Addictions: Choosing an Accountability Partner

As a recovering addict, how can I find someone to walk with me through the difficult beginning stages of the healing process? Do you have any advice on choosing an accountability partner and what this relationship should look like? I'd really appreciate any suggestions you can offer.

First of all, you should know that you’re on the right track and you’re doing the right thing. It’s obvious that you want change badly enough to pursue it actively and intentionally, and you’re smart enough to realize that other people are a vital part of that process. You know that you need someone to hold you accountable, and that’s a huge step in the right direction.

Before choosing a partner, it would be a good idea to take a close look at your situation and decide exactly what kind of assistance you require most at this stage of the game. Depending on where you are in the recovery process, it might be best to begin by seeking out the services of a professional counselor. A trained therapist has the in-depth education and experience necessary to deal with some of the deeper issues that may lie beneath your addictive behavior. Naturally, he or she will only be able to meet with you periodically. That’s where an accountability partner comes in. What a partner lacks in terms of education and background, he can make up for in terms of sheer availability. He can be there for you during times of temptation, challenge and success. So if you can get a supportive friend to supplement the assistance you’re receiving from a trained counselor, you’ll have a winning combination on your hands.

So how do you go about selecting an accountability partner? That’s largely up to you. It could be your best friend or a co-worker. It could be a pastor, an elder at your church, or an older person whom you regard as a mentor. There are no specific requirements, though we would suggest you avoid partnering with someone is who currently struggling in the same area that you are. Whoever it is, be sure to choose someone trustworthy, mature, willing to help, and available to invest the time necessary to make the relationship successful. (Note: we don’t recommend that you ask your spouse to fill this role. Your spouse can encourage you and acknowledge the changes you’re making along the way. But since this experience is likely to be difficult, it’s usually a good idea to engage the support of someone who can be more objective than a husband or wife.)

Once you’ve secured a partner, it’s important to begin by telling him exactly where you’re at with your addiction. Paint an accurate picture of your situation. Expose the core of your struggles and concerns. Articulate your goals and present your vision for the future. Then define in fairly specific terms the role you expect your partner to play in this process. If you don’t, he won’t be able to help you in any meaningful or effective way. This first conversation will doubtless be hard, but it’s absolutely essential. Other people can’t really help you until you trust them enough to be vulnerable.

If the arrangement is going to work, you’ll have to meet regularly and face-to-face. It’s best to make a commitment to a set time. That way, you’ll know that you have to report on your progress and struggles each and every week. If this isn’t possible, try to interact with your partner at least once a week. And remember that the face-to-face aspect of these get-togethers is crucial. It’s harder, of course, but it’s also more personal and it forces you to be more honest and open than you might be via email or over the phone.

As the partnering relationship moves forward, make up your minds to be totally honest with each other. On your side, resolve to share your thoughts and feelings openly no matter how embarrassing they may be. Create an atmosphere where it’s possible for your partner to tell you exactly what he thinks. Invite him to express his frank opinion of the changes you’ve made and the hurdles you face. Decide to accept his criticism and encouragement without reservation. All of this will be much easier if your accountability partner is someone who loves and respects you, knows you’re struggling, and is genuinely willing to help.

A vital part of honesty is a willingness to ask and answer hard questions. In the beginning, you can facilitate this by lining up weekly questions. Don’t be afraid to be specific. For example, if you’re fighting a pornography addiction, you might arrange for your accountability partner to ask, “Have you viewed porn this week? How many times? What were you doing when you made the choice to view it?” These are painful, even somewhat embarrassing, questions, but if you really want to overcome your addiction you must be willing to confront that pain and embarrassment over and over again until the necessary changes have been made.

Remember that these meetings shouldn’t be purely times of encouragement or purely times of criticism. The purpose is to set goals and find ways of reaching them – together. Timelines don’t matter. What counts is knowing that real, substantial change is taking place, no matter how long it takes. Let your accountability partner be your support line, a shoulder to cry on, someone to turn to in weak moments. Look to him as a source of tough but unconditional love.

If you need to find a professional therapist, call us. Focus on the Family’s Counseling department can provide you with referrals to trained counselors practicing in your area. Our Counseling staff would also be more than happy to discuss your situation with you personally over the phone.


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