Since it’s the start of a brand new year, what better time to talk about accountability!
the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility
Being accountable—or taking responsibility for your actions—is a core relationship skill, second only to being truthful and honest.
A member of my Partner’s Healing & Empowerment Online Community recently asked me to talk about the difference between holding another person accountable versus taking their inventory. I thought it was such a great question I wanted to answer it here.
The phrase “taking someone’s inventory” comes from Step 4 of the 12-step process, where a person makes “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of their own character defects, or the parts of themselves they want to change or transform. To “take someone’s inventory” means highlighting the faults of another person, criticizing them, or pointing out the less-than-optimal parts of their humanity.
As you might imagine, taking another person’s inventory is not desirable, or relational. However, holding another person accountable—especially in intimate relationships—is.
Here are three core differences between holding someone accountable versus taking their inventory.
Holding someone accountable is an invitation to greater connection and intimacy.
Believing that a person wants greater connection and intimacy with you when they hold you accountable may be challenging to accept. In fact, if you’re feeling defensive or shame-filled you might tell your partner that she’s taking your inventory as a way to dodge a difficult conversation or avoid taking accountability altogether.
However, when someone tells you that something that happened between the two of you is a problem for them, they are sharing their reality with you, which is a key part of intimacy. They’re also demonstrating a desire to work through an event or issue that created a feeling of disruption or disconnection with you.
On the other hand, if you take someone’s inventory by criticizing or attacking them, your intention and the impact your words have on them creates more—rather than less—disconnection.
Holding a person accountable is not intended to be shaming, humiliating, or scolding.
When you hold another person accountable, you express it in the most relational way you can. For example, you might say:
“The other day when we were at my parent’s house, you said in front of everyone, ‘Don’t you like Judy’s new dress? She bought it without telling me and hid it in the trunk of her car for a week!’ When you said that, I felt embarrassed and angry, and I would like you to not make jokes at my expense in the future, especially in front of other people.”
If Judy was taking her spouse’s inventory she might say, “You are rude and disrespectful every time we go to my parent’s house. You always make fun of me. I think you feel inferior, and you’re trying to make yourself look better by putting me down.”
Holding another person accountable is an important part of relationship repair and restoration.
When you hold another person accountable you are offering an opportunity for relationship repair. If the other person takes in your reality, apologizes and makes an amends, it goes a long way toward repairing the relationship, even painful and difficult issues from the past.
One of the markers that an addict is truly in recovery is that he (or she) has more capacity to listen to another person tell him what didn’t work about a situation, or his behavior. When your spouse remains calm and avoids defensiveness during difficult conversations, the more quickly connection and trust will be restored.
True love does not only encompass the things that make you feel good, it also holds you to a standard of accountability.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)
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