What does it mean to be accountable in a relationship?

“You are not responsible for other’s feelings.”

A lot of my clients recite this quote to me when I am doing EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) sessions with my couples. I agree. I believe that all of us are responsible for our own experience, as I talked about in my previous IG post.

 

But does that mean you can do whatever you want in a relationship, disregarding your partner’s feelings? Of course not.

I believe that we need to be accountable for our partner’s feelings in order to have a successful relationship.

So what does it mean to be accountable in a relationship then? How do you take accountability in your relationship with your romantic partner or with other people in your life?

 

In EFT, the infinity ring demonstrates what happens when partners don’t take any accountability in their relationship.

 

Partners often create and get stuck in an indefinite negative cycle (like an infinity ring), that prevents us from having a healthy relationship.

Both partners have unmet needs from their childhood and yearn for it in their adult romantic relationships. When you are not provided with what you’ve been yearning for, you experience pain.

 

But as it is difficult to talk about these vulnerable feelings with each other, partners often express the pain though a secondary emotion, such as anger or anxiety. And those painful feelings trigger your protective mechanism. So when these internal alarms go off, you behave in such a way that triggers the other person to engage in their self-protective behaviors as well.

 

For instance, let’s look at Joy and Richard’s negative cycle (fictional).

 

Joy’s been complaining to her boyfriend, Richard, for months. She says, “He doesn’t care about me or our relationship anymore.” Joy says that Richard doesn’t have any time for her and they no longer do anything together. Joy’s feeling “deeply hurt and scared” and she remembers how she used to feel when she was a child. Her parents were always busy working and never home. But rather than talking about how hurt and scared she is, she lashes out on Richard with anger.

 

Richard has been “doing the best he can” to spend more time with Joy but he feels that he is always being “blamed and criticized.” When Joy starts lashing out at him, Richard shuts down because he’s overwhelmed with all the intense emotions. Also, Joy’s anger triggers the old and familiar feelings within him, such as “incompetence, unlovable, and sadness.” His mom used to be very critical of him growing up, which made him think, “I’m not good enough.” Richard also doesn’t know how to talk about these difficult emotions so he eventually leaves the house.

 

When Joy sees Richard leaving the house, she feels “abandoned and lonely,” which reinforces her thought, “He doesn’t care about me.” So she starts calling him. No answer. Joy gets even more upset and leaves Richard several angry messages. Richard doesn’t answer his phone all day and comes home the next day. When Joy asks him where he has been, he says, “I don’t want to talk about it” and retreats to his study. So then from here, another cycle repeats. Sounds familiar?

 

So what would it look like if both partners took accountability in this situation?

Being accountable in a relationship means acknowledging the effect your behaviors have on your partner and owning how you contribute to the negative cycle.

A relationship is a two-way street. It’s never one person’s fault that the relationship has not worked or is not working. If you were to be more accountable, rather than blaming your partner about what happened, you start thinking about what you can do, to better the situation.

 

Think about what you contributed to your partner “going crazy,” “ignoring” you, “yelling,” or “abandoning” you. Can you see the part you played in your own negative cycle? If you can, now we can implement new behaviors and practice, practice, and practice. It won’t happen overnight, but you and your partner can and will change and create a healthy relationship once more, or for the first time.

 

What happens if you don’t take accountability for your own actions? Well, there is no change. Meaning that you will be stuck in a very unhappy relationship forever or you will leave the relationship thinking that it was all your partner’s fault. Then, you repeat the same pattern with a new partner.

 

Do you want to learn more about how you can start taking more accountability to better your relationship? You can make an appointment here for a therapy session or a free consultation.

 

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