People can be unpredictable, and trusting others can often feel both unnatural and unnecessary, but when we decide to seek serious life change, we can quickly learn that finding an accountability partner is an essential element of that lasting change. Pushing past initial resistance, those who bravely seek connection through an accountability relationship are on the road to real freedom.
But sometimes the partners we pick are far from a good fit for us.
I’m not just pointing to personality conflicts here — we are all imperfect human beings who will have imperfect relationships. But sometimes it becomes clear that the wisest thing you can do is fire your accountability partner.
Whether you are questioning the fit of a current accountability partner or just looking to learn how to find (or improve) an accountability-based relationship, consider these five “red flags” that may mean it’s time to fire your accountability partner so that you can continue to grow.
1. A lukewarm attitude.
If your accountability partner downplays the seriousness of your struggles, this is a problem. You might hear them use minimizing phrases, or maybe it becomes clear that your partner is uncommitted to their own life changes. With a watered-down commitment, how can they be a source of strength to you? Sure, there are short seasons when motivation slumps but long-term complacency is a recipe for relapse. It is essential that your partner takes the problem seriously. When they don’t, their role as an accountability partner is compromised.
When your partner is too busy to respond, they cannot rightly fulfill their role. Reaching out in times of temptation and distress is essential in recovery, but in order to do this, you need an accountability partner who is available, both physically and emotionally. This does not mean your partner’s life must revolve around yours, but it does mean that they will take some time to talk on the phone or meet in person. If they can’t listen in a moment of need, they can call you back later (which is why having a list of people to call is recommended). But divisive resentment can quickly arise when your partner is unwilling to invest the minimal time it takes to support you. How can you learn to trust others and connect without experiencing another’s faithful, caring response? A partner’s excessive busyness can be a sign that the accountability relationship is going south.
3. Fear of confrontation.
Most people are afraid of “rocking the boat,” but when your accountability partner won’t question and challenge you, they do you a disservice. As you proceed forward, you’ll need someone with the courage to ask the hard questions. If your partner sees you slipping in your commitments, moving into tempting situations, or stepping toward your struggle in any way, you need them to alert you of the looming disaster. Part of your partner’s role is to shine light on your blind spots and remind you of your commitments. If you notice them avoiding the hard conversations, repeatedly trying to please you, or side-stepping all conflict, there is cause to be wary about their fit as your accountability partner.
If your partner shames or demeans you, this will hurt, not help, you. If the main person you confess your sins and weaknesses to has a tendency to metaphorically bash you over the head every time you relapse or make a mistake, not only will you avoid those hard conversations but you will also be less likely to change. Certainly, regret can motivate change when you see the impact of your destructive behavior. But when shamed, you will feel like you are the problem, not your choices. While many of us think that self-hate will motivate us, the truth is, it does just the opposite. Self-hate disempowers you. So, if you walk away from time with your partner constantly feeling demoralized, take this as a significant sign that something needs to change.
5. Lack of love.
If your accountability partner cares about your behavior but discounts your suffering, the trust that breeds change will never sprout and grow. If you sense that, when you share your buried and resurrected feelings and secrets with your partner, they fall on “deaf ears,” this will remind you why you stopped trusting and can make your struggles appear all the more alluring. You will want to numb out and escape your uncared for feelings. So, if your partner tells you to “suck it up” or just “be a man” and is unwilling to learn how to sit with you in your pain, it may be time to part ways.
If any of these five warning signs describe your accountability partner, don’t just drop them immediately. I challenge you to do the more difficult thing: to go to them first and address the issues. Then, if they are unwilling to change or grow in these areas, I give you permission to fire them, but do so with care. Do not create an enemy! Thank them for their initial willingness and for their efforts. Commit all of your conversations to confidentiality. Pray for them, bless them, and wish them well. Then, don’t waste time seeking out a replacement. You can use these guidelines as a roadmap to finding a more fitting recovery partner.
I have discovered in my own life that having an accountability partner who takes my struggles seriously, invests time and attention, speaks the truth in love, strengthens me without shaming me, and cares for my past and current wounds is both transformational and life-giving. He is not my first accountability partner but eventually God brought our paths together.
May you seek and find the right fit too.