Emotional Bank Account
I often find sharing this simple, research-based concept to be very helpful with many couples I work with. In a six-year follow-up study of newlywed couples, Dr. John Gottman found that those who remained married at the six-year mark turned toward one another 86% of the time, whereas couples that divorced averaged turning towards each other only 33% of the time. Ultimately, the biggest difference found between happy and unhappy couples in this research boils down to how well they manage their Emotional Bank Account. But before we explore this concept, we first need a baseline understanding of what it means to turn toward your partner.
You Might be Thinking, “Turn Towards What, Exactly?”
Gottman’s research suggests that a bid for connection is any attempt from one partner to another for positive connection. In the healthiest of relationships, bids for connection from both partners are plentiful. This could look like something as simple as moving a throw pillow to make room for your partner to sit close to you. It could also be more complex, like when your partner asks you for help or advice. A missed bid for connection is viewed as turning away from your partner, which can be very damaging to a relationship over time if bids are continuously missed. It is important for us to not only recognize and turn toward our partner’s bids for connection but to also commit to making these small gestures on a daily basis.
What is an Emotional Bank Account?
In short, turning toward your partner can be thought of as emotional deposits that are positive gestures we make towards our partner. Whereas turning away from your partner’s bids are viewed as withdrawals that are negative or damaging interactions between partners. You can conceptualize your Emotional Bank Account just like your real bank account. When the account is drained with a zero balance, that usually means trouble – any little withdrawal is going to send you into the red. Having a negative balance, or being in the red, usually means we are in the danger zone. When the Emotional Bank Account is in the black, partners are more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt, feel more connected, and view the relationship in a positive light, even when conflict occurs. However, when it’s near or in the red, partners are more likely to question each other’s intentions, jump to conclusions, feel disconnected, or even feel isolated and lonely.
Making a Withdrawal from Surplus
Now I want you to think about your bank account for a second. You know, the real one with actual money in it. Let’s pretend you currently have an extra $2,000 saved up in your account set aside for emergencies. Tomorrow when you’re driving to work, your tire has a blowout and you have to spend $200 to replace it. While you may be a little frustrated, irritated, or annoyed at this inconvenience, it probably won’t feel like the end of the world. Sure, you could probably think of a million other things you would rather spend that money on, but you need your car back on the road. You shell out the $200 to replace the tire and are able to quickly move past the negative emotions you’re feeling. You continue on with the rest of your plans and end up having a pretty okay (or maybe even good) day.
Withdrawing from a Shortage
Now let’s imagine this exact same scenario, but this time you only have an extra $50 saved up in your bank account. When you get the exact same flat tire on the drive to work, you call a nearby tire shop and discover it’s going to cost $200 to replace. But you only have $50, remember? Panic begins to set in as you realize that you don’t get paid again for another week! Where will you get this money from? You still have that bill to pay! Suddenly you find yourself stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire, overwhelmed, frazzled, and hopeless and it feels like the end of the world. Your whole day, maybe even week, is now ruined.
This very same concept can be applied to our relationships.
How to Invest in Your Emotional Bank Account
It is important to recognize any act of turning towards your partner, no matter how small, is a positive interaction that adds value to the Emotional Bank Account. The overarching idea is similar to how we feel about our real bank accounts – focus on ways to continuously make deposits and minimize the risk of unwanted withdrawals. But just how much do you need to invest in order to stay out of the danger zone?
In his research, Gottman identifies a 5:1 ratio, meaning 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction, as the “magic number” to strive for a healthy relationship.
While these concepts may be simple to grasp, you must be intentional in your daily interactions in order to implement them effectively. Below I have included a list of strategies from Dr. Gottman’s research that you can use on a daily basis to continue investing in your Emotional Bank Account:
If you’d like to schedule an appointment to discuss your relationship or this concept of an emotional bank account further, you can book online here.