What Partners Have to Contribute to Their Relationship

Take care to deposit more than you withdraw so you always have a reserve.

Posted Oct 02, 2020

Ken Teegardin/Flickr
Source: Ken Teegardin/Flickr

Recently a couple came in with a common squabble partners have: the proper way to load the dishwasher. The husband was upset because he felt micromanaged by his wife telling him how he should be putting the dishes in the dishwasher. He said, “She should be happy I’m doing it, not criticizing me for how I’m doing it. Is this how she wants to spend our relationship capital?”

That line got me to thinking about bank accounts, spending, and credit cards as apt metaphors for what we do in our relationship: How much we invest, how much we withdraw, how much we have in our accounts.

How to make deposits to your relationship account: Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate. Each time you put words to something you appreciate about your spouse, you are making a deposit that yields high interest. Not only will he or she feel good and associate that good feeling with you, but the appreciation will cause the behavior to increase, and you will have deposited into a reservoir of goodwill that will sustain you through drier periods. At each couples' session I conduct, I begin with an appreciation from the past week, even when the couple has been fighting. We can always find the positive if we look for it, and the more we see it, the more it grows.

What makes your account diminish: Criticism. Every critical thing you say or do or imply with so much as a raised eyebrow is a high-interest withdrawal from your relationship account. It’s worse than taking a cash advance on your credit card. John Gottman, a relationship researcher, writes that for every negative comment you make to your spouse, it takes five positive comments to neutralize it. This means every critical comment you make has a 500% interest rate. Would you ever take out a loan at those terms?

How your account can sustain you. We’re not always at our best. At the end of a long day, after periods of enforced separation, when beset by other responsibilities such as children or aging parents — we just don’t have the energy to give our spouse the attention he or she deserves. That’s reality. It’s at these times when we can cut ourselves and each other slack, veg out in front of the TV or a computer, grunt at each other, and let that be okay. Because we have made a habit of depositing into our relationship bank when times are good, we have capital to draw on when times are tough.

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