How to Engage in Accountability in Marriage

Yesterday’s focus was on the attitude that we should maintain within marriage.  The key is humble mutual submission.  I concluded with this statement to wives, though it could be said to husbands as well.

Both husbands and wives are to fulfill their roles by Christlikeness, esteeming the values of Biblical relationships in a manner that glorifies God and His transforming work, which is accomplished in you independently of and relationally with your spouse, the church, and others.

Within marriage their are differing roles that lead to different actions of engagement in some ways.  But there are also common practices that we should employ with one another.  These commonalities are going to be the focus of this blog.

Having counseled couples for several years of pastoral ministry, I recognize that every couple and situation is unique.  Therefore, some people may not be at the point of applying some aspects of these steps and need to build some foundational habits first.

The Biblical principle that a married couple becomes one flesh establishes a unique bond of unity that is superseded only by the bond of Christ and the church and that only superseded by the bond found within the Godhead.  Therefore when Paul writes to the church in Ephesus the emphasis he places on unity is significant.  Chapter 4 begins with a focus on “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  This is the foundational principle for the instructions that follow about conflict resolution in relationships.  This is the preemptive instruction before the highlight passage on Marriage in Chapter 5.

So we discover in chapter 4 that we are to engage in relationships with specific steps.  So here is how to engage in accountability.

First, Walk rightly yourself (vs 1).  there is nothing worse than examining the splinter in the eye of another while having one’s vision obscured by the plank in one’s own eye.  Paul emphasizes that walking worthy is qualified by humility, gentleness, patience and persistent love.  These qualities afford a spouse the privilege and responsibility to address issues in the right way.   So walk uprightly first.

Second speak carefully. Though addressed to the whole church, verse 15 emphasizes that the truth is to be spoken in love with the goal of growth into Christlikeness. So that address ought to be done privately, gently, in honesty, expressed in gracious words.  There is nothing as detrimental to a relationship than embarrassment and chiding that occurs in a public setting.  Sharp and harmful words can leave a wake of damage that is difficult to heal.  That phrase that was popularly used, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” was actually misleading and false.  We know from James 3 that the tongue is a powerful tool that can produce incredible effects.

Therefore guarding our speech is essential in accountability.  I encourage couples to avoid generalizing, especially when dealing with difficulties.  That means we should try to avoid using phrases like, “You always . . . “ or “You never . . .”  Employing those phrases often derail the hope and intentions for maturity by making our spouse defensive.  Paul emphasizes the importance of gracious speech in Ephesians 4:25-30.  Read this to get the value of this principle.

Third, be self-controlled.  In verse 31 Paul identifies the importance of self-control by expressing the negative implications that are to be put away.  So when you approach your spouse in accountability don’t be bitter, full of wrath (seeking restitution or justice for yourself), don’t be angry, clamoring (uncontrolled, and boisterous), or full of malice.  If these identify your heart and the habits of your tone, then the hopefulness of maturity is veiled by the emotions and the attempt at accountability will be counterproductive.

Fourth, be mindful of what you have been given from Jesus.  Verse 32 describes what God has given us in Jesus, kindness, forgiveness, and a tenderheartedness that is winsome.

I gave a definition of accountability: It is a relationship of permission established to uphold mutually agreed values with the goal of growing maturity (in the life of Christian this maturity is sanctification with the goal of Christlikeness being the end result – Philippians 1:3-11)

Finally, Be responsive to God’s transforming power.  When there is a need for accountability that usually indicates that someone has a struggle with some sin.  Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

Accountability in marriage is the opportunity to build the safest earthly place to remind us through that covenant relationship of the privilege we have to confess sin and find mercy.  It is a picture of Jesus’ relationship to us the church on a very intimate level.

A wife often see the changes her husband needs to make.  And though a husband is to be like Christ, this requires transformation.  So it is important that wives do not become nagging, impatient, and accusatory.   These attitudes and actions all make a husband feel disrespected; they will short-circuit the transformation.  So foster the safe place so confession and renouncement of sin can help him to find mercy, restoring hope while enhancing the transforming process.

A man often see the changes his wife needs, but he misappropriates leadership, either becoming dictatorial in control or passive in apathy and distance.  A woman needs engaged gentle leadership that is expressed in love and hope.  This will build a safe environment for confession, renouncement of sin, and transformation.

So what happens when these biblical patterns and habits aren’t present in a relationship?  Persistent conflict may be one pattern that a couple experiences.  If however, the couple can recognize the absence of certain qualities and together agree to start the process of confession and repentance of sinful behaviors and attitudes, reconciliation will begin and hope for the marriage can be restored.  This often requires an objective party (counselor) to assist them in the journey.  This is why the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 18:15ff. concerning conflict resolution is important.  In this we are instructed to go privately to a brother who is in sin.  Then if they do not respond, go with witnesses.   Counselors can often function as the witness before things escalate further. This is beneficial instruction for marriage as well as for other Christian relationships.

Remember Paul’s conclusion on marriage, “let each one of you (husbands) love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”