How to show accountability in relationships? Reminds me of the lyrics to a famous Calvin Harris song, “Can’t you see it? I was manipulated, I had to let her through the door, Oh, I had no choice in this, I was a friend she missed, She needed me to talk, So blame it on the night, Don’t blame it on me…”
Well, accountability is the total opposite of this. You don’t blame it on the night. And you definitely don’t blame it on the manipulation. You always have a choice. And how you make those choices determines your accountability in relationships.
And where do you stand on the relationship accountability spectrum? Let’s find out, with the help of emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney). She specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief, and loss, to name a few.
What Does It Mean To Take Accountability In A Relationship?
According to Pooja, “Taking accountability in relationships means that you share your part of the responsibility to make that relationship work in a functional and healthy way.” Honesty and accountability in relationships are all about checking yourself instead of going into victim mode and blaming yourself.
Accountability in relationships starts with asking yourself a couple of questions…How is this about me? How did I create this? What part did I play? What can I learn from this? Accepting accountability basically means acknowledging and taking full responsibility for your actions.
Sometimes in the heat of an argument, we don’t accept our mistakes even though deep down we know that we are wrong. To have an upper hand, we focus all our energies on proving ourselves right and shifting the blame onto the other person. This is when we need to ask ourselves, “What is more important, the power game or the relationship itself?” To give up your ego for the health of your bond with your SO is an example of accountability in relationships.
So, it’s time for some introspection. Are you a partner who refuses to be accountable? Are you toxic and unable to recognize your toxicity? “The worst toxicity is overstepping the boundaries of a partner, overriding their consent and autonomy. If any of the partners feels reduced or claustrophobic in any relationship, the other partner needs to introspect if they are causing this,” says Pooja.
How Important Is Accountability In A Relationship?
Now that we understand what accountability in a relationship is, let’s try to ascertain how important it is and why. The importance of accountability can be understood from the prism of accountability to God. According to research, people who held themselves accountable to God experienced more happiness and well-being in their lives. After all, the whole point of accountability is becoming aware of the fact that our actions have repercussions. And taking responsibility for those actions is hence necessary. The importance of accountability in relationships can be summed up as:
- It makes your partner feel seen, heard, and valued
- Your partner doesn’t feel that the relationship is one-sided and he/she is the only one doing all the work
- It makes you a more compassionate, empathetic, and giving human being. You learn to step into other’s shoes
- It makes you a self-aware person as you keep discovering ways you can grow
- It increases trust, honesty, openness, vulnerability and dependability
How Do You Show Accountability In A Relationship
Now comes the million-dollar question: how do you show accountability in a relationship? Like with anything else involving human relationships, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Accountability can mean different things to different couples. The bottom line is, as long as there is a sense of responsibility toward one another and the general health of the relationship, you can claim to have accountability in your relationship.
There is interesting research that shows how shared calendars are a way to practice accountability in intimate relationships. According to this paper, the relationship accountability spectrum is all about being answerable to your partner (for your past, present, and future behavior). Let’s take a look at how that translates into everyday actions with these tips on how to show accountability in relationships:
1. Start small
Pooja points out, “You need to realize how important this relationship is to you. Maybe start with small romantic gestures. Apologize for the little things to establish honesty and accountability in relationships. Remind yourself that your partner is important to you and so are their feelings. Be honest about your mistakes. If you can’t speak directly, write them down and share them with your partner.” For example, “I am sorry I couldn’t take our pet out for a walk today. Thank you for walking him. I am grateful.”
2. Set clear rules and boundaries
“Clear rules and boundaries about communication need to be set so that each partner automatically becomes accountable in the relationship. This must be done when both are calm and stable. Blame-game and angry lashing out does not resolve anything,” says Pooja.
When a partner refuses to be accountable, they may say things like, “Why is it always my mistake? You just keep pointing out problems in me.” To bring about a shift, try a more reconciliatory approach, and say, “Can you please explain what about my actions bothers you?”
3. Work on accountability in relationships every day
Pooja advises, “Accountability becomes a habit when you consider your relationship important enough to work on. On a daily basis, try to ensure that you and your partner are on the same page regarding routine as well as important things. Make sure there is open communication and quality time spent to facilitate this communication.”
For example, “I am sorry that I haven’t given this relationship enough time lately. I acknowledge it and I will surely try my best to take out time.” Take out time every day to have a meaningful conversation, no matter how busy you are. Fix a specific time in your calendar. It could be over dinner or on a morning stroll. If you are in a long-distance relationship, you can talk to them while you are commuting. Being there with each other, sans distractions, is all that matters.
4. You don’t have to change your basic personality
Pooja rightly points out, “Everyone must acknowledge that some bad habits are change worthy. For example, if your partner wants you to not smoke, maybe it is worth trying quitting or reducing it at least. But, basic personality, of course, can’t be changed and that must be clear to all. For instance, an introvert would not suddenly become an extrovert.”
Related Reading: 9 Tips To Make An Introvert And Extrovert Relationship Work
5. Ask your partner where they stand and what they want
To be more accountable to one another, you need to be in sync and understand what the other person wants from the relationship. To facilitate that, you can ask questions like:
- Where do you think we stand in our relationship?
