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It Takes Two to Tango

At Relationship Risk Solutions, men who have been referred by court to battering intervention meet in Beginning Conversations groups and share about their lives, Protection from Abuse orders (PFA), criminal charges, and much more. It is a goal of the program and of the court that they be accountable for something that they’ve done. Or perhaps how they’ve lived their lives generally. Accountability includes learning alternative ways of thinking and acting.
Accountability can be difficult. Even painful. Looking at yourself and acknowledging what you have done. Especially acknowledging what you have done deliberately.
True regret is never just a regret over consequence; it is a regret over motive.
– Mignon McLaughlin
In the group, everyone comes in with a toolbox of skills that manage to avoid accountability. The curriculum we use points out that minimization, denial, and blame are in that repertoire of tools they bring. We illustrate this by writing the word ACCOUNTABILITY on a whiteboard and covering it with large sheets of paper that we fill with examples of minimization, denial, and blame.


It’s not a big deal.
It only happened once.
At least I didn’t ….
It wasn’t that hard -She bruises easily.
That’s not what happened.
I don’t remember.
I didn’t push her-she fell.
It wasn’t a hit– she bruises easily.
It was the beer/drugs/meds.
She’s bipolar.
She started it.
She bruises easily
A facilitator points out that any of these statements may be true. For example, it may be true that “she bruises easily,” but that also means she hurts easily. The problem is this: Making any of these statements as an excuse (or explanation) for your behavior hides personal accountability as surely as the whiteboard ACCOUNTABILITY is obscured by the papers capturing the group’s examples of minimization, denial, and blame.
To get at personal accountability, group members have to peel away their excuses and explanations. Here the facilitator pulls off the paper with a dramatic flourish.
This exercise leads to discussing how we are responsible for our own behavior, regardless of how we feel and regardless of what another person is doing. This leads to discussing that we cannot control another person–we can control only how we react to that other person.
Then, just as some of the men’s resistance starts to wane, someone inevitably says, “But it takes two to tango!”
Indeed! It does take two to tango.
Of course, when you have always interpreted every interaction with your partner as a tango, you get really good at repeating the same steps over and over again. And when you are willing to be accountable – to acknowledge what you’ve done in the past and learn alternative new steps – you realize it may still take two to tango.
But it takes only one to dance.
Choosing a new dance – changing the steps you take – can change the future for both of you.

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