Holding someone accountable can be an act of love, but loving someone does’t always include strict accountability. At times, there is an intersection between spousal love and accountability. How do you and your spouse hold each other accountable for virtue while maintaining free, total, faithful, and fruitful love?
Imagine, for example, if my husband sets a goal and asks me to hold him to not eat dessert for three months. Because I love him and want to support his ambition for a greater good, I would do everything in my power to limit the temptations. I wouldn’t make his favorite chocolate chip cookies, I wouldn’t eat dessert in front of him (or if I did indulge myself, I would not tempt him with an offer). Maybe I would consider joining him for part of the fast as a partner along the journey.
But perhaps the cravings become too much to bear and my spouse ends his plan early. If he makes up his mind and calls it quits, I arrive at the crossroad: do I respond as his accountability partner or his spouse?
As an accountability partner, detached from marital love, I would remain in encouragement mode. I would pull out all the tricks to help him stay the course and, if necessary, use a stern approach of tough love, set towards fulfilling my role in holding him to his plan.
The reaction must shift, in some ways, when I see his struggle and love him as my husband. In the shared journey toward sanctification, I will initially encourage my spouse to fight through temptation toward a greater good—to a point. Eventually, we have to let our loved ones make their own choices. In these moments, we are called to prudence and self-control to uphold our spouse’s freedom.
The 1968 Encyclical Letter, “Humane Vitae,” defines four core adjectives of pure love: free, total, faithful, and fruitful. Fruitful love is open to new life—in parenthood, virtue, or spiritual fruits of the Holy Spirit. Faithful love echoes the marital vows, “I promise to be true to you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer; I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” For love to be total, it is an absolute gift of self—mind, body, and spirit—from one person to another.
Love is free in how it is given and received. Pure love is a free gift without expectation to receive anything in return. There is no room for manipulation or coercion. Free love grows through the virtue of complete generosity.
In some ways, loving someone with freedom can pose an obstacle in holding someone accountable when we surrender our mission of accountability in order to respect their free will. When we love someone, we don’t want to see them fail or fall, especially when we have been tasked with supporting them. Yet with a purity of heart, we must honor the freedom of the other. In marriage, the crossroad between love and accountability is where God must enter, filling our hearts with trust, peace, and hope.
We look to the way God loves us to understand how to love our spouse with a pure heart. From the beginning of time, God offers every human autonomy and free will in decision making with a promise of unconditional love. When we reach to him as our divine accountability partner, he provides grace and encouragement, but his steadfast love will never force us to make a choice against our personal freedom.
His example of perfect, unconditional love models the balance between serving your spouse solely as an accountability partner and loving your spouse as your beloved.
By rooting ourselves and our marriages in Christ’s love, we can hold our spouse accountable yet show them mercy when they fall to temptation. We can ask God for prudence and wisdom through the challenges of marital love. We can confidently hope for redemption and sanctification.
Holiness does not look like one spouse dragging the other to the gate of heaven, against their will. Holiness is remaining side-by-side, though perhaps several miles away from heaven’s gate—loving through freedom, for freedom, and by the power of free love. In the pure and holy spousal union, God’s mercy reaches beyond our human limitations, redeems our brokenness, and carries us to his infinite peace. ”This love… is an act of free will, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.”
I encourage you to reflect on past or current circumstances where the responsibilities as a spouse intersect with the responsibilities as your spouse’s accountability partner. Let us grow in love as we discern the opportunities to love with greater freedom, deeper mercy, and stronger hope in the journey toward sanctification.
When have you and your spouse held each other accountable while maintaining free, total, faithful, and fruitful love? What circumstances bring you to the crossroad between accountability and freedom? Share your story with our community on Facebook or Instagram.