By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Consider your relationship: How happy are the two of you? When something goes wrong, how quickly do you turn on your partner? Relationship expert and researcher John Gottman has proposed the idea of an emotional bank account to help people think about, keep track of, and manage their happiness as a couple. Just as you can make deposits and withdrawals from your traditional bank account, you can make deposits and withdrawals from your relationship’s emotional bank account. And, just as the balance in your traditional account affects how financially safe or insecure you feel, the balance in your emotional account affects how safe or insecure you feel in your relationship.
When your emotional bank account is high, you think positively about, and feel warmly toward, your partner. So, when he or she makes a mistake, this ‘withdrawal’ from your emotional account still leaves you with plenty to feel happy about. For instance, if you are cooking together in the kitchen and your partner accidentally steps on your toe, you are likely to laugh it off if your account is even moderately high. But when your account hovers around zero, you might respond with some nasty retort. Of course, greater offenses translate to greater withdrawals. Your account needs to be a bit higher to manage well through your partner forgetting your birthday or anniversary, being snippy with you for no clear reason, or not asking about the results of an important medical test.
Being truly close and vulnerable with each other means that you will sometimes step on each other’s toes or accidentally trip each other up. So it’s important that you work to keep your emotional bank account high.
Some ways to keep your account high are:
Remember the little things count: All the little things not only count, but they are the building blocks of our daily lives. So, be courteous, show and declare your love, and be appreciative of what your partner adds to your life.
Be attentive and supportive: To feel cared about, your partner needs for you to take an interest in him or her. When they talk about their day, truly listen. When they struggle with a problem or are excited about a new interest, be supportive.
Do something special: Going out of your way for your partner can add lots to your account. Thinking about what’s important to your partner can be a great guide. So can just paying attention to their daily habits. Depending on habits and interests, you might bring them great happiness by bringing home donuts, giving them an “I love you” card, or just picking up your dirty socks.
Remember important dates: Even if you aren’t great with remembering dates, you can always plug important ones into your calendar. You might even make a note a few days ahead to pick up a card. This can work equally well with birthdays, anniversaries of the day you met or your wedding, and when your partner has some important meeting at work.
Fight with mutual respect: Every couple argues or has disagreements. When you do, always keep your communication respectful.
Keep it positive: According to research conducted by Dr. Gottman, healthy relationships have five positive interactions to every negative one.
By thinking in terms of an emotional bank account, you can gauge the strength of your relationship. If your account is dangerously close to zero, build up that balance. But it’s not wise to wait for that to happen. The best strategy with any relationship is to make regular deposits a matter of course, ensuring that you maintain a healthy balance and a healthy relationship.
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