- It's easy to overlook the slow erosion of what makes a relationship great. Complacency can sneak up on us and ruin even the best couples.
- If something matters to us, it deserves and requires maintenance.
- We can benefit our relationship in any way we can, while we can, by building up our relationship bank account.
Most of us do not want to be alone.
To avoid that, we put a lot of time and energy into finding a romantic partner. When we find “the one,” we assume that we can just coast and enjoy our magical relationship.
It’s also wrong.
This approach stems from a misguided reliance on relationship fate. What you’re actually doing is putting your relationship at risk.
No one willingly, intentionally, or knowingly sabotages the relationship they always wanted. No one wants to waste all of that effort. Yet, how many relationships do you see that are incredibly promising at first but struggle to remain strong over time? Way too many.
The fact is, getting together is easy. Staying together requires effort.
By leaving your relationship to fate, you get a little lazy and a bit complacent. Put simply: You’re being neglectful.
Relationship Enemy #1: Neglect
My wife and I have killed a lot of plants in our house. If I’m honest, the flowers and bushes outside our house don’t do too well, either. Now, I don’t think we’re bad people or awful homeowners. We take time picking out plants and making sure they’re right for the conditions, and we have every intention of caring for them once they’re home. And we put in the effort…at first.
Then life gets in the way, and we prioritize other things. The result is that our plants often shrivel up, turn brown, and ultimately die. It’s a sad waste of time and resources. And it could have been prevented.
It’s the same with your relationship.
Everyone is vigilant about major relationship threats like cheating or substance abuse problems. The real threat is what we can’t see and never see coming.
It’s easy to overlook the slow erosion of what makes our relationship great. Because it happens so slowly and little by little, we’re tricked into complacency. It sneaks up on us.
You can lose a lot when you’re not paying attention.
We can neglect our relationship and marriage because it feels safe and solid. Sure, that’s true now, but can it last? If so, for how long?
Oddly, we would never do this in other important areas of our life. You would never spend a lot of time getting a great job but not put in the effort to keep it. You wouldn’t have kids or even get a pet, only to let them care for themselves. We generally prioritize what’s important and take the time to care for it.
If something matters, it deserves maintenance.
Here’s a simple solution.
Your Relationship Bank Account
Relationship success isn’t permanent or automatic. It’s ephemeral and fleeting. Success requires deliberate care, attention, and regular effort.
Every relationship has a bank account. Not the literal one where you keep your money, but a mental record of the positive experiences you’ve had as a couple (Feeney & Lemay, 2012). This is your relationship’s emotional capital.
Your relationship bank account needs regular deposits. Early on, couples easily accumulate many positive experiences that quickly build up their emotional nest egg. However, that early embarrassment of riches encourages complacency: It’s so easy. Surely it will always be this way. Not so fast…
Inevitably, the stresses and strains of life make withdrawals on your relationship bank account. They may be small and hard to notice, but they’re frequent enough to matter. Every bad day at work, bad night of sleep, small argument, or missed date night takes a toll. Left unchecked, you can easily deplete your emotional reserves and bankrupt your relationship.
The solution is simple: Benefit your relationship in any way you can, while you can.
Doing so allows you to bank the positives and build emotional capital to draw upon it later when you inevitably need it. Research shows that this builds trust, satisfaction, and, ultimately, commitment. Greater emotional capital also allows couples to be more tolerant of their partner’s imperfections and give them the benefit of the doubt (Walsh & Neff, 2019). Patience and understanding take energy and effort. And it doesn't take much. Even just four hours a week can benefit your relationship.
Truth be told, our house isn’t a complete plant graveyard. The plants that survive and thrive have a common quality: We made the effort. We paid attention. We cared.
Relationship success isn’t a single absolute outcome; it’s a process that requires your full attention and constant effort. You need to accrue resources over time by being a good partner, having fun together, and generally enjoying all of the great parts of your relationship.
Feeney, B. C., & Lemay, E. P. (2012). Surviving relationship threats: The role of emotional capital. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(8), 1004–1017. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167212442971
Walsh, C. M., & Neff, L. A. (2019). The importance of investing in your relationship: Emotional capital and responses to partner transgressions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407519875225