- What according to you is missing in our relationship?
- What can I improve on?
- What makes you feel loved?
- What are you not willing to compromise on?
- What steps can we take to make each other’s lives easier?
6. Be a good listener and don’t offer solutions
One of the ways of showing accountability in relationships is by listening actively, with patience and empathy. Consider the following situations:
- Your sibling is struggling with coming to terms with his gay identity
- Your friend has lost a parent
- Your parents are going through a separation period/are worried about life after divorce
- Your relative is suffering from a mental illness
- Someone you know had a miscarriage
In the above situations, the person going through a tough time doesn’t need a caretaker or problem fixer. All they need is someone who can be there for them, patiently listening, in a neutral, open, non-judgmental, and attentive manner. To be truly there for someone sounds so simple, but in reality, it is much more complex than that.
7. Be mindful of their unresolved issues
When showing accountability in relationships, it’s important to be sensitive toward someone’s childhood trauma and the several conflicts in their mind. If your partner has faced or witnessed mental or sexual abuse while growing up, you can encourage them to join a peer group, which can act as their safe and reliable space for working through their trauma.
Sometimes, they might feel triggered and project their issues on you. Don’t take it personally. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with their insecurities and their relationship with themselves. When you start seeing things from this empathetic lens, it can help you respond less defensively in fights.
8. Be open to criticism
One of the most important ways of showing accountability is to be flexible enough to incorporate constructive criticism. Even studies show that if feedback is given respectfully and with good intentions, it can motivate a person to improve. So, if your partner tells you that you can work on your discipline in your personal and professional life, don’t get defensive or withdraw into a shell. Instead of taking their words to your heart, look at them as an opportunity to improve on yourself instead.
Related Reading: 20 Questions To Ask Your Partner To Build Emotional Intimacy
Now, we know the various ways through which one can show accountability in relationships. What happens when this accountability is not shown or taken lightly? Let’s find out.
How Does Lack Of Accountability In A Relationship Harm It
According to Pooja, the following are the signs of lack of accountability in relationships:
- Lack of trust between partners
- Hiding facts, emotions, and actions
- Not caring about the impact of an action on the other
Pooja provides us with an interesting case study on the signs of lack of accountability in relationships. She shares, “Lack of accountability breeds lack of trust and then miscommunication, leading to disputes. A client’s journalist husband (with a lot of traveling work) would not update her about his whereabouts. She repeatedly told him that this made her anxious but he paid no heed to it.
“She started imagining he was having an affair. She started looking for ways to sneak into his phone and devices and this led to a lot of unnecessary conflict in the marriage. Her initial concern was only about his safety but it blew up into something completely different.” Hence, if you notice signs of a lack of accountability in relationships, it is better to work on them before they start causing harm and blow things out of proportion.
As is clear from the above example, a lack of accountability in relationships leads to:
- Ignorance, denial, deflection, and excuses (when it comes to mistakes)
- Inability to compromise on a disagreement
- Selfish behavior and blame-shifting
- More arguments, tantrums, and grudges
- Lack of maturity, adjustment, kindness, and respect
I asked Pooja, “Being transparent and honest about my feelings doesn’t come easily to me. I hate confronting people. How can I gather the courage to have these uncomfortable but necessary conversations? How to hold someone accountable in a relationship?”
Pooja advises, “Therapy can help people process their childhood trauma and make amends in their behavior. When people are ridiculed in childhood for having a contrary opinion or for being honest, they stop vocalizing their true beliefs and hence are not able to hold someone accountable in a relationship. They become uncomfortable in expressing their honest opinions even to their partner.”
Related Reading: 5 Couples Therapy Exercises You Can Try At Home
And what to do when your partner refuses to be accountable and gets defensive instead? Pooja replies, “You must assure them that you love them and you are not an adversary but their partner and their team. These issues can be addressed better in couples counseling.
“Counseling is also a therapeutic relationship and all participants need to be accountable here too. I ensure that time is respected, whatever is their part for the recovery is done with utter honesty, irrespective of what the outcome may be, the attempt must be genuine. Also, if something isn’t working, it must be stated outright.” Hence, don’t shy away from seeking help for better accountability in relationships. If you’re looking for help, counselors on Bonobology’s panel are just a click away.
- Accountability in relationships means taking full responsibility for your actions
- Accountability leads to more trust, vulnerability, dependability, and compassion
- Working on showing accountability can start with little things and daily tasks
- Seek therapy if you are having trouble holding someone accountable
- Set clear boundaries and be vocal and assertive about your needs
- Seek therapy if you are having trouble holding someone accountable
- Showing accountability doesn’t mean changing your basic personality
- Lack of accountability can turn the relationship into a toxic and unsafe space
Finally, let’s end with a quote by Crystal Renaud, “Just like confession means talking about the elephant in the room, accountability is about allowing someone to help you fight the elephant.”
It is to ensure that after every fight, both the partners take out the time to reflect on their parts and own up to their mistakes, if any. They should ensure that they have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations about where they went wrong.
You are accountable in a relationship if you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses and you don’t mind keeping your ego aside and apologizing when you are the one at fault.