Emotional bank accounts
Have you ever considered what happens when relationships strengthen, or start to fall apart?
Of course, this happens for many reasons, but one essential element is that one party feels like something has changed, and the relationship is no longer worth investing in. Strange term to apply to a relationship? Not really, when you consider that successful relationships are usually in credit, not in debt.
I first came across this concept through Stephen R Covey in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, where he describes it as 'the emotional bank account'. He describes making deposits in relationships to ensure there’s a reserve that can be drawn on when necessary. These don’t need to be huge things; listening to a partner when he/she tells you about his/her day; texting to say what time you’ll be home when you’re running late; making that first cup of tea in the morning. Then, when you need to make withdrawals; cancelling at the last minute, forgetting to take the dogs out, or speaking angrily, there’s something to draw against.
I’d like you to take this a step further, and consider what this might mean for your relationship… with yourself. I know, sounds a bit wishy washy, but you are your constant companion; you can’t get away. And, even if you move house, change jobs, start a new relationship, guess who’s coming with you? So, it makes sense to try and curate a good relationship, yes?
So, let’s take the six ways in which Covey recommends deposits can easily be made;
1) Understanding the individual.
- How much do you really know what makes you tick?
- Do you understand what makes you happy?
- Do you understand who you like to spend time with; what you like to do?
- What gives you energy to keep going through your day?
- And, how often do you add credit to your account by doing or attending to some of these things?
I know some of you will consider this self-indulgent – is your account in credit, or overdrawn?
2) Attending to the little things.
Those little acts of kindness are so important. When was the last time you allowed yourself a cup of tea and a break in a busy day?
Little courtesies have a massive effect, for example, acknowledging that you need to eat well to feel well.
3) Keeping commitments.
Breaking a commitment is a major withdrawal. Whether you’ve committed to an exercise regime, or to your learning, or even to get up a little earlier in the morning, breaking this commitment to yourself can be damaging, perhaps leading to a feeling of anger towards yourself, a feeling of failure, or a reduced self-esteem. Make sure your commitments are realistic, and that you really want to do it, then plan how you want to accomplish it, and imagine you’ll feel when you’ve achieved it.
4) Clarifying expectations.
Sometimes this takes a lot of courage. Being real about what you can or can’t achieve can bring us up a bit short sometimes. However, bringing it into focus can be quite a relief as we can finally let go of those things that have been weighing us down as we had them in our ‘must do’ or ‘should do’ box when we didn’t really want to do/be them.
5) Showing personal integrity.
Covey describes integrity as ‘conforming reality to our words’ or fulfilling expectations.
- How often do you put yourself down, or dismiss a compliment?
- When you think about doing something new, do you automatically assume that it’ll go badly, or you won’t do it well?
- Imagine you were saying these things to another person, would you still do it?
- How about talking/thinking about yourself as your best friend might, what would be different?
6) Apologising when you make a withdrawal.
It’s inevitable that you will make withdrawals from this account. You will ‘mess up’, you will forget to talk to yourself kindly, you will miss out on your exercise class because it was raining and you didn’t want to go out. It’s at times like these that you could fall into a routine of blame and berating yourself. Whilst learning from life’s experience is a must in personal development, continuing to be angry about something is unhealthy and damaging. So, how about asking yourself what you might do next time instead, put it down to experience, and move on, looking for an opportunity to have a different experience.
I’d encourage you to keep a journal – written down or on your phone/laptop – to keep track of your bank account. You might even have it in two columns, one for credit and one for withdrawal. After a week, when you review things, ask if your relationship is in balance, or debt? This will also give you a way to identify where you might find different ways to easily make deposits in the future as you successfully maintain a balanced relationship with yourself.