Day 62: Grow Your Emotional Bank Account

I was talking with a friend recently when I mentioned the emotional bank account. He had not heard of the concept, and I realized that many people might not know about this.

I learned about the emotional bank account about eight years ago during my training to be a psychotherapist for couples. I have used the concept in my personal life as much as possible since then, and I’ve found that it works really well.

The concept of the emotional bank account was described by the John Gottman, a researcher and clinical psychologist who is able to tell if a couple will be together in six months simply by observing a few seconds of their interactions. He lists the Four Horsemen of troubled relationships (in increasing severity):

  1. Criticism
  2. Defensiveness
  3. Contempt
  4. Stonewalling

The antidote to contempt is appreciation and respect. Gottman discovered that couples thrive when they have five or more positive, supporting interactions for every negative interaction. Every time you convey appreciation and respect for you partner, you are putting some credit into your emotional bank account with them. When you are in credit, it’s possible to slip up and make a mistake, lash out, react, or convey some negativity, and it only reduces the balance a little. When the emotional bank account is completely empty, or even overdrawn, there is absolutely no leeway for you to be anything but 100% appreciative and respectful all the time.

This works reciprocally. Nobody wants to have the stress of walking on eggshells all the time. Assuming you have a partner who can receive, accept, and store most of the positivity that you give to them, then you can create a safe space for yourself, knowing that you can make mistakes and still feel appreciated and respected.

I try to take every opportunity throughout the day to convey appreciation and respect to Cindy. I know that I have a very large balance in my emotional bank account with her, and I have made mistakes and found that the balance is always sufficient to absorb them.

Here are some examples of the kinds of things I say to Cindy, ideally while touching, hugging, or kissing her:

  • I’m feel really proud of you and the way you persisted with that. It’s impressive to me.
  • Why are you so beautiful to me? (antidote to early conditioning)
  • I really appreciate that you made breakfast for me. It’s so delicious.
  • I think that you’re definitely trying your best with this.
  • I’m so different from you, and I’m learning from you how to slow down and feel things deeply. I think you’re really good at that.
  • I feel very grateful to have you in my life.

It’s important to understand and remember that you are responsible for being positive. You can control and change what you say and how you treat your parter. You cannot control or change your partner. The most you can effectively do is to make gentle requests and be vulnerable about your needs.