When I work with couples, I like to give them concrete tools they can use to improve their relationships. One of these tools is the concept of the Emotional Bank Account. This idea was developed by the famous couples’ therapists and researchers, Drs. John and Julie Gottman whose well-researched techniques have been proven widely successful.
So, what is the Emotional Bank Account (EBA)?
Well, it’s pretty much just as it sounds. The EBA is a bank account for emotional experiences with your partner. In that account you have:
- credits, or times when your partner turns toward you emotionally, and
- debits, or times when your partner turns away from you emotionally
Your EBA balance is a way of monitoring how you feel about your relationship and it largely depends on the number of events of turning towards vs turning away. How you deal with conflict is also largely dependent on how nourished or depleted your EBA is. The more positive deposits into your EBA, the more secure you both will feel in your relationship and the more likely you are to forgive and forget. The more negative debits or turning away events in your relationship, the less secure and happy you will feel about your relationship and the more likely you are to break up when problems arise.
Ok so you might be wondering where you match up in the credit/debit ledger. The best way to find that out is to ask your partner but let’s imagine some typical interactions and see if they would be credits or debits.
Scenario 1: You come home from work and tell your partner that you had a terrible day. She says that she is too tired to listen to your problems. A few minutes later, you hear her on the phone laughing with one of her friends.
You probably guessed that this one is a debit! Your partner has turned away from you by making it clear that she has no energy for you. Now, realistically, in a long-term relationship, this may happen from time to time. However, if it happens more often than not, your Emotional Bank Account is probably in the red.
Okay, let’s tweak the situation just a little bit for scenario 2.
Scenario 2: You come home from work and tell your partner that you had a terrible day. She says that she is very sorry that you had a bad day. Then, she says that she is exhausted, and needs a bath, but really wants to hear about your day when she finishes with her bath.
So, what do you think? Is this a debit because your partner is not immediately ready to hear about your day? Or, is it a credit because she is making an effort by telling you what she needs to do in order to be a good listener? If you guessed the second answer, you are right!
In this scenario, while your partner is not immediately ready to talk, she lets you know that she is sorry for what happened to you and she details how she will take care of herself in order to be there for you. Here, your partner is turning toward you. She is acknowledging your hurt and letting you know she cares.
Let’s look at another:
Scenario 1: Your partner texts you while out of town on business and says that he can’t sleep, he misses you and wishes he was holding you in his arms right now. You didn’t see the message until you woke up the next morning but you know he’s coming home today. You respond “Good morning! I hope you got some sleep. I’ll see you later today!”
Is this an example of turning toward or turning away? The correct answer is turning away. This may seem nuanced to you but there are a few things to look at here. 1) your partner was getting vulnerable with you by saying he missed you. Even if you’re not the mushy texting type, it’s important to acknowledge and validate this vulnerability, especially if you want to keep seeing it. 2) he was reaching out for connection and to hear that you felt the same and this feeling was left unrequited.
Scenario 2: Your partner sends you the exact same text and you respond (still the next morning) with “awww I appreciate the text! I was sleeping last night when you sent this but I’m excited to see you tonight!”
If you guessed that this is an example of turning towards, you are correct. You acknowledged that your partner sent something sweet and you thanked him for it. You also reciprocated the feeling by saying you were looking forward to seeing him too. Lastly, you let him know the reason you didn’t answer (you were sleeping) so that he didn’t conclude that his text was unimportant to you. Even though this is not as romantic as the text your partner sent, nor was it a timely response, it still hits all the points of turning towards vs turning away.
All couples go through dozens of moments like this in a day; moments that can easily be forgotten or ignored and seem like they aren’t really a big deal. However, when added up, these moments truly are a big deal. Couples who increase the number of emotional credits being stored and pay attention to these positive events have a much bigger buffer to draw upon when conflict arises. These couples are more likely to be happy and more likely to stay together when times get tough.
Think about it, if you view your partner as generally loving and kind, wouldn’t you be more likely to forgive a negative response here and there? So start making deposits in that EBA and watch your relationship thrive!
If you would like to learn more about the Emotional Bank Account, or other inspiring tools, contact me. I’m here to help.