Last week, I shared with you the 3rd biggest reason that couples collapse (if you missed it, click here).
This week, I want to share the second biggest reason that relationships break down.
Here’s a hint – to the average person, it looks something like this:
“But I said I was sorry – why can’t you just let it go?”
“Why can’t you just forgive and forget?”
“Why are you always bringing up the past?”
First, I want to be clear that questions like, “Why can’t you let it go?” are the symptoms – not the source – of the problem.
The problem is this:
So many people don’t appreciate the difference between an apology…and meaningful accountability.
An apology can be summed up with the words, “I’m sorry”. Of course, there are times when “I’m sorry” is all you need to move you past a mistake that someone has made in the relationship.
But if it’s a big mistake – or one that has occurred before or even repeatedly – “I’m sorry” frequently cannot move you through the choppy waters of hurt feelings, disappointment, or betrayal. However, meaningful accountability can provide us with a way to leverage even the most painful mistakes into reconciliation and transformation. Unlike “I’m sorry”, meaningful accountability is something we do, not just something we say.
Meaningful accountability means taking responsibility for our actions and – most importantly – changing our behaviour. If you want to have deep, lasting connections, it is essential to have a clear framework for demonstrating meaningful accountability.
If you don’t have a clear framework for practicing meaningful accountability, you will struggle unnecessarily to move through mistakes, conflicts, and foot-in-mouth moments. This is because, without meaningful accountability, the past never gets resolved. In other words, without it, you never actually move beyond the mistake.
This is why it can feel like someone isn’t “letting go of the past” – because no one can let go of the past when it’s unresolved! Unresolved grievances fester as deep resentment and mistrust. Hurt feelings get pushed aside only to come out later when you are triggered, defensive, hurt (again), or simply no longer able to repress your authentic feelings about what has happened.
Here’s the good news: if you do have a clear, step-by-step framework for meaningful accountability, your missteps can be transformed…into stepping stones for reflection, growth, and greater connection as you move forward – together. And right now, I want to share with you my 5-step framework for practicing meaningful accountability!
5 Steps to Meaningful Accountability (aka, “Don’t be sorry – be S.A.R.A.H!”)
Each letter of S.A.R.A.H. represents one of the steps of my meaningful accountability framework. If you miss even one; or if you get them out of order; you will struggle unnecessarily.
So what does S.A.R.A.H. stand for?
2) Acknowledgement of your mistake
3) Reflection upon how your mistake may have been difficult for the other person
4) Ask (for forgiveness)
5) Honor (by listening to them with genuine curiosity)
1) Beginning from sincerity is crucial. How do you generate sincerity?
Summon your sincerity by first observing any defensiveness or urge to sweep your mistake under the rug by deflecting, minimizing, or denying your misstep.
Simply put, meaningful accountability cannot occur when there is defensiveness (hint: defensiveness may arise as an urge to blame someone else for what you did in order to avoid taking responsibility). If you are feeling defensive, know that’s just your ego trying to create more conflict. Notice the urge to be defensive. Observe it thoroughly – but don’t indulge it!
Once you’ve stepped back from the temptation to deflect, minimize, or defend what you did, you’re halfway to sincerely inviting a constructive conversation about what happened.
The other 50% of sincerity is honest willingness to reconnect.
And I don’t have to tell you, reconnecting after an argument feels much better than either defensiveness or the lingering tension of unresolved “stuff”.
So: now you’ve summoned your sincerity! Next…
2) Acknowledge your mistake (keep this simple).
For example, “Sweetheart, I know that I spoke to you abruptly and I want to acknowledge that”.
3) After acknowledgement comes reflection.
You pause, consider, and then share a few thoughts about how your misstep might have been difficult for the other person. Utilize your imagination – think about how you might feel if you were on the receiving end of the mistake you made. Or, think about how you typically feel when someone pushes your buttons. A reflection like this might look like, “I think that when I spoke to you in that tone, it might have felt hurtful, abrupt, or unfair to you”.
4) Ask (for forgiveness): “Please forgive me”; or, “I want to ask for your forgiveness”.
Simple, but powerful.
Asking forgiveness aligns you with humility – and this demonstrates the kind of maturity that says, “I take ownership of my mistakes with integrity”. Asking for forgiveness also demonstrates that the other person’s active participation is essential to this process moving forward together. Together is the key: without the other person’s active participation and willingness to forgive, the process of moving forward becomes stalled.
(Hint: if you have a hard time with extending forgiveness to others, check out my blog on the subject).
5) Honor. The final component in this 5-step formula for meaningful accountability is honoring the other person by listening with genuine curiosity to them as they share their experience of your mistake.
Honoring makes space for the other person to speak while it simultaneously stimulates empathy in you for their experience – and empathy is one of the most powerful and transformative ingredients we need to change our behaviour.
Let’s face it: changing behaviour is often easier said than done!
But by mobilizing these 5-steps to meaningful accountability in the right order, you arrive at empathy as a very natural extension of the cumulative effects of sincerity, acknowledgment, reflection, asking for forgiveness, and honoring the other person’s experience with genuine curiosity.
Empathy inspires us to deeply integrate what we’ve learned through practicing meaningful accountability. In other words, empathy allows us to be impacted by the process.
And this is how we let it change us…and our behaviour!
By practicing this 5-step framework for meaningful accountability, you can feel confident that mistakes and missteps can be leveraged into reconciliation and transformation – because you will feel transformed by this process that empowers you to move forward together. And if you want to take another massive, step toward rebooting your relationships – right now – then register for one of my Summer, 2013, Speaking Tour workshops!
If you live in Toronto, Ottawa, Barrie, or Guelph, I’m offering you the opportunity to get in a room with me and hear my best thinking on the most massive mistakes people in committed relationships make that keep them disconnected, fighting all the time, and feeling totally alone.
Tickets are just $20 at the door, BUT…you can receive a complimentary ticket!
The 3 Most Massive Mistakes Women in Committed Relationships Make that Keep Them Disconnected, ?Arguing All the Time, & Feeling Totally Alone
Dates for upcoming Ontario events:
OTTAWA: Monday, August 26th, 2013, 7pm-10pm
BARRIE: Thursday, August 29th, 2013, 7pm-10pm
TORONTO: Tuesday, September 10th, 2013, 7pm-10pm
Space is limited, so pre-register now!
I can’t wait to see you there!