Should You Be Your Spouse’s Accountability Partner?

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.

Unfaithful spouses sometimes need an accountability partner. Common uses of an accountability partner include:

  • Receiving reports or alerts about a spouse’s online activities from filtering or monitoring software.
  • Regular—sometimes daily—recovery check-ins with the spouse.
  • Being available to “bookend” certain events/activities that may be challenging or potentially triggering to the spouse. Bookending is simply checking in before and after an event/activity.

Unfaithful spouses—and partners—sometimes believe that the best person to act as an accountability partner is the betrayed partner. 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 ever recommend that a betrayed partner take the role of accountability partner for the following reasons:

1
Betrayal Trauma Flashbacks

When a partner reviews their spouse’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 deception or acting out, partners may have flashbacks, panic symptoms, or other unwanted experiences as a result of receiving accountability reports, etc.

2
Power Dynamics

Being an accountability partner places the spouse in a one-up, monitoring/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 spouse will be forthcoming and transparent around devices, whereabouts, activities, etc. While the unfaithful spouse may agree to share reports or other information with the betrayed partner as an act of accountability, placing the betrayed partner in the role of monitor introduces an undesirable power dynamic that is harmful to creating future intimate connection between the couple.

3
Enabling

Betrayed partners acting as accountability partners may have the unintended consequence of actually enabling the addiction. Enabling means that the betrayed partner directly or indirectly engages in behaviors for the purpose of helping their spouse stay sober.

For example, some spouses ask the betrayed 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.

4
Building Intimacy

Because of the undesirable power dynamics involved in betrayed partners 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.


© Victoria Priya, LCSW [formerly Vicki Tidwell Palmer] (2017)

Radiant Threefold Path articles are protected by U.S. copyright laws, and may not be reproduced, distributed, or re-published without written permission of the author.
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