While I’m no expert on marriage and family relations, I do know a few things from experience, observation, and research that contribute to successful relationships. One particular concept that’s on my mind today is Stephen Covey’s emotional bank account. My husband and I discussed this before we got married, and we’re still referring to it. Why? Because it works.
A simple but revolutionary idea, the emotional bank account works pretty much like a bank account at a financial institution. If I want to use my debit card, I have to make regular deposits to my account. I also have to make sure that the money in my account is sufficient to cover all withdrawals; otherwise, I’ll be overdrawn and have to pay a huge overdraft fee. Naturally, I don’t like that so I keep a close watch on my expenditures.
The idea of deposits and withdrawals works exactly the same in interpersonal relationships. This is so simple to see, and yet sometimes emotions like anger or resentment or plain old selfishness get in the way of our vision. Often we get so caught up in what we want when we want it that we can’t see the dynamics that are going on. “Me-ness” runs rampant.
While everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a deposit, sincere compliments, hugs, acts of service, and common courtesies can make everyone stand a little taller. Is it really that hard to say, “You look great,” or to iron your husband’s shirt (or your wife’s blouse)? These are little things, and yet I’m convinced that in relationships, the little things are the big things. Apologizing when you’ve hurt or disappointed someone can actually be a deposit. So can occasionally doing things you don’t really enjoy like accompanying your sweetie to an event that’s important to him. Not because you like basketball games or church socials but because you love the person.
Deposits are important because sooner or later you’re going to make a withdrawal, usually unintentionally. Sometimes it’s something little like forgetting to pick up the dry-cleaning, and sometimes it’s a doozy like forgetting an anniversary. At times like these, you need to make sure your account is still solvent.
Not long ago my daughter Carrie was putting some clothes that her husband Rich had washed into the dryer when she began to notice stains that hadn’t been Shouted out, and now the tiny shirts were ruined for good. Plus, Rich had used hot water, and some dark clothes had faded on some white ones. She began to get exasperated and downright angry as she thought, “How hard would it have been to pick up the Shout and spray it on Emma’s shirt? And why couldn’t he reach up and change the water temperature to warm?” Still fuming, she then began to remember all of the wonderful things Rich did for the children and her every single day. Before her laundry experience was over, she was feeling grateful again, and their relationship was “in the chips.” If Rich had not consistently made deposits, her anger could have escalated to the point that she’d have been really irritated and critical.