What Is An Emotional Bank Account? How To Use – And Invest In It

Updated June 07, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

Have you ever felt like you fight about meaningless things with your partner? You're worried about whether they filled the dishwasher or took the dog on a walk? The things that normally aren't a big deal are now resulting in big fights? What's going on here?

The Gottman Institute says: "After studying thousands of couples in our Love Lab… we discovered that most couples aren't fighting about specific topics." Instead, they're expressing a lack of intimacy. In some cases, they don't even know they're doing it. And being aware of the other person's emotional bank account can help.

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So what is an emotional bank account? And how can this concept help with relationship healing? That's what this article aims to teach you.

You'll learn:

  • what an emotional bank account is
  • how it can improve relationships
  • and what you can do to use it to your advantage

Leave meaningless fights behind so that you can make room for true connection. This concept might change your life.

What Is An Emotional Bank Account?

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, coined the term. An Emotional Bank Account, in his words, "is the amount of trust that's been built up in a relationship." It's how reliable we think another person is.

Unfortunately, trust can't be built overnight. And once you've earned it, that doesn't mean you'll have it indefinitely. Trust isn't an award you win once and get to keep forever. That's why Covey uses the bank account metaphor. A bank account is interactive. It's an always-changing dynamic.

In any bank account, there are two types of transactions: deposits and withdrawals. The idea is to make more deposits than withdrawals. And the deposits should be in larger amounts than the withdrawals.

How Does Knowing About The Emotional Bank Account Benefit Relationships?

Some people make the mistake of thinking about trust as something you only need to earn once. Especially once you've been friends for a long time or you're in a long-term relationship. We sometimes take other people for granted. It isn't intentional. Often, we get caught up in life and forget about what really matters.

Having a busy week is one thing, but it negatively affects relationships when life overall becomes busy. That can lead to falling out of love or losing touch.

Here are the benefits of investing in other people's emotional bank accounts:

  • feeling more connected
  • having a higher sense of intimacy
  • boosted trust
  • increased feelings of love and appreciation for each other

Filling another person's bank account isn't for their benefit alone. When they feel more loved and connected, they'll send those feelings back to you. So in return, they'll also be filling your bank account. It's a mutual benefit.

What Exercises Can I Use To Do Deposits?

There are a lot of ways to make deposits in other people's bank accounts. In Stephen Covey's book, he names six of them.

They are:

  • understanding the individual
  • keeping commitments
  • clarifying expectations
  • attending to little things
  • showing personal integrity
  • apologizing when we make a withdrawal

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Before we look at specific exercises you can do to make each type of deposit, let's talk about love languages. In The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman says there are five ways people prefer to feel loved. Each person has a primary love language out of the five (and sometimes a secondary one).

Find out your partner's primary love language and make deposits that fit with that love language. The five love languages are words of affirmation, receiving gifts, physical touch, acts of service, or quality time.

Add some diversity in the way you show love, even if you think you know their love language. Some types of deposits will have bigger impacts than others, so it's good to see in what ways you can move the relationship forward. Love and trust go hand in hand, so even if you're working to build a platonic relationship, you can still use their love language to influence the deposits you make. Most types of trust exercises can work as a deposit in the emotional bank account.

Seek To Understand

This one is all about listening, which might be the simplest and most overlooked exercise on this list. When your partner shares something personal with you, like fear or a struggle at work, lean in. Listening isn't only about using your ears.

Use your body language to express that you're listening. Turn towards them and lean in. Make eye contact and nod. Really listen. Don't listen to respond; listen to show your support.

We live in a world of distractions. We can access them from our pockets. For that reason, when you show you're listening, it can be meaningful to other people. Not feeling heard is a major source of insecurity.

If giving your full attention to each other is a struggle, set aside one evening each week to reconnect. Turn off all distractions and focus on each other. Take turns talking about how your week went. And then talk about how you want your next week to go. These chats will not only make you feel closer together, but they can be a helpful tool in personal growth. You'll be voicing your problems and goals so that you can feel supported and move forward.

Keep Commitments

Respect other people's time. Especially the busy people in your life. From the beginning, this is one thing you can't avoid in a relationship. Going on a date is often the first step in a romantic relationship, so being on time shows that you care about others.

If you're someone who loses track of time a lot or can be forgetful, help yourself out. Create a habit of writing down all your appointments in a calendar. It doesn't matter if you use a paper calendar or one on your phone. The most important part is making sure you check it and update it often.

Phone calendars are helpful for people who don't remember to check their calendars. You can set it up to give you multiple notifications. You might choose to set a reminder the day before for something you have to prepare for, like a presentation. Or you might set the alarm an hour before, so you remember to get ready and a notification at the time you need to leave.

Using alarms and calendars only works if you use them. So train yourself to put new events on the calendar as soon as you make plans. And if you're going to an unfamiliar place, put in the address or make a note of odd things you need to bring. The amount of detail you need will vary from person to person. You might also want to combine your social calendar with a partner or spouse's calendar so they sync. It'll make sure you don't overcommit yourselves on weekends.

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It shows your partner and everyone you make plans with that you care about them. You make an effort to show up on time because you respect and appreciate their company. You take your relationship seriously.

