As a Marriage and Family Therapist, Dharma Life Coach, and Master NLP Practitioner, I’ve worked with countless couples in my private practice for a long time now. I’ve had success bringing many estranged couples connect and flourish by using sharing my insights with them, offering them teaching pieces that promote harmony in relationships, engaging them in experiential exercises, etc. In addition, I’ve shared with them research-based principles that promote the health and well being of their relationships. I’ve also used one metaphor in particular that seems to resonate and make a lot of sense to couples who are busy breaking each other down instead of building each other up. This metaphor is referred to as a relationship’s Emotional Bank Account.
The Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the account in trust, goodwill, safety, honor, admiration, and love that’s been built up in a couple’s personal relationship. If a person treats his or her partner with courtesy, kindness, honesty, acceptance, and keeps his commitments, for example, than he has built up a reserve so the emotional savings cushion conflicts and stressors that inevitably arise between them. In turn, communication becomes easy, effective, and effortless, and their partner is quick to forgive his or her mistakes. If, on the other hand, couples have a habit of being critical, contemptuous, defensive, stonewalling, betraying their partner’s trust, cutting their partner off, overreacting, threatening, playing the victim or martyr, or venting their judgments with self-righteous indignation, their relationship’s emotional bank account will become overdrawn. The level of trust, safety, and goodwill in the relationship becomes low, and the couple starts walking on eggshells, measuring every word, accumulating a laundry list of resentments, and associating their partner with feelings of loneliness and pain.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I am well aware that although there is a 67 percent chance that a marriage will end in divorce over a 40 year span of time, not to mention that half of those marriages will end within the first seven years of marriage, couples can co-create thriving relationships and/or marriages with their partner if they consistently make deposits into their relationship’s emotional bank account. In this article, I am going to borrow from John Gottman, Ph.D, Stephen Covey, and Gary Chapman, who wrote the book, The 5 Love Languages: The secrets to love that lasts in my endeavor to share with you specific deposits that you can make into your relationship’s emotional bank account.
According to renowned clinical psychologist, marriage researcher, and author of the best-selling book, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, Ph.D, notes that there are research-based ways to strengthen your relationships and put deposits into your emotional bank account. These ways include the following: Be sure that the ratio of positive interactions and experiences in your relationship to negative interactions and experiences is at least 5:1; Enhance your Love Maps by truly getting to know each other; Be open to accepting influence from your partner by giving each other a voice and valuing each other’s input; Make sure that the power in your relationship is evenly distributed; Nurture your fondness and admiration for your partner; Turn toward your partner instead of turning away from him or her; Be emotionally attuned to your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and needs; Nurture your friendship with your partner; Soften your start up and tone of voice when discussing solvable and perpetual challenges in your relationship; Make and receive “Repair Attempts” ( like using humor or asking to stop your heated chat for at least 20 minutes) to defuse escalating tension and get your relationship and conversations back on track; Soothe yourself and then your partner to get into a more resourceful state if the two of have become charged and your dialogue is becoming heated or combative; Learn to compromise and be willing to yield to win; Accept your partner’s flaws and get over your “if onlies” by trying in vain to change who your partner is; Help each other realize your respective dreams; Create shared meaning in your relationship by adding a spiritual dimension that creates an inner life together, and co-create a culture rich with rituals and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link the two of you together; Learn to listen to each other empathically; Listen with your eyes, ears, and heart for feelings and meaning; Stretch beyond your comfort zone and summon the courage to be vulnerable with your partner; Foster a sense of “we-ness” and solidarity in your relationship; Act with honor and integrity in your relationship; Finally, communicate your authentic thoughts, feelings, and personal truths with your partner with courage and consideration.
In addition to John Gottman’s list of deposits that you can make into your relationship’s emotional bank account, I want to add Stephen Covey’s “Win/Win” paradigm to your relationship’s emotional bank account. Stephen Covey, who is the author of the best-selling book, The 7 Principles of Highly Effective People, encourages couples to find ways for both people to benefit from their interactions. The prevailing attitude is, “I want to win, and I want you to win.” He encourages couples to come together to work synergistically to find the “Middle Way”, or the “Third Alternative” so that they arrive at a new solution that transcends the old gridlock they were in before regarding a particular issue. Like Gottman, Stephen Covey also encourages couples to listen well. He encourages them to seek first to understand, then to be understood. When you do this for your partner, you “hold space” for your partner and give him or her “psychological air” to collect his thoughts and share them constructively.
Finally, Stephen Covey encourages each partner in a relationship to be proactive; this means that each partner must take an inside-out approach to their lives and take accountability and ownership for their mistakes. When a person in a relationship is mature and independent enough to adopt this principle, he is likely to make countless deposits into the couple’s emotional bank account. If he or she summons the courage and humility to say they are sorry for whatever they’ve said or done, they’ve made yet another deposit into their relationship’s emotional bank account.
Finally, Gary Chapman has written a book called The 5 Love Languages that encourages couples to learn how their partner gives and receives love. He notes that people experience love in their own unique ways; not everyone is the same. The 5 ways that he believes people give and receive love are through words of affirmation, time spent, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. If your partner’s heart opens wide when she hears words of affirmation and you mistakenly assume she’ll feel loved if you cuddle with her and give her gifts, then you’ve failed to show your love to her in a way that feels truly meaningful. Even though you attempted to make a deposit into your relationship’s emotional bank account, you may have unintentionally made a withdrawal!! As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve seen partners mistakenly give love in the same ways that they receive love; they love others as they’d like to be loved. I’d invite you instead to love your partner as he or she would like to be loved. When you take the time to discover your partner’s love language or languages and make a sincere effort to love him or her in those ways, you will have made a huge deposit in your relationship’s emotional bank account.
Thank you for taking some of your time to read my article on a couple’s Emotional Bank Account. If your relationship is facing gridlock and it feels as though your relationship’s emotional bank account is getting close to overdrawn, don’t hesitate to call me so I can support you in acquiring the awareness and skills to put deposits back into your relationship’s emotional bank account so that the two of you feel enriched, appreciated, and fulfilled by the loving presence of your partner in your life.
John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
( Master NLP Practitoner/Certified Hypnotherapist/Dharma Life Coach/Sports Psychology Consultant)