I used the expression in my Vetos article about the Emotional Bank Account, and would like to explore the concept a little more in depth.
The Emotional Bank Account is the level of trust you and your partner(s) have between each other. The higher the balance in the emotional bank account, the greater slack you’re willing to give (and the greater slack you’ll get, too). Think about the throes of NRE. You’re giddy. You’re excited. You’re getting a lot of emotional positives. In this stage, you tend to give a lot of slack because you’re getting a lot of positive.
Now, even though I am using something of a bookkeeping term here, I discourage actual mental accounting in relationships — i.e. “You went to six parties in the last six weeks and left me home with the kids, so now I’m owed a weekend trip to make up for it.” While yes, a good relationship might seem to have a transactional quality to it, closer examination would show that it’s more about both parties enjoying opportunities to give and allowing their partners the pleasure of giving than being minutely focused on making sure the books stay “even”.1
So, what can you do to keep that emotional bank account balance high?
Obviously make more deposits than withdrawals. Thing is, this is subtle. Anyone who talks about the emotional bank account is quick to point out that the other person has to see what you do as a deposit. A partner who arranged for me to have a manicure, pedicure, massage and time alone with a word processor and an appletini would be making a big ole whopping deposit. Does sound like Heaven to you? Bet that at least 60% of my readers wouldn’t think so.
This means you have to know your partner, and know her down into her bones. This takes a lot of time and deep attention. If you do this right, you’re going to spend years and years in the learning process. (And that kind of commitment is often a big deposit in and of itself). There’s the big and obvious stuff — allergies, likes, dislikes, what kind of childhood he had. Then there’s the subtle stuff — the impact of one’s childhood, one’s really tender spots, the way tastes might change according to mood.
Another way you can help make deposits in the emotional bank account is to know yourself well enough to be able to give accurate information in the process. Ferinstance, I’m an introvert, right? Alone time! Wheeee!!!! But if I don’t tell a partner that I feel bad when I’m left out, I might not get invited to an event because a partner wants to be kind and offer me alone time. He couldn’t make something that I would percieve as a deposit because he didn’t have all the information!
I suppose I’m being a little obvious in also pointing out that being understanding and trying to assume benevolence on the parts of your partners is probably a good way to start. Not trying to say that motives are always benevolent. Humans are humans and yeah, sometimes we can be nasty critters. But if you’re getting to that point, sometimes the bank account is so withdrawn there’s really no point in continuing the relationship. It happens, and it’s sad. Best thing to do then is walk away and let it go.
But in a solid relationship, the partners will all be looking for ways to keep that balance in the emotional bank account high. Sometimes it can be from very frank conversation about what you’re doing. Letting someone know you’re very invested in keeping the relationship solid (and then following through with it as best you can) can have an enormous net effect.
1Interestingly enough, this is also being encouraged as a business model. Check out Never Eat Alone sometime. If the business success is going to the people that are better at relationships, we poly people have even more incentive to have our heads screwed on straight!