THey, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same goes for strong relationships. Building—and maintaining—a healthy, fulfilling, and loving partnership takes continued effort and attention over time. While it takes effort, it doesn’t have to be complicated. One framework that makes nurturing your relationship easy and understandable is the emotional bank account.
What is an emotional bank account in a relationship?
This analogy was first introduced by Stephen R. Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons for Personal Changerefers to the level of trust and goodwill you place in another person. It posits that building a relationship is akin to building wealth—more positive interactions help the relationship grow and thrive, while negative interactions hinder it.
Famed relationship researcher John Gottman, PhD, discovered what he calls the “magic relationship” — it takes five positive interactions to counter one negative. This ratio supports the idea of emotional bank accounts: when you have more money at your disposal, you are better able to weather storms and deal with surprises and tough times, just like with a money bank account. “You want a couple to have a thriving emotional bank account that means lots of positive interactions so they don’t go in the red or down on a negative interaction,” explains Gottman Institute Certified Couples Therapist Kimberly Panganiban, LMFT.
That’s not to say that successful couples will never have conflicts that cause their emotional bank balance to plummet — all couples fight and have obstacles to overcome. The key to successful, lasting relationships is making sure you deposit more than you withdraw. So when you have disagreements and arguments, you have a base of support and trust at your disposal to help you manage conflict.
How do you keep your emotional bank account in the green?
Both Panganiban and clinical psychologist Satira Streeter Corbitt, PsyD, who is also a Gottman Institute Certified Therapist, say that kind, loving, and considerate things to your partner continually build and strengthen the relationship over time. Make deposits a part of your daily routine, just like regular deposits into your bank account, and turn those efforts into habits so they stick around when life gets in the way.
“[Rituals of connection] are ways to socialize, give him attention, and be there for him on a daily basis.” — Kimberly Panganiban, LMFT, Gottman Institute Certified Couples Therapist
Deposits are any gesture that makes your partner feel safe, loved and respected. According to Panganiban and Dr. Corbitt, the specifics of it depend on your partner’s tastes, likes, and desires — the opportunities for positive interactions that will add to your emotional bank account in your relationship are endless and don’t have to be time-consuming at all. They can include any acts of intimacy or what Panganiban calls “rituals of connection,” which are “ways to socialize, pay attention to your partner, and be there for them on a daily basis,” she says.
For example, this could include kissing your partner on the way to the door, helping them unload groceries from the car, making coffee or tea for them to have when they wake up, or making them their favorite meal. Perhaps your partner loves to watch TV in the evenings, so a down payment could be to queue up their favorite show and watch it with them before bed – the specific actions depend on the person. It also looks like giving compliments, spending quality time together, giving gifts, communicating respectfully – anything that builds the relationship positively.
While this is specifically about incorporating small gestures into your day, it also encompasses things like dating — but the key here is that that’s not the case only time you connect with your partner. “It’s about spending time together and making sure we’re complimenting and showing our appreciation and that we’re showing some kind of affection so those little things can add up so that we function on the basis of a relationship that we consciously time.” and more.” says Dr. Corbitt.
Are some deposits worth more than others?
Not really, say Dr. Corbitt and Panganiban – consistency is what counts here, not thrifty but grand gestures. “If you know your partner and know what’s meaningful and important to them, you can sort of do the things that get more bang for your buck,” Panganiban says. She adds that the one action that consistently resonates is listening to your partner and being there emotionally for them when they’re stressed or overwhelmed.
Withdrawals, on the other hand, are the gestures that upset your partner and make their day difficult. For example, maybe you’re grumpy in the morning and snap at your partner, or you forget to do an important errand that he now has to do himself. These are all the little annoyances and grievances that damage a relationship and lead to resentment. However, remember that major injuries, such as abuse or infidelity, don’t count as withdrawal, says Dr. Corbitt, because “that’s in a whole different area — this is where we’re talking about the things that we all do sometimes because, ‘We’re human, like those grumpy days or accidentally forgetting an anniversary,'” she says.
So how do you build more positive interactions into your routine?
Through consistent effort. In fact, Dr. Corbitt gives the couples she treats in her therapy practice a “State of the Union” each week to reflect on how their week was and “how her partner poured into her and how her partner is doing.” see.” Using the 5:1 ratio of Dr. Gottman says Dr. Corbitt, she encourages couples to share five positive and appreciated actions that happened over the week and one that wasn’t so welcome and can be an opportunity for growth.
“You name these five positives so your partner will make it clear that you’re still looking for and focused on the good, but you’re also saying there’s one thing here that we can continue to work on,” says Dr. Corbitt. For example, positive could be that your partner made your favorite meal one night, while negative could be that they left a mess for you to clean up. Consistently communicating these needs keeps everyone on the same page and helps turn the positives into habits so they don’t stop even when you’re busy.
So if you want to build a strong relationship with your partner, think about your other bank account—and make sure it thrives by planning nice gestures that show you care, even if it’s the little things.
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