Dude #1: "I messed up the other day, ummm actually yeah it was today..."
Dude #2: "yeah me too...i'm kinda feelin down about it"
Dude #3: "yeah, so...it was a bad week for me too, so see you next week?"
If you have ever been in this sort of accountability group for a lust problem or porn addiction you know that it can seem like "what's the point?" It can especially feel this way if it's the same routine every week. Over time members of such a group get discouraged and in the end can withdraw feeling defeated. They tell themselves "well, I tried the whole accountability thing but it didn't really work." Like most worthy endeavors in life learning how to be an effective accountability partner is a skill. Skills require an intentional process of learning, practicing and coaching to develop. So, how do you get skilled?
Find A Coach
Skill development is best developed by a mentor or coach. It's helpful to find someone who has experienced effective accountability. If it's a porn addiction or sex addiction issue then you want to talk to someone who has 1+ years of sobriety from acting out. In the 12 step tradition these people are called "sponsors" and they have made it part of their calling in life to be recovery coaches. They are a great place to start if you are looking to develop the skill of effective accountability. You can google "sex addicts anonymous" then your city or "sexaholics anonymous" and your city to find local meetings. Other places you can look are in churches where there is a dedicated ministry for sexual addiction issues. There, you will find lay leaders and pastors who can coach you on effective accountability. I prefer these two options over the last one -- the internet.
I know that's a bit ironic since you may be looking to this post as a way of learning how to have more effective accountability. The internet has its place for sure. And, it's a great place to start and there are some great tools. But, the nature of a lot of sex addictions and porn addiction is isolating. The antidote to addiction is found in connecting with people, especially face to face. It's more vulnerable but learning to be vulnerable is one of the key ingredients to overcoming an addiction. Recovery is about connecting your needs to people rather than to a screen. With all that being said I think yourbrainonporn.com has a great forum and the nofap.org forum can be helpful too. If there are other ones you use feel free to message me and I can add those to this list.
The Three Ingredients
Ingredient #1: Carefrontations. One of my professors used this word in describing how therapists are to approach clients when they are self-sabotaging. I used to think it was a cheesy word but I appreciate the word when it comes to describing the role an effective accountability partner ("AP" from here on out). Carefrontations are about the person who is being confronted. Confrontations can become more about the person who is doing the confronting. Nobody likes to feel controlled and confrontations can create that dynamic. In the end the person being confronted is focused on the confronter rather than focusing on what's going for them internally.
Here's an example of effective accountability via the "carefrontation." Say your AP says he is going to call you every day to check in but misses a day. A carefrontation would be "hey man, you shared that your commitment was to call me every day and you didn't call yesterday. I was wondering what happened?" This could be followed up by "what will help you be more consistent?" A carefrontation points out the inconsistency and asks an open-ended question to help the person process the inconsistency. In a confrontation the connotation can be to point out the inconsistency with the intent of using shame as a motivator. "So, what's with not calling the other day?" The implicit message is: "you are kinda lame for not sticking to your word. You don't want to mess up again because I'm going to not be nice when you do." Shame is unhelpful for accountability because most addicts have not learned to differentiate healthy shame versus toxic shame.
This shaming issue is actually not as common as a "don't ask; don't tell" approach for accountability partners. When there are inconsistencies a lot of guys will not do a carefrontation or a confrontation. Instead they will just do a 'ignore-frontation.' The implicit message: "I won't point out your inconsistency so you won't point out mine." A lot of AP's fail in this way. This ignoring of reality erodes the integrity of the relationship and its purpose to help one another. While it may be nice to not be confronted deep down it can breed resentment. A lack of confrontation can be seen as a sign that the other person does not truly care about me or my well being. If someone confronts me about my inconsistency it means they are paying attention and looking out for my best interests.
Ingredient #2: Good Questions. Learning to ask good questions as an accountability partner is a key ingredient to effective accountability. It's easier to give suggestions but harder to ask productive questions. Suggestions awaken the ego but questions awaken learning. Helpful questions for when someone acted out are "what do you think was going on for you the other day when you acted out? What exactly did you do? What were your triggers? Is that all or is there more? What don't you want to share?" Helpful questions for a check-in call could be "what's been the high and low of the day? What's your temptation level right now? Is there anything coming up later today or tomorrow that could be a trigger?" Questions like these invite reflection, learning, honesty and vulnerability.
Ingredient #3: Equal Availability. Uneven availability between AP's can sabotage effective accountability. It's important for AP's to talk about what their expectations are around communication modes (text, email, calls, etc) and frequency. It's important to understand what your needs are for accountability and find someone whose needs match. If you need to talk to someone 3x/day then you will want to find someone who has that same need. So, in finding a AP share the frequency and type of communication that's helpful. For example "I need to talk on the phone 1x/day and be able to text a few times as needed. I'd like to leave a message and receive a call back within 4 hours if possible." Your accountability will be much more effective if you find someone who matches your preferred method of communication and level of frequency. At some point your preference or needs may change and it's important to update your AP on those changes.
What Accountability Is Really About. The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous brilliantly define addiction as a spiritual disease not simply a behavior problem. The 12th step does not say "Having been able to stop our addictive behavior..." Rather, it says "having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps..." The basis of the spiritual awakening (and the work of the previous steps) is to let go and surrender yourself to the loving care of Another. If that's true, the role of an accountability partner should reflect this message. In essence an AP's message should be "You've been accepted despite what you have done. So, lay down the illusion of control and come out of hiding so you can receive the love that is waiting for you." This painful, upside down yet liberating process is what author Richard Rohr calls "breathing underwater." If that's what your accountability times feel like then you are on the right track.