Clarify Expectations

Having clear expectations for each other means communicating. When other people don't treat us the way we expect in a relationship, that causes trust to erode, it's your responsibility to lay out your expectations upfront. It might feel awkward, but most people will appreciate it. They won't have to guess what their role will be in your life.

It also goes the other way too. We can get so caught up in our own experiences that we forget that other people see the world differently. Even if you think you know what's expected of you, ask questions. Knowing where you stand removes uncertainty. With more certainty comes less anxiety.

If expectations aren't met, be sure to let the other person know. For example, if one person expressed that they wanted to be in a closed relationship and flirted with other people, it would breach the expectation. The hurt party needs to let the other person know that trust was damaged and a withdrawal was made to their emotional bank account.

Confrontation can be uncomfortable, but a relationship must thrive. Being passive-aggressive and holding in emotions can cause greater damage in the long run. Not only will you be hurting yourself, but you could also be making withdrawals from their emotional bank account too.

Confrontation doesn't mean a fight. All it means is that you want to talk. Sharing how you feel is scary, but it's less damaging than withholding information. If they don't know they didn't know something hurtful, they can't make amends, and their actions will continue.

Attend To Little Things

As we talked about at the beginning of this article, sometimes it's the little things that become the scapegoat for a bigger, underlying problem. When you pay attention to what other people need and do things not because you have to, it can mean the world to other people.

Next time you notice a chore your partner usually does piling up, spend a few minutes putting it straight. They'll notice the act of love. It's a simple yet powerful way to build trust.

Going back to the five love languages, if acts of service aren't your partner's love language, you can do little things in any of the categories. For physical touch, you could squeeze their hand or hug them. For a quality time, you could surprise them at work during their lunch break. For receiving gifts, you could make or buy their favorite dessert. For words of affirmation, you could write them a love letter and put it somewhere unexpected, like in the book they're reading.

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There are so many ways to incorporate little things into trust-building. Little deposits add up, and before long, their emotional bank account will be overflowing with love, trust, and respect for you.

Show Personal Integrity

This one can be boiled down to the saying: Practice what you preach. Integrity is about having a moral code and sticking to it. What do you believe in? What are your core values? If you say you value following through on commitments, then you have to live it.

Let's say you agree to volunteer at a charity event. When you show up, that speaks volumes about your character. You've shown that you do value following through on commitments. And that builds trust because, in your relationships, other people will trust you when you make commitments to them.

Honesty is also a big part of integrity. Even if honesty isn't one of your core values, it's intertwined with integrity. Integrity is about living the way you say you will. If you don't walk the way you talk, then that goes hand in hand with not being honest.

Be honest as often as you can, not only when it's convenient for you. The more open you can be in your relationships, the more trust and respect it will build. They may not always like the honest answers you give, but they'll trust what you have to say from your consistency.

That's not to say that you should be blunt or rude when you tell the truth. Honesty doesn't have to be abrasive. You can tell the hard truth in a way that recognizes the other person's feelings and point of view. That leads to the next trust-building exercise.

Apologize For Withdrawals

Withdrawals can't be avoided altogether. You're going to make mistakes. That's part of life. Be mindful of withdrawal patterns and when you violate trust, make time to apologize.

Sincere apologies include three elements:

  • A statement of regret for what happened.
  • A clear "I'm sorry" statement.
  • A request for forgiveness.

Acknowledge the harm it did to the other person. And focus on them rather than yourself. You may need to collect your thoughts before apologizing to make sure you're putting their feelings first. A thoughtful apology is better than a fast apology.

That said, there are some cases where a prompt apology can be better.

One example is if you're running late. Give them a quick call. Let them know you're running late and when you expect to be there. Don't forget to apologize for the tardiness. Letting them know and apologizing can go a long way toward refilling their emotional bank account.

If you're late every time, though, your apologies can become empty. When you make a withdrawal, ask yourself how often you make the same withdrawal. If it happens often, make an effort to be better. And if you tell people you're going to be more proactive about being on time, make sure you do that.

What If I've Damaged Their Emotional Bank Account Beyond An Apology?

Some situations are complicated and too hard for us to deal with on our own. In this case, seek out the help of a trusted friend or relationship therapist. ReGain is an online platform with hundreds of trained and experienced therapists. They all have different backgrounds so you can find someone who suits your needs.

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ReGain has therapists who offer couples and solo therapy. So if you and your partner are willing to repair the relationship and work with a therapist, ReGain has you covered. All sessions are held in the comfort of your home, so you won't have to worry if the therapist you choose lives hundreds of miles away. You'll be able to talk to them in the safe and relaxing environment of your own home.

Investing in other people's emotional bank account can be a lofty order. That's why it's so important to have a strong support system. A therapist can be the person you need in your corner. As you're taking care of others, make sure to take care of yourself too. When you take care of yourself, you can better take care of others. That means filling your emotional bank account too.

Once you get used to adding to other people's emotional bank accounts, it'll become second nature to you. You'll be able to earn trust faster and keep relationships stronger. Practice these exercises and the ones you come up with on your own to figure out what works for your life.

 

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