderburk explains further, "Let your friend know days/times that are the most challenging for you to deal with your temptation, that way they know the best times to check-in. The individiual with the struggle can also make it easier for the accountability partner by addressing some of the ways they best receive support. Some people thrive off of a more direct approach from a partner, and others just need a simple reminder that they aren't alone."

"With online habits," says Emily, "checking in more than once a week is important when first trying to get rid of the habit. I recommend checking in with your friend in a variety of different ways throughout the week: text of encouragement, phone call "how's it going", face-to-face meet for coffee, praying throughout the week, and an email. At the onset it is best to be overly involved and then as they are gaining more strength slowly back off but maintain a presence of accountability in their life."

3. Strengthen the other aspects of your relationship.
Accountability can strain even a great relationship. So how do you find someone who is close enough to you to hold you accountable without jeopardizing that relationship? The key is to build into that relationship through other avenues.  Make sure you schedule time to play or pray together. Eat a meal together without any agenda.  Send your partner and her spouse on a date.  Just do something to build relational credit with your partner.  When you do two things will happen.  First, your partner will be glad that he or she is your partner because you are pouring back into his or her life.  Second, your relationship will have the strength to survive and even thrive through those tough conversations because there is already a great foundation in place.

It's like a building.  The solid foundation has to be a strong relationship based on love for one another.  Once that foundation is in place you can build it up and add the capstone of accountability.  No matter how difficult the conversation, the foundation won't be shaken.  But if the relational foundation isn't in place the building will be unstable and may not be able to withstand the high winds of confrontation.

"It's awesome to be known," says Tiffany Shores, "it's a taste of what's to come and maybe a memory of what was supposed to be."  If it is done correctly, accountability can actually enhance your relationship.  And lastly remember that as Tiffany says, "Ultimately, where there is a will there is way and a person will only get better when they are determined to get better."  So take responsibility for what you are able to take responsibility for.  Put in the work to give your accountability partner the best possible chance for success.

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