For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard that all two people have to do to create and maintain a healthy relationship is to “improve their communication skills.”
– by Rick Macnamara, LCSW / Talkspace Therapist
It’s almost a mantra by now, with couples coming to therapy repeating those words verbatim. But what if all the two people have to say to each other is how much they’ve grown to hate the other person’s guts?
By the time some couples come for therapy, they are already what I call emotionally bankrupt. I first learned this term a few years ago, while attending a leadership seminar at the Harvard Business School. However, I soon realized that this was a term that could also be applied to human interactions. Since then, I’ve used it to help struggling couples build healthy and successful relationships.
It works like this: Everyone has relationship banks into which their partner, family, friends, mentors, supervisors, or whoever else can make deposits and withdrawals. Unlike in a financial institution where cash deposits rule the day, the deposits made to the relationship banks are in the form of sincere compliments, acknowledgements of big and small accomplishments, as well as small tokens of gratitude and appreciation.
For example, your partner thanks you for making dinner or ironing a wrinkled shirt. That’s putting a healthy deposit into the relationship bank. Later, your partner says “We’ve really got to talk!” and tells you that something you do is making them nuts! That would be a withdrawal from the relationship bank. Partners in a healthy relationship often do this instinctively, with each partner making more deposits than withdrawals into the relationship bank.
Healthy deposits into the relationship bank should be made on a regular basis. In the same way that putting money aside from each paycheck is a healthy habit as far as your finances go, showing appreciation to and for your partner is a healthy habit for your relationship. Since not everyone has positive relationship role models, when expressing appreciation to and for each other, some couples may at first feel a little awkward, but the practice can quickly start to feel natural and become enjoyable.
Having all those good thoughts and feelings in your relationship bank can be just as satisfying as having money in the bank. And let’s face it, no one likes being emotionally or financially bankrupt.
People who live with negative balances in their checking or savings accounts for too long can suffer a lot of unpleasant consequences. These can include bank surcharges, creditors calling night and day, and even legal charges. Unfortunately, something similar happens to people who live too long with a negative balance in their relationship bank. This can be the result of depression, anxiety, and even physical illnesses. But the point of a healthy relationship should be for each person to make sure their partner doesn’t become emotionally bankrupt.
I’m not sure the organizers of that leadership seminar at Harvard Business School ever realized that their idea for improving supervisory relationships would help couples in therapy.
But I’ve seen this simple analogy help many couples on their journey to an emotionally and romantically enriching relationship.
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