Keeping Your Partner Accountable Without Being a Jerk
By Benjamin Tudor, LMFT
"When your partner gets better there are benefits in that for you as well! When the tide of the relationship rises, all boats rise with it."
Isn’t the whole point of being in a relationship to find someone that makes you better? Someone that inspires you, challenges you, calls you on your bullshit? Then don’t we want - no need - someone that is going to point out areas in your life that you’re underachieving in or that aren’t aligning with your values? Particularly areas that are important to you and that you want to thrive in, but are currently struggling to find your way through?
I think most of us do want this oversight and these reminders, but it can be quite an art form to give and to receive them. We accept this type of micromanagement everywhere - our dentist to floss more, a trainer to keep pushing, doctors to eat healthier, your boss to advance your career. Why are we so resistant to it from the people closest to us?
Why is holding someone accountable so hard? Even goals that someone set for themselves can provoke a hostile response when someone is reminded of their shortcomings in achieving them. How might we best go about supporting our loved ones through accountability? How do we definitely not want to do it? I believe at least some of the answers are as follows:
Why it’s hard
People don’t like being reminded of areas they are struggling in. And if they have marked this as an area they want to improve in and work on, that decision was probably fueled by some level of insecurity. If someone announces one day, “I want to change this and here’s how I am going to do it", you can imagine they may be feeling fairly shitty about that thing considering their need to overtly proclaim such action. You can also assume that if they are struggling with it to begin with then the action plan in place is one that is difficult or unnatural for the person to carry out. If it was easy they wouldn't need to enact such change and effort. They would just do it.
How to do it
Ask for an invitation - ask your partner if they’d like you to check in on their progress and/or help remind them of their goals if they are struggling.
Accountability support system - how better to find mutual success and to grow together than if you ask them to hold you accountable for something, as well? Find something that you want to get better at and have weekly check-ins to help motivate and inspire one another.
Emotional bank account- The Gottmans, the leading researchers in love and romantic relationships, discuss the need to have plentiful positive interactions with your partner to help cushion the more difficult times. If you have a nice full account, and have lots of pleasant and meaningful times together, a hard convo around accountability and progress towards goals shouldn’t be as daunting
How not to do it
“Didn’t you say you were going to do that thing, couldn’t hack it?”
“I didn’t think it would work”
You get the point, don’t be a jerk. Remember that when your partner gets better there are benefits in that for you as well! When the tide of the relationship rises, all boats rise with it. Cheer them on, you’ll be happy you did.
You might get pushback
Even if you do everything right, they may still not want to hear it (mind your business, don’t you have your own goals to work on?) Remind them that you are just trying to help, trying to love, trying to help them succeed and you respect their goals and progress. Let them know you understand how hard it is! You’re just there to cheer them on. And you're non-judgmentally curious about their progress and what has been tough.
As I have discussed, this is not an easy thing to do.But I do think that it is among the highest forms of love you can offer. You love this person so much that you’re going to do what you think to be best for them even if they temporarily hate you for it. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.