Growing Your Emotional Bank Account

As I have discussed in previous articles, research has indicated that relationships that fail tend to possess negative defense mechanisms that are manifested both overtly and covertly when conflict or concerns arise.   These relationship killers include criticism, contempt stonewalling, and defensiveness (Gottman, 1997) and are associated with the tendency to turn away from a partner and his or her needs, which ultimately destroys any emotional connection.  

Emotional connection is one of the primary motivators we use to seek out and maintain relationships however the needs that each of us associates with emotional connection varies, making relationships complex.  When we enter into relationships, we make what Dr. John Gottman calls bids for emotional connection (1997) to our partners, which is a mutual process.  We can decide to either embrace and accommodate these bids or turn away from and reject them.   When we choose to turn towards our partner’s bids for connection, we send the message that we care about his or her needs and thus strengthen the relationship foundation.  When couples actively seek out opportunities to accommodate each partner’s emotional needs, the ability to manage and resolve conflict increases due to elevated degrees of contentment.  

Embracing a partner’s bids for emotional connection does not require grand gestures (although those don’t hurt) but rather can be done through simple avenues of attunement, which is the ability to read our partners from moment to moment.  Here are some examples of ways couple’s can grow their emotional bank account:

•    Compliments
•    Hand-holding or affection when near one another
•    Provide undivided attention when talking
•    Text messages or phone calls to indicate thoughtfulness “just because”
•    Offer to initiate conversations when one partner appears stressed or upset
•    Join in on housework, chores, or other tasks  
•    Offer a jacket when one partner appears to be cold
•    Plan activities of interest that have been enjoyable in the past

Hopefully these examples show that simple, day-to-day behaviors can go a long way and if done regularly, these accommodations can help establish a robust relationship foundation, which will come in handy during times of tension and conflict.  

~ Cory Stege, M.S., LMFT