For a relationship impacted by betrayal to heal, the partner responsible for the betrayal must engage in certain trust-building and accountability actions.
Accountability can include:
- Sharing passwords for bank, email, and phone accounts
- Reviewing bank, email, or phone accounts together as a couple
- Installing a tracking app on a personal cell phone to demonstrate transparency around activities and whereabouts
- Installing filtering or monitoring software on digital devices
- Providing receipts for cash spent
- Updating one’s partner occasionally throughout the day about your whereabouts
- Taking a polygraph
For most couples, these accountability actions are not a permanent part of the relationship. But they are absolutely vital for rebuilding trust and repairing the damage done by intimate partner betrayal.
Addicts sometimes need an accountability partner. Common uses of an accountability partner include:
- Receiving reports or alerts about an addict’s online activities from filtering or monitoring software.
- Regular—sometimes daily—recovery check-ins with the addict.
- Being available to “bookend” certain events/activities that may be challenging or potentially triggering to the addict. Bookending is simply checking in before and after an event/activity.
Addicts—and partners—sometimes believe that the best person to act as an accountability partner is the spouse of the addict. After all, the purpose of accountability is to be accountable to the partner.
Although each couple and each situation are unique—and each couple has the right to decide how trust will be restored—I don’t recommend that the spouse of an addict take the role of accountability partner for the following reasons:
Betrayal Trauma Flashbacks
When a partner reviews an addict’s browsing history or receives reports of online activities, these reports and alerts are often triggering and even traumatizing to most partners, even when the reports don’t include questionable material.
Because of the impact of past discoveries or online research by the partner related to the addiction, partners may have flashbacks, panic symptoms, or other unwanted experiences as a result of receiving accountability reports, etc.
Being an accountability partner places the spouse in a one-up, policing relationship to her spouse. This type of hierarchal relationship is very different than the couple engaging in what I refer to as collaborative transparency.
Collaborative transparency is a mutual process of agreement between the couple about how the addict will be forthcoming and transparent around devices, whereabouts, activities, etc. While the addict may agree to share reports or other information with the partner as an act of accountability, placing her/him in the role of monitor introduces an undesirable power dynamic that is harmful to creating future intimate connection between the couple.
Spouses acting as accountability partners may have the unintended consequence of actually enabling the addiction. Enabling means that the partner of an addict directly or indirectly engages in behaviors for the purpose of helping an addict stay sober.
For example, some addicts ask their partner to join them on business trips for the primary purpose of helping keep him/her sober. This is enabling, as well as delusional thinking. Believing that a person can prevent another from any behavior is distorted thinking, an attempt to control, and a misunderstanding of powerlessness.
Because of the undesirable power dynamics involved in spouses acting as accountability partners, the practice can have a damaging and negative impact on the couples’ future attempts to rebuild emotional and sexual intimacy.
Intimacy is only possible between two equals. When there are power dynamics or enabling behaviors, real intimacy can’t develop and grow.
For all these reasons, I strongly recommend that the role of accountability partner be held by a sponsor, program friend, recovery coach, mentor, or therapist.
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2017)
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