Perhaps one of the most useful ideas I learned in graduate school was the concept of the ‘emotional bank account.’ This is very similar to your checking account—it is not fixed or static. You make deposits, you make withdrawals. These deposits and withdrawals are deposits or withdrawals of trust. If I bring my wife a cup of coffee in the morning, it is a small deposit. If I leave my socks on the floor for my wife to pick up, it’s a small withdrawal. You can make small deposits of trust. You can make big deposits of trust. You can make small withdrawals of trust. You can make big withdrawals of trust. The biggest point is that it takes five deposits to cover one withdrawal. If I criticize my wife (withdrawal of trust) and then apologize (a deposit), I’m down four. If I criticize my wife again and later apologize, I’m down another four, or total of minus 8. You can see how this works. Five to one.
For you John Gottman fans, he found the same pattern. He calls deposits, positive events, and withdrawals, negative events. His conclusion is the same. Five positive events to cover a negative event. Gottman lists the four withdrawals in order of severity that he uses to predict the failure of a relationship—defensiveness, withdrawal, criticism, and contempt. Each one of these is a larger and larger withdrawal of trust from your emotional bank account. A good friend was fortunate enough to have a meeting with Gottman and Gottman said he now has the prediction of the failure of a relationship down to two points—Does the man listen and does the woman feel understood.
Perhaps the largest ‘deposit’ a person can make in a relationship is to listen with the intent of understanding the other’s point of view. I’m good at listening, but I often listen with the intent of judging. We all do many, many things for our relationships. If you run out of things to talk about with your partner, ask the other what are the three things they would like to see you do, or do more of. Hopefully, your partner will ask you the same question—what three things would you like to see them do, or do more of. This is a shortcut to find out what the other sees as a big deposit to the account. Unless there is a clear moral reason not to meet the request, these requests should be met. Remember: Five to One.