From marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman’s experience working with thousands of couples, he determined that a long-term reationship is likely to be successful if, very simply, there are more good moments than bad moments. (He speaks of a ratio of at least 5 positive to 1 negative interactions as a predictor of a satisfying relationship.) Where the “emotional bank account” has been fed with a multitude of generous acts, kind words and thoughtful behaviors, negative interactions are more likely to be dealt with with greater equanimity or let slide.
How do you react when your partner says – say, after a dinner party – something along the lines of: “You never paid that tax bill you said you’d take care of”? When we feel close and connected, when we feel valued and cherished by our partner (that is, if the “emotional bank account” is full), you will most likely smile and promise to take care of it first thing the next day. If the bank account has been depleted of good feelings, you are more likely to respond bitterly or snap defensively…. and the battle is on. The very same statement or behavior can be experienced through a negative or a neutral filter, depending on the status of our emotional bank account.
While most relationships have their share of conflictual and difficult times, it is those with adequate stores of good feelings that survive the rough times. Here, too, we draw upon the deposits, as we remember the fun, loving times and the acts of generosity; these “savings” keep us going until things ease up.
How can a couple fill their emotional bank account? A few ideas:
- Be generous in every imaginable way: with your time, your attention, your words, your patience.
- Pay attention. If she likes apricot jam, buy it at the supermarket instead of just the strawberry that you like; if he likes licorice candies, pick up a bag every so often and surprise him.
- Leave short notes, emails or text messages to express affection or offer support when you are not together.
- Find ways to privately and publicly celebrate your partner’s achievements.
- Be attuned to when s/he needs more attention or help, and reach out graciously, without expecting anything in return (no tallies!).
- Build memories by experiencing fun moments together.
- Learn to hold your tongue and not react to every mood or irritation (unless it becomes habitual and needs to be addressed).
- Express appreciation frequently, even for recurrent thoughtful acts.
- Make time for relaxed and fun sex.