How to Deal With Bad Accountability Partners

Updated on December 29, 2017
Marla Watson profile image

Marla is a self-employed entrepreneur, a tinkerer, and classic over-thinker.

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A good accountability partner encourages us, motivates us, and keeps us honest while working toward common fitness goals. Having a gym buddy or accountability partner is a popular motivation method for many people who perform better if they feel like they have someone to “answer” to.

The bad news is, not all accountability partners are created equal. A bad one has the potential to compromise your health goals. Before giving up on your partner entirely, here are some ways to possibly work toward a more symbiotic relationship together.

Partners With Negative Attitudes

In many ways, losing weight or adopting a healthier lifestyle is more of a mental struggle than a physical one. It’s hard enough to maintain a positive attitude while working toward your own goals and becomes even more difficult with a negative accountability partner. Negative partners are very self-depreciating, make a lot of excuses, and seem to only want to talk about their failures. If you’re having a rough day, that kind of negativity is contagious. It’s also very difficult to want to share your good news with someone that is obviously struggling.

Before getting angry or confronting bad accountability partners, take a moment to ask where the negativity is coming from. We live in a really shallow society. Chances are your partner is struggling with some very deep and painful self-esteem issues. Instead of criticizing your partner’s negativity; tell them that for every failure, they have to also mention a good decision or victory–no matter how small. I have had great success with this approach, but if your partner continues to be too negative it may time to re-evaluate the relationship.

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Partners Who Don't Put in the Time

It can be so disappointing when a partner isn’t holding up their end of the deal. A flaky partner comes in many different forms: they don’t show up to work out or weigh in, they don’t appear to be trying, or have clearly not made the common goal a priority. The best thing you can do for yourself is to make your own plans and stick to them. Having an accountability partner is nice, but you can’t blame a flaky partner for your own missed opportunities. Don’t let their behavior be your excuse. And don’t be afraid to take your partner to task on why they aren’t putting in the time. They may be going through something or the behavior may be completely involuntary. Having someone notice or care about their choices may be the motivation they need to change their behavior.

Partners Who Are Critical or Condescending.

Condescending partners are the worst. Sometimes the condescension comes from a place of experience and it’s just really hard for them to come down to your level. Other times, the behavior may come from a place of needing to be the one in control. A good partner will keep you in check and may have to be forceful at times, but it should never feel like ridicule. Having a long term relationship with this person can damage your confidence or make being together so unpleasant that you want to skip activities altogether. The best course here is to be direct. Tell your partner that you appreciate their enthusiasm, but you would like to spend time doing things your own way. You might also want to consider working out with someone closer to your body type with similar goals. (Or maybe someone that’s not a jerk.)

Partners Who Want You to Train Them

Some partners would prefer if you told them what to do and may directly ask you to be their trainer. They may lack confidence and would be more comfortable if you just told them what to do. If you’re up for something like that, then that’s great! It is nice to know that someone out there appreciates what you have done and has faith in your abilities.

However, when people have asked me to train them in the past, it made me very uncomfortable. I am unqualified in every sense of the word to create a training program for someone else. And it’s really not safe! I know how to get results for myself, but have no idea how my methods would affect a partner, especially if they have health issues I don’t know about. If you are ever in a similar situation, you may want to refer your partner to a licensed trainer. You can meet them halfway by answering any specific questions they have or offering up some of your favorite recipes.

Partners Who Are Jealous of Your Success

It is highly unlikely that both you and your accountability partner will see the same kind of success at the same rate. If you happen to hitting all your milestones and your partner seems bitter or shows signs of jealousy…you need to have a talk. Tell your friend that jealous comments are hurtful and ask them to stop. Remind them that your success does not diminish their own and ask if there is anything you can do to help them.

Partners Who Are Distracting

This is the jogging buddy that wants to try to have a full conversation while running. This is the partner that wants to commemorate every jog with a big greasy meal afterward because “we earned it”. While these social butterflies might be awesome to hang out with in any other situation, they are very distracting when its time to get down to brass tacks. If your accountability partner is distracting or compromising your efforts, talk to them to figure out a plan that works for both of you. Consider taking turns on planning activities and maybe getting together to celebrate once a week.

Partners Who Want to Convert You

I don’t know how often this happens to other people, but 80% of the people I know that have made a significant lifestyle change eventually became evangelists of some magical product or service. Products include supplements, vitamins, weight loss pills, shakes, essential oils, and meal subscription services. This person may also be the friend that recently adopted a fad or strict diet regimen and wants you to drink the Kool Aid too. There’s only one way this can go: ask your friend to stop and tell them explicitly that you are not interested. Being indirect or saying things like "Maybe some other time" just gives them an open invitation to try again. Over time, this cat and mouse game really takes a toll on personal relationships.

Partners Who Don't Hold You Accountable

Some partners are so focused on hitting their own milestones that they may forget to hold you accountable for yours. Losing weight and getting in shape takes a lot of mental focus and some partners might not have the attention to spare. If you are disappointed with your partner, you might be better off finding someone that values the partnership as much as you do.

I confess I am guilty of this one. As an INTJ, I don’t get much value out of the accountability partner relationship. I usually only find myself in a partnership situation when a friend or family member asks for some moral support. Moral support I can do! My sister and I text our weight and meal plans back and forth every few days and that works for us. I mention this because I hope you aren’t writing off an accountability partner that isn’t as present as you would like for them to be. They may be able to help you in other ways that can make a difference down the road!

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Creating a Better Buddy System

Many of the problems outlined above can be completely avoided by remembering a few important things:

  • Communicate! Open and honest communication is the key to any healthy relationship, including accountability partners.
  • Don’t burn bridges. The people we partner with usually start out as friends, co-workers, or family members. Don’t burn bridges with important people in your life if you just don’t like working out with them.
  • Vocalize expectations and commitments. Throughout the partnership, especially in the beginning, make sure that all parties understand what is expected in the partnership. Be honest about your level of commitment and try your best to follow through.
  • Don’t assume the worst. We all work through our crap in different ways. Don’t assume the worst about someone else or take things too personally. There may be times when you need to take your gym buddy hat off and just be a friend.

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    © 2017 Marla

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