Guest Blog by Roxanne & Rob Maroney, Authors of Hope After Hurt
Holidays shine a spotlight on relationships. The holiday pressure often comes in waves of questions, like … What will this cost? Do I have enough time? When do we have to leave? What do you want from me? … and on and on. The voices come from all directions and shout loudly.
When holiday stress and pressure seem to be at their highest, it’s surprising that it’s also the time of year when people seek out help the least. When people need help the most, this is when they suspend seeking help altogether.
Apparently, I’m not alone! According to the American Psychological Association, 44% of women and 31% of men said their stress levels were higher than normal during the holidays. Another study found that 88% of Americans report feeling stressed during the holidays and that the average couple will have seven arguments during the season (…only seven arguments would have been an improvement for me in some years).
So, how can couples alleviate this stress and make the holidays a time to strengthen their relationship, rather than it being a season of weakening relational bonds? Marital researcher, John Gottman, uses the illustration of an “emotional bank account.” He suggests that when couples acknowledge one another, do small acts of service for each other and engage positively and intentionally, they invest in an emotional bank account. He says it’s an “emotional savings account that can give a sense of peace and security when going through hard times.”
How do we make deposits into our emotional bank accounts?
Positive interactions are small, consistent deposits. When we reach out to our partner in a connecting way, these gestures are referred as “bids for connection.” They don’t have to be huge, and often are as simple as a hug, saying “I love you” and “thank you” for all the small and big things you do for each other. It can be as simple as acknowledging your partner, even when just making small talk.
Negative interactions are big withdrawals, and too many of them will erase a positive balance. However, huge over-the-top gestures aren’t the goal here. An emotionally wealthy marriage is not cultivated during a two-week vacation to Europe. Instead, it’s built on daily and consistent positive habits and interactions.
To help, here are five science-based methods to keep your Emotional Bank Account in the black:
1. Be mindful
Couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice. So, pay attention and be mindful of your partner’s bids for connection and turn towards them. This will make them feel heard and valued. You may not catch all of them, but the more you focus on those positive bids, the easier it will become to recognize them and turn toward them.
2. Express appreciation daily
Notice all the ways your partner has turned towards you or made an emotional bid for connection. It can be as simple as a text to ask how your day is going, or spending five minutes asking about your day while you wash the dishes together. The goal is to remember those positive deposits and to express appreciation for them. As you salt and pepper your relationship with a positive perspective, it becomes second nature to be grateful for your partner’s support and to tell them so.
3. Learn the best way to talk about your stress…and listen to your partner talk about theirs…
One of the biggest reasons couples relapse after marriage counseling is the spillover of external stress into their relationship. Learning to keep short accounts and knowing how to have a connecting conversation is probably the most important conversation a couple can have. Take 20-30 minutes of undivided attention with each other, don’t discuss your marriage problems, and don’t try to fix something in the other person. Remember, all emotions are welcome during this conversation, and the end goal is to express understanding and validation of your partner’s feelings and perspective.
4. Communicate understanding
This is often difficult for many, but when your partner makes a complaint, don’t try to solve the problem. Instead, become a generous listener and express that you can understand their frustration. If you did something to upset them you can go one step further and take responsibility. If they’re happy about something, share in their excitement. The more we feel heard and understood the more we feel loved, and our Emotional Bank Account grows.
5. Be physically affectionate
Holding hands, kissing, and hugging, all make deposits into your Emotional Bank Account. A study of more than 70,000 people in 24 countries found that couples who have a great sex life kiss one another passionately for no reason whatsoever, they cuddle, and they are mindful about turning toward one another. They have learned to acknowledge and return bids for connection.
These seemingly unimportant moments are the most important of all and we are often unaware of the significant role they play in determining the strength or weakness of our emotional connection. When we don’t pay attention to these little bids for connection, we fail to turn towards each other, and we undermine the strength of our bond.
Protect Your Emotional Bank Account Investments
This season of hectic schedules, family gatherings, and holiday parties will create many opportunities for you to make emotional deposits or withdrawals. This is an investment you need to protect … at every season. The investments you make in one another pay huge dividends, but the withdrawals will cost you dearly. When you have made enough deposits and others have established enough trust in you, you can call upon that trust when you need to. Choose to make your holidays different this year … invest in building a “healthy” emotional bank account and yield a “wealthy” marriage.
Hope After Hurt
By Roxanne & Rob Maroney
In Hope after Hurt, Roxanne and Rob reveal not only how their marriage was rescued from becoming another casualty but how they were set on the path to creating something entirely new. Opening up about secrecy, lies, broken trust, loss of connection, and damaged intimacy, this is not just a story of two flawed people and their need for repair but also an honest account of more than forty years of healing using practical tools for greater connection and intimacy in marriage. Hope after Hurt offers real-life examples and a roadmap to healthier relationships for all couples.
Whether single, dating or married, this book will transform your relationship. If you struggle to find hope, read Hope after Hurt before you do anything else.
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I also provide one-on-one coaching; if you want to improve your relationships, let’s connect through e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. My hope for you is that through these blogs, references, and resources, God will transform you from being bruised or broken to an abundantly blessed child of God.
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