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How To Be Accountable In A Partnership Even When You Are “Right?”

Steven Losardo, AMFT 

Schultheis et al. 2010 note that you may divert attention, give excuses, or justify when not being accountable for something you have done or are still doing. In a committed relationship, this often results in arguments or conflicts and, if not addressed, perpetual gridlock (Gottman, 2017).  This blog will review a couple exercises that help highlight places where you have not been accountable or need help developing accountability, if not present. For the blog’s purposes, accountability will mean owning what you did and replacing removing behaviors lacking personal responsibility. If you just read this and thought something like, “if my partner would just get this right, we would not argue,” then congratulations! You may need some development in this area to remove the “self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood” (Gottman, 2017). 

The process of accepting responsibility for your part of the problem has known benefits. The actions promote a decrease in blame or criticism and decrease depression due to relationship problems (Schultheis et al., 2010). Accepting responsibility also reduces conflict in such areas as how a couple navigates finances. The removal of excuses like, “If he hadn’t nagged me, I wouldn’t have spent so much money on Amazon,” will help financial issues and improve marital intimacy. Further, you will be more emotionally available and responsive when no longer being defensive, avoiding ownership (Gottman, 2017).

How To Get There:

The blog provides an exercise for both the couple and each individual. The assumption here is that the couple has the motivation to resolve the issue and can navigate the activity successfully. A significant predictor of a couple having success while building accountability is intentionality (Gottman, 2017). As a result, the first step will be to schedule the couple exercise.

Schedule The Couple Exercise:

The scheduling of the exercise creates intention. It also holds each partner responsible for preparing individually before this session. As a result, it is facilitating the practice of accountability. 

Steps (Adapted from Gottman, 2017):

  1.     Schedule a day and time to review the individual work and do the couple (See COUPLE EXERCISE below).
  2.     How long should it last? Give yourselves one hour.
  3.     Who will initiate it? Flip a coin.
  4.     What will happen next? Think Process.
  5.     How will it end positively? “I appreciate how you held us accountable for this meeting and how you owned your stuff.”

Individual Exercise (Adapted from Schultheis et al. 2010):

  1.     Schedule this “alone time” at least three days before the couple exercise review.
  2.     Think about some behavior that upset your partner and for which you have not been accountable.
  3.     Reflect and think about what it would be like to acknowledge accountability for your part.
  4.     Journal/write down what behavior you did, leaving off any rationalization or excuse. What we often see is blame first.
  5.     Put the journal aside for two days and revisit. Please read it and look for holes in your accountability.
  6.     NOTE: Sometimes, blame may be shame turned towards another person. When doing this, it is a way of trying to reduce pain within us. Suppose you recognize that you have a pattern of blaming others outside this relationship and struggling with shame underneath the surface. In that case, it may make sense to seek out a counselor (Brown, 2010).
  7.     Prepare for the meeting roles of being a “speaker” and “listener” as described below.

Couple Exercise:

  1.     Process (Adapted from Gottman, 2017): Share what you have learned while having one partner be the speaker and while one the listener.
  2.     If you are the listener– Your job is to make your partner feels safe to share, and you suspend any judgment. DO NOT TRY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM.
  3.     Be sure to paraphrase what your partner is sharing and validate them. Take notes if you need that to remember what is said.
  4.     Do not finish the conversation until you understand your partner. How would you know they feel understood? Ask- “Did I miss anything?” “Do you feel heard or understood by me?” “What else do I need to know?”
  5.     Switch roles
  6.     If speaking- Use “I” and not “you” statements, acknowledge your role, stay positive, and try to catch yourself from being defensive or critical.
  7.     Both Review (Adapted from Schultheis et al. 2010) How did you talk about the situation differently when you spoke about it responsibly?
  8.     What’s Best Next (Adapted from Schultheis et al. 2010)? How will doing this exercise change your relationship in the future? Perhaps integrate this into your lives so you can count on it by constructively a plan to navigate this differently.


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you are supposed to be and

embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazeldon Publishing.

Gottman, J.  (2017). Level 1 Clinical training manual: Gottman method couple

therapy. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute Inc.

Schultheis, G. M., O’Hanlon, S. A., & O’Hanlon, B. (2010). Couples Therapy Homework Planner

(Vol. 269). John Wiley & Sons.